Appu Krishnan: The Indian Producer who made music with Christina Aguilera and GOT7 – Score Short Reads
Kerala-born producer Appu Krishnan’s repertoire is mind-boggling: Christina Aguilera, The Jacksons, Jordin Sparks, Billy Ray Cyrus as well as K-pop heavy hitters GOT7, Wanna One, N.Flying, Jus2 and April…and these are just some of the biggest names on the list.
Nicknamed “The Professor”, Krishnan is the founder of his own production and music publication company Loud Boy Music. He also lectures at the Grammy Museum in LA, and teaches Music Production and Synthesis at Musicians Institute, Hollywood.
Clearly, Krishnan is exceptional at what he does. His creative process, perseverance and intrinsic talent has taken him to admirable heights, and he lets us in on all of it.
Can you tell us a little about your journey – from Kerala to LA to K-pop?
I came to LA to attend music school at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. After graduating, I ended up teaching music production there and also started working with independent artists in town.
Thankfully things went well and through some studio friends I eventually got opportunities to be on some major label projects. One of the songs I co-wrote during those times got picked up by the Produce 101 program in South Korea.
It eventually became Wanna One’s “Pick Me”. K-pop was just on its rise internationally and I was really lucky to end up with the right people at the right time. Now here we are.
Among all the songs you have worked on, be it with Korean or non-Korean artists, which one stands out as a creative and career-centric milestone?
That’s a hard one because each project really brought in the next. That said, the first time I enjoyed limitless freedom was in a project I did in 2010 for my artist friend Laura Torres. The album was called “Laberinto”.
We both had so much fun experimenting, creating and I’m still very proud of it after 11 years:) Christina Aguilera’s “Army of Me” opened so many doors in the pop world for me. Similarly “Another Day” we did for Criminal Minds South Korea (performed by Yoo Hwe Seung from N.Flying) was my real intro into the Asian music industry. I’m so thankful for all these firsts, so they are special.
Is there a tangible difference in working with a Western artist like Christina Aguilera vs a Kpop group like The Boyz? Perhaps in the work ethic, musical culture, artist interactions…
When we work with a group, it’s important to think of the individual members and also the group as a whole. So we might come up with a verse or bridge that can showcase a particular talent, but we also gotta make sure it fits the song’s style. So far all my K pop work was done remotely. Work ethic and talent in Asia is amazing. So it’s always a pleasant surprise to hear our recorded (and translated) song.
Can you tell us a bit more about your experience when working with GOT7, Wanna One, N.Flying, Jus2, and The Boyz? Could you please speak about each artist separately?
Since I haven’t had the chance yet to meet them in person, honestly can’t say much more than the fans already know 🙂 Musically all of them were very talented and made our songs a thousand times cooler!
Being a rock fan, I really enjoyed the edgy vocals of Yoo Hwe- seung In “Another Day”. Mixing Jus2 ‘s vocals, I remember thinking how wonderfully they blended naturally. I remember a producer friend listening from the studio hallway (my door wasn’t closed) coming in to tell me the mix was great and I had barely started working on their raw vocals.
Another recent memory is hearing the beautiful harmonies by The Boyz towards the end of “Prism”’s bridge for the first time. It was so cool and we all felt it in the room.
When creating a song, what are the qualities by which you judge it’s quality?
The most important quality is uniqueness. If it was like every other song in the genre, the chances of a great artist wanting to perform it is much lower. So I always look for a sound or part that catches the ear, hopefully never done before but still fits the style.
The other important aspect is the vocal melody (topline) and production (track) communicating together as a team. If not, the song sounds confusing. Melody is the most important aspect, so I try to make everything else bow down to it and pretty much fit the rest around the melody.
Depending on the genre, the lyrics and concept are also very important, right after the melody. Lyrics can also become that unique aspect (catch phrase or story) I mentioned in the beginning.
When do you know that song by you is ready(qualitatively) to be released?
Working under deadlines, I (we all at Loudboy) have a few checklists to make sure that everything that’s required is done before we sent a song away.
– The uniqueness or that unique part I mentioned before should be present.
– Is the song structure and length of sections appropriate for genre?
– Is the production in the way of the melody at any point or do we need any support elements in any places?
– Have we made the last chorus a bigger finale than the previous ones ? This is mostly for pop though.
– Are the vocals clear and defined everywhere? If we have multiple singers, did they all get the correct processing? Do they blend when required?
– Is the mix as good as (or better) compared to current hits in the genre? Does it sound good on small speakers and bigger systems?
– Is there an unnecessary element that could be muted? Can we simplify any sections even more?
Asking these questions really helps me (us) with quality control.
Can you take us through some of your gear? What are some tools you can’t work without?
I’m a Pro Tools user and that’s where I spent most of my life 🙂 I love the way it handles audio and the fact that HDX can handle so many tracks with no latency.
I’m a synth nerd. So collecting them has become an addiction and there’s way too many now. The ones I turn to mostly are Juno 60, 106, DX7 and the Prophet Rev2.
Fav Soft synths especially for doing K pop – Nexus 3, UVI Falcon, TAL-U-No-LX and sometimes Serum and Omnisphere. My drum samples are from all over the place including Splice.
I use Adam Speakers S3X-V with a Sub12. Also NS10s to show me the flaws in a mix. I love the SSL X Logic G Series compressor and it’s on my mix bus. Mic choice for pop is Manley Ref Cardioid through a Chandler TG2.
Obviously, Indian K-pop fans are thrilled that one of our own is so closely involved with our favourite artists. What are your thoughts on the desi K-pop community?
After the GOT7 release I was so happy to get in touch with the desi K pop community. They have been nothing but wonderful. The support you get from home is always very special and I’m glad to have made some close friends too.
Growing up in India, moving to America for music and now through K pop I’m able to come back full circle thanks to desi K pop fans. I can totally see how united they are and support each other across our various states and subcultures. I’m sure it’s just gonna keep growing and I’m so looking forward to my next visit home.
Who are your musical/artistic heroes?
That list is endless really from metal to experimental, funk and country music! But for now I’ll stick to 3 artist-producers specific to Pop and K pop.
The longest I’ve been inspired by and to this day would be the Swedish songwriter/producer Max Martin. I love his music and have so much respect for what he has created for pop culture and his community of creators.
I ve learned so much listening to and analyzing his works. Ever since getting into K-pop, I’ve had much respect for J. Y. Park. He is an amazing talent and a super smart entrepreneur. Like every music loving kid growing up in India, A.R. Rahman’s career has been a continuing inspiration.
Which K-pop songs would you recommend for a newbie K-pop fan in India?
I would say, to get a taste of what’s happening now in K pop, jump on a Spotify playlist like K-Pop Daebak.
Some all time hits-
TAEMIN’s Move, KARD’ s Bomb Bomb, BLACKPINK’s Whistle, MAMAMOO’s Hip, EXO’s Monster, BTS’s Dynamite, Red Velvet’s Peek-A-Boo. There’s so many, but at least these should give someone an idea of the wide variety of K pop songs out there.
How do you decide if you want to work with a certain artist on their music?
I love artists who are unique and have a story to tell. That always gives us a start and direction to work towards. Hopefully then the fans can relate and follow along.
These days it really helps having social media so we can see what the artist is all about image wise and all that. That said, I’m not talking about just follower numbers and likes (even though it’s great to have a fan base). It has to be the right project for each other. Sometimes there is an amazing artist who could be very successful in something they do, but I might not have anything to offer. Then it’s best that I remain their fan and friend 🙂 Perhaps even connect them with someone who is right for them.
The song pitching game is a bit different since we don’t interact with the artist much. My strategy there is to choose the right publisher and companies to represent our songs. That’s why I love our collaborators Sugar House in Finland. They work with our favorite labels and artists in Asia, so it’s all win win.
Have you worked on any desi music? Could you tell us about it?
I haven’t in the longest time. Hopefully someday.
Can we have a couple of fun facts about Appu Krishnan?
I don’t know if it’s fun….but I’m pretty colorblind and have synesthesia. It’s an interesting combo of images .
Are there certain artists that you dream of working with?
Internationally – I love music by the artist Lauv. He is such a great songwriter/ producer. Producer Jack Antanoff has a solo project called Bleachers and it’s so brilliant. Taylor Swift and Shane Mc Anally are two of my favorite songwriters.
K pop – Mamamoo. What a great group with unique songs and such unique voices like Hwasa.
J.Y. Park, of course. Like I said, much respect and it would be so cool to make music with him for one of his own projects. Taemin has such amazing songs. Would be so cool to be part of any music he does.
These are all dream collabs for me! So universe, do your thing.
What’s coming up for you in 2021 and beyond?
2021 will be fun! Planning to release some original music through Loudboy. I am really excited! Stay tuned.