Interview at Red Tape Central
In The Red...
Red Tape Studios is Sheffield’s leading ICT, Music Technology and Business Administration centre - offering a host of training courses and industry recognised qualifications.
We caught up with head honcho Omith Mukhurjee, Studio Manager, who himself has enjoyed an illustrious music past prior to taking over the reins. Here's what he had to say....
You’ve worked with a host of stars over the years. Forget modesty, dish the names.
Probably the most famous people I’ve worked with are Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Lionel Richie, Spice Girls, Chemical Brothers, Ant and Dec. Some real cheese, but big names. I think the most exciting one was Celine Dion because I went into the studio and heard her stuff and thought ‘this isn’t going to be a hit’ and it was 9 weeks at number one. I clearly don’t know how to spot a hit record.
Are you still in touch with any celebs?
Honestly, not really. The industry is very fast moving. I got older and just moved on. I’m probably in touch with the musicians more - thanks to Facebook. It’s great for that kind of thing. I’m in touch with some people but not the top names. Funnily enough, I called up Lionel Richie a few years ago. I had a demo and, like an exciting kid, I wanted him to hear it. Someone answered and said he’s moved. I was like, ‘oh, that’s it then’. I still have the number in my book but it doesn’t mean anything anymore.
Is there anything you regret in your career?
I’ve made tons of mistakes. I can’t add Mariah Carey at the height of her fame to the list, simply because I was disorganised. My passport wasn’t up to date so I didn’t get the job. That was thousands of pounds I missed out on. I don’t mind telling students that the only reason I didn’t get that job was because I was disorganised. Hopefully, they’ll learn from me.
How do you feel about shows like the X-Factor?
In the days I was working, it was very different to X Factor. You went to interviews and they’d give you a cup of tea or a beer and say do you want to play something? And you’d just whip out the guitar and play. It was all very friendly. It wasn’t like this corporate stuff you see on TV. It’s very much about the people who can’t sing - and once it gets onto the finals people seem to lose interest.
That’s where I got the idea that Red Tape should be much friendlier than it was because it was becoming a bit elitist. Like ‘oh no, you can’t do this.’ And I thought: ‘hang on a minute, if you saw me the first time I played on stage they turned the lights off and the whole audience was laughing and one teacher was threatening to expel me’. I was that terrible. You wouldn’t think ‘that kids gonna play on number one records’. But I did.
We do a thing which we call Red Tape X-Factor which is one of the things we do to try and get young people to come in and refine their skills. We video them and then gently criticise. It’s not so much a competition. We will give more studio time to the people who perform the best - but everyone gets free studio time, which would cost £50 an hour in some cases. It’s kind of a band development programme.
We’re a good version of X-Factor because we see everyone as on a journey. X-Factor is basically taking the mickey out of people and it’s primarily entertainment. What we’re doing here is kind of inverting that and assuming that people need to learn. So, we accept that.
Did you play on any songs our readers may recognise?
A lot of the things I did were promoting songs like ‘Think Twice’ (Celine Dion). So I was involved in promotion rather than being involved on the albums. That was the kind of work we did in those days. And the background of it was when these Americans come over it was actually a lot cheaper to hire musicians from England than it is to bring in their own people. So it was good fun working on records.
Is it true there’s footage of you on Top of the Pops?
I do have some footage on Top of the Pops. But there was a lot. There was about 30 Top of the Pops performances that I did. I played with Celine Dion a lot and Lionel Richie. Then little things you may not have heard of - like the Tampax advert. ‘It’s My Life’ (Dr Alban). It was number two or something in 1996. But lots of stuff like that. I was mainly playing guitar. I did bits of bass and I did one gig with keyboards… but I’m really bad. I have little hands. Some would say I’m not good at guitar as well, but let’s not go there. Backing vocals was a big thing too because I didn’t sing. And then my agent said ‘you would make a lot more money if you could just sing’ and I said ‘I sort of sing’. So I sang for him and he said: ‘no, that’s not singing’. So I went off and got these classical lessons in Sheffield, which is what’s always kept me linked to Sheffield.
How easy was it to make the transition from musician to lecturer?
It wasn’t easy. Basically, as I got older, I realised that you don’t know when the cheques are coming in or what gigs you’re doing. A lot of the Red Tape staff are gigging still. Even me. We play for free, and as a bit of fun, but we all came here wanting to teach. I used to teach people how to sing and play guitar just one to one. And then I thought I better do this more, because I’m not doing as much work as I used to. As I got older people started telling me ‘well, you don’t look 21 anymore, you look 30.’ So you can’t work with such and such people - and you can’t apply for certain jobs. I was quite flattered I was getting away with it. I was about 30 and I still looked like a baby. So I got away with it long enough. I then started doing jobs with older artists and then I started teaching.
Lecturing was really hard. The first couple of lessons went well but I was struggling. I went from being an ok lecturer with fantastic stories to a really good lecturer with no stories. I don’t tend to dwell on it so much now. I don’t talk about my past too much now unless it’s relevant to the lecture. Whereas in the past I used that to get people’s attention.
Do you try to pass on your wisdom to your students?
What I’m really grateful for is that I can use my stories in context to the lesson. It’s nice to bring my experiences into the lectures so I can tell people that there’s sharks out there, how they’ll get ripped off, how they can avoid being ripped off. Maybe how to negotiate with people to get them to pay a bit of money for what you’re doing without pushing it so far that they tell you to get lost. Bring that into the lectures. So, that’s why it always comes up, and that’s how my stories are told.
What do you tend to teach your students?
This is not really well known but we actually cover every single corner of the modern music industry; business, performing arts, technology. It’s the whole package. It’s everything from audio recording, music technology and production, performing arts and music business. Performing arts are the singing and training. We also offer a DJ course. A lot of students who come to Red Tape end up going onto university.
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