India's Audio Evolution
With 80 Euros in his pocket, Warren D'Souza had a vision: he saw a gap in the Indian audio rental market, and decided to dive right in. And the rest, as they say, is history. We sat down with the man himself, now owner of India's leading rental company, Sound.com, to discuss his musical journey.
Tell us a little bit about your musical background...
I was always brought up on Western music, actually. In fact, we only spoke English at home, as I came from a Roman Catholic family; and I have an English name, too, so we hardly even spoke the national language. Because we were colonised by the British and Portuguese, there was a large community like that in India, so I grew up on The Beatles and The Eagles, not on the Bollywood music.
So why sound, exactly?
Well, I always liked sound a lot, and everybody in India who used to do sound wanted to be a DJ, but a DJ would want to set up a sound company! [smiles] But I was clear from day one that I wanted to start a sound rental company. It always fascinated me that there weren’t good rental companies in India; there was one, and he was way ahead of everyone else. I thought there was a place for me, and a place to make something big.
You worked in recording studios first, right?
Yes, I got into the studio business, and I learnt a lot from that; and then took that learning and started my own manufacturing unit. I started by manufacturing loudspeakers, and the stock that I made, I ended up renting out - this was between 1995 and 1998. And then I used that stock to create my rental company. I boot-strapped my company from day one, really – I literally started off with 80 Euros in my pocket, and here we are. It started with press conferences and parties, then product launches, and on to medium sized gigs; and then building events, where you’d have a conference in the day and a band in the night. We invested in our first major PA system in 2005, and after doing the Commonwealth Games in 2010, everything went up a level.
Evidently so! I see Sound.com provided the audio for Hardwell's huge show in Mumbai this year...
Yes, Hardwell created the world’s biggest guestlist, and it was a huge show; it just shows how far India has come, with artists of that size coming to perform. EDM is becoming very big in India, and that’s partly because Indian people are so extremely connected on social media – way more than in Europe, I would say. It’s the same with my business, too; you can really sell your story on social media in India.
How does a DJ like Hardwell send his feeds to you guys at front of house?
Well, from Hardwell’s desk, we have three outs going into a convertor; and his main booth out (deck out) is his third backup. So we have three lines coming into our Soundcraft Vi6 at front of house, and then sometimes we use some hardware or a plugin - a Waves MAXX BCL or an Avalon 737, usually; and everything is then going to a processor: JBL’s HiQnet Performance Manager.
You're a big Optocore user; tell us about that...
It started after we did the Commonwealth Games with Norwest, an Australian company, who had brought Optocore to India. It was a joint venture tender with Norwest and Sound.com, and that’s where we first saw the benefits of Optocore; we invested in it right after the Games, and ever since then, we’ve done every major sporting event in the country with Optocore - and that’s a lot of events! [laughs]
What does it bring to the table?
When I do a gig, I know it’s the one thing that won’t let me down, ever. And [company founder] Mark Brunke is a visionary: his concept of making these products with industry standard protocols like AES, analogue, and MADI. He has always worked within the framework of industry standard protocols. Thirdly, it’s seen to people as a very premium brand - an aspirational brand. So I have created a stratospheric image of myself: other companies might have all the PA systems, but they don’t have Optocore; it gives me that edge as I am already using it in the field, and people have only scratched the surface in India.
You describe Optocore as a brand that people don’t necessarily understand until they have dealt in it. Can you elaborate?
Yes, it takes an incident and an experience for you to see the benefits of Optocore, then you take that technology and do something for yourself with it. Because when you look at Optocore as a brand, not a single product represents something in the audio industry: for example, take a DD2 or X6R; it’s not like 'that’s a console', 'that’s a processor', Optocore is not like that, so people are a bit perplexed; they know it’s great, and does the big events, of course, so it’s created a stratospheric level of, ‘if you're in the big league, you will use Optocore’. People didn’t understand the meaning of digital transport systems in India until I started talking about it, and the work I do; and now a lot of people have realised that it’s a technology in itself, digital transport mechanism; and I think Mark Brunke has been an evangelist for that. I have invested in the brand because I believe in his vision more than the products that he’s going to release; you buy into a company’s legacy way beyond the product and the cost. It’s the legacy and the forward thinking; how stable the company is, just like the network. It’s not been bought out by some big daddy! [smiles]
India is the core of most of your business, but how is the Indian gig culture?
Well, the Indian drinking scene has improved... in a bad way! [laughs] With many Indians in the past, it’s been a country where people would have a great time without spending too much money, but this is an era of youth where they need to spend money in order to have a good time, if that makes sense..!
It does! And what can we expect next from Sound.com?
We did the opening ceremony for the Indian Cricket Premier League, which utilised 12 JBL VerTec and VTX PA stacks in the round; and then after the monsoon season, which is always quiet, the season will kick off again from mid-September. We will welcome [leading Swedish DJ] Axwell to India, which should be another mega-show.