Most successful musicians use a formula of talent, hard work, and a bit of luck. Gaurav Dayal, from New Delhi, India, is no different, but his path to success was unusually quick.
Born into a supportive, musical family, he had early access to elite equipment and pro instruction. He combined this early advantage with his own talent, persistence, and a willingness to innovate.
On top of the world at an early age as a young producer, he couldn’t have imagined the changes about to rock his industry and put the brakes on his career—or the moves that eventually got him back on top.
The Indian musical tradition is rich: Karnatic and Hindusthani styles loom in the background, providing the tonal and rhythmic ideas that underpin newer, popular styles. Bhangra music combines traditional Punjabi music with Western pop—an umbrella term that includes guitar-based rock as well as the hip-hop and R&B that dominate US airwaves.
But growing up, Gaurav was more exposed to more Western influences than Indian. “I was raised in India,” he says, “but I grew up in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” His first three childhood influences? The Bee Gees, Kraftwerk, and John William’s Star Wars orchestral soundtrack!
“It takes a lot more than music to be in this business. Be ready to commit to everything that goes along with the art.”
Listen to some of Gaurav’s tracks and you’ll sense a mastery of those influences. Understated funky keyboards, American brass flourishes, and old-school rap beats coexist with cascading, melismatic vocals sung in Hindi. A song like “Ethnik Funk” exemplifies this idea, as a very Motown horn chart and wah-wah guitar merge with a strong Bhangra vocal, resulting in a sound that feels retro and fresh at the same time. “Punjabi music scales adapt easily to funk and R&B,” explains Gaurav. Those scales are tonally similar to American pentatonic blues, and the steady four-four of Bhangra music easily fits Western pop.
Because Gaurav wears the hats of both producer and composer, he’s able to pull these elements together effortlessly. But staying afloat in the business wasn’t always easy.
While studying engineering in the late nineties, Gaurav became adept with computers without losing his passion for the art of music. Good equipment was hard to come by at the time, yet he managed to obtain a Korg 01W keyboard, which he suspects was one of only three in India at the time. He facilitated his sequencing by coding his own MIDI protocols by hand.
His engineering and music background created opportunities for commercial jingle work, and then a chance to produce rising star Jasbir Jassi. This collaboration bore fruit in a string of hits, including the infectious dance track “Dil Le Gayee.” Other artists began lining up at Gaurav’s door, and for a time the work was busy and lucrative.
But the industry was about to undergo seismic change: individual investors were serving as talent scouts, hiring their own teams, and bringing completed albums and singles directly to the labels. In-house producers were becoming less relevant, and the phone gradually stopped ringing. When he was flush with studio work, the young producer admits he may have let some tougher customers walk rather than work through communication problems. Now he wished he had those customers back. He knew it was time to diversify his business and learn to be a better manager. This line of thinking gave rise to the BeatFactory Academy.
Even with a dearth of label production work, the Indian music scene was still burgeoning, and that meant lots of young people trying to find their own places in the industry. Gaurav decided to share his skills and knowledge with the next generation. He formed a partnership with guitarist and longtime collaborator Saibal Basu, and the BeatFactory Music Academy was born. In 2008, Gaurav and Saibal opened their doors and welcomed their first class: a single eager student. Determined to make the concept work, the two artists bent to the task of promoting and growing their business.
“For six or seven years, BeatFactory took all of my time. I didn’t make much music,” says Gaurav. But eventually the classrooms filled up. Beatfactory began to create revenue, allowing him to return to composing and producing and to tackle new projects like Bollywood Sounds, a source for Indian loops and samples.
In the course of building BeatFactory, Gaurav decided to visit the US to take a Pro Tools certification course, a move that paid off in unexpected ways. Making numerous connections with American musicians and decision-makers started a chain of events that led to his song “922 Anthem” finding a spot on the “Gravity” soundtrack. His success with western music has continued, with huge artists like Skrillex and Selena Gomez using his Bollywood Sounds samples on their hit tracks.
As a pop producer, Gaurav understands the importance of a compelling vocal. He was an early adopter of Nectar. “I was blown away,” he says. “I don’t have to think like an engineer. I can think like a musician.” He’s also a fan of Ozone, adding that it’s in use throughout India by those with mastering know-how.
Sharing his experience with young artists has become a passion for Gaurav, and he’s more than willing to share his wisdom.
“It takes a lot more than music” to be in this business, he says. “Be ready to commit to everything that goes along with the art.” Coming from an artist’s mentality, BeatFactory taught him how to run a business. Once possessing a short fuse when it came to tough clients, he now welcomes the challenge, even posting a video to help his students deal with the demands of working for strong-willed artists. It’s also important to avoid getting too specialized. “Having multiple revenue streams,” says Gaurav, “is important for survival.”
Reflecting on his challenges and his successes, he’s proud to have found a way to stick in the business, finding self-expression and a way to make a living at the same time. Still a young man, he’s already lived at least three lives in the music business. Who knows what his next two decades will bring?