The Story of Planet Studios
By Tom Lowry
Way back in 1988, myself, and long-time songwriting partner, Jim Meikle, decided to use the proceeds of a recent publishing deal to take a gamble on starting a brand new recording studio. We had been working out of my living room, which was problematic, so when Jim found an available industrial unit, (which, apart from being derelict, was ideal) we decided to roll the dice.
After consulting with legendary studio designer Andy Munro, and utilising Jim’s excellent building skills, we were able to carry out Mr Munro’s plans to the letter. A tough few months later and we were ready to go.
The honour of the first recording session went to our old friend Neville Staple from The Specials, and we had done many projects together previously. Infact Neville would go on to be one of our most loyal clients, and a constant figure in the life of the studio, working on many successful albums of his own and developing new artists for his production company.
Neville also happened to be the manager of a young British Asian singer that we knew too, called Johnny. We had worked with him many times on his English demo’s, where we would provide the beats and backing tracks ready for Johnny’s vocals (a bit like Wham and Bros). Johnny told us how he had tried Indian music but didn’t really like the traditional sound that all the artists seemed to have at the time. He played us some popular Indian songs and we could see why, they were all lacking bass and bottom end. Quite unlike western songs with their killer bass lines and tough beats. But then we began to wonder what these amazing Indian songs would sound like with a heavy western influence.
Fast forward a few months and we had an Indian fusion album ready to go. We took care of the music and production and Johnny stepped up with the Punjabi/English vocals. We played the album to the top Indian record labels and they all wanted it, so we sold to the highest bidder. A few weeks later saw the release of “Hit The Deck” by Johnny Zee and it was an instant smash. Nobody had heard Indian music with such a western pop influence before and it helped to kick start a massive surge in popularity of the genre amongst young British Asians. Soon, Johnny would be performing across the UK, Canada, USA and India as this new sound caused a stir around the world.
And there were clear benefits for us too as more and more Asian singers and producers booked the studio, looking to get more of a western vibe and extra depth into their music.
The next big project would be an album with a young Dj/Remixer called Bally Sagoo. He was fairly unknown as he’d only released one song at that point. But as the sessions progressed, week in, week out for several months, it was obvious something good was cooking. Being a Dj was a great asset to Bally as he had an excellent knowledge of both western music and Indian music. He wanted to be the first to introduce some of the mainstream Dj techniques of samples and scratching into Asian music.
When “Wham Bam” was released in Dec 90′ it was a big hit, selling over 100,000 units. It was the beginning of a golden period for Bally with several hit albums back to back. He even supported Michael Jackson on his India shows.
Along side this there were many other Asian music projects happening at the studio, and soon it became clear that we needed to add to the team to cope with the workload of sessions.
Cue Jim Lantsbery, closely followed by Paul Civil. Both excellent, experienced musicians who would quickly adapt to the demands of recording sessions.
During the next few years as Jim Meikle took on a nearby pub/music venue, Paul, Jim Lantsbery and myself were very busy with studio sessions. We ran daytime from 10am to 8pm, followed by evenings upto 3 or 4am, 7 days a week, with all three of us doing 40 plus hours per week. Such was the output and success of our endevours that our clients would refer to us as the Hit Factory or the Indian Motown! High praise indeed.
Mostly our clients would give us an idea of how they would like their songs to sound, for instance an rnb vibe, or hip hop, or reggae/ragga. We would interpret that brief and work with a guide vocal to program the drums, work out the chord structure, add basslines etc, ready for the Indian instruments and percussion, and final vocals.
We worked with many of the top bhangra bands such as Pardesi, DCS, Anaamika and Achanak. For their recordings they wanted to move away from the confines of a live band sound to incorporate drum loops and programmed bass and they knew we were keen to help in that department.
We were also lucky enough to work with many of the established A-list singers such as Malkit Singh, AS Kang, Mangal Singh, Safri, Shin DCS, Silinder and Boota Pardesi and many others.
But it was our work with Asian music producers that would keep us the busiest and perhaps had the most impact. Top notch maestros like Bally Sagoo (7 albums),Amarjit Sidhu (8 albums) and Sukshinder Shinda (20+ and counting) have spent many years at Planet Studios, each one developing an amazing body of work and an enviable reputation around the world.
Late in the 90’s saw the emergence of two Asian music phenomenons … Jazzy B and B21.
Jazzy had moved here from Canada a few years earlier and was soon discovered by Birmingham master producer Sukshinder Shinda. It was a perfect match. Shinda’s traditional production values and dhol centric sound suited Jazzy’s raw vocals to a tee, and his stage presence and hip hop senseabilities totally added to his appeal. Jazzy has always remained true to the traditional values of a desi singer, with his hero Kuldeep Manak being a great inspiration, and later a great friend.
He became known as the crown prince of bhangra, and more recently the president of bhangra. And from then to the present day Jazzy has recorded all his major albums with Shinda and myself at Planet Studios. On the occasions when a song would need more of a western approach, they were happy to let me build the bulk of the music, ready for Shinda’s percussion and music pieces, and Jazzy’s vocals. Examples of this would be Dil Luteya ft Apache Indian, Nakhro and Munda Top Da. And for Jazzy, over his so far 25 year career, he continues to enjoy worldwide fame.
Also we saw the emergence of Stereo Nation.
Taz, DJ Kendell, and myself, managed to create a fresh and uplifting international sound, and the boys soon secured a major record deal with EMI. They would go on to have great success around the world, playing some of the most prestigious festivals across the globe.
On a personal note, I have some great memories of the Stereo Nation sessions. Always a positive vibe with maximum input from all three of us. Later we all signed to Warner-Chappell publishing.
Early 2022 saw the untimely passing of Taz, a ground breaking artist and a great loss to the music world.
B21 were a different kind of phenomenon … an Asian boy band.
Jassi Sidhu’s raw vocals, Boota Jagpal’s classy productions, and Bally Jagpal’s vocals, stage presence and cutting edge productions. A lethal combination that lead to three massive selling albums, and three more equally successful Bally Jagpal albums.
But it was only made possible with the vision of “new kid on the block” Moviebox Records, who, from the mid nineties to the present, came to dominate the scene with their bold new approach and their willingness to invest in the right artist.
B21 were the most in demand act on the live circuit. Infact it was not unusual for them to do three shows in three different cities all in a day!
We were very happy that they chose Planet Studios for all their recordings. They split their production work, with Boota working at his home studio for half of the songs (and mixing at Planet), while Bally would work from scratch at the studio on the other half. Their record label Moviebox understood their modus operandi and never imposed any budgetary restrictions, they believed in the band’s talents and as B21 fans themselves, they were confident that the outcome would be income.
Bally also enjoyed tremendous success as a solo artist, using some of the finest voices available (Safri, Shazia Manzoor and Amar Arshi). As Bally was new to production we were a big helping hand. He would suggest a vibe for each song, and myself and Jim Lantsbery would prepare the music. Then Bally would work at the studio with Daz Woods for session after session, experimenting til the early hours, and always delivering the goodies.
As we moved into the noughties it was UK garage that provided the big inspiration for desi music. A prime example would be “Tappe” from Surinder Rattan’s “The Lick” album. Many other producers found that they could not resist what was the dominant genre of the day, and put their own take on it, like “Akheeya” by 5RB.
Moving through the decade would see many strong albums from The Music Man Sukshinder Shinda, including producing the “Romeo” album, which would confirm Jazzy B’s position as a global superstar. And, for his own albums, it was a big career move when he decided to take on the vocal duties, but it was an inspired move and opened up a whole new audience. It also led to the very successful Collaborations albums, with the best India/Canada/UK singers.
Handsworth’s Mehsopuria made an instant impact with his debut album in 2003, his distinctive voice and controversial look (tattoos and bandanas), would polarise opinion but always make the headlines.
The UK, and Planet Studios in particular, was still held in high regard internationally, so we would see many top singers from India and Canada. Like Kuldeep Manak, Gurdass Mann, Alicia, Babbu Mann and a fairly unknown singer called Mika Singh. He was very familiar with our work and he wanted me to mix his album and produce the final song ‘Something Something”. It was an excellent composition and I was delighted with the result. My niece Bella also featured with some very fine lead and background vocals. This song turned out to be a game changer for Mika as it brought him to the attention of some of the top Bollywood music producers. He has become one of India’s most famous singers and has enjoyed a fantastic career, and you can hear his voice in many of the top Bollywood movies to this day. He still gets in touch from time to time and I produced two songs for the soundtrack of his film debut a couple of years ago.
Coming out of the same camp as Jazzy and Shinda was Leamington’s Aman Hayer. Yes, not the sort of place you would expect a top Punjabi music producer to come from!
After paying his dues as a session musician (a very accomplished percussionist and keyboard player), and a few years in the Jazzy B live band, Aman was drawn to production work.
Fast forward a few years and he would have a substantial body of work to his name, with a distinctive desi sound, and a queue of singers looking for the Aman Hayer treatment.
Also around this time we would come across someone who would go on to be one of the top UK producers of the last 20 years… Tru-Skool. Known for his own particular brand of desi music, raw and real with a hip hop slant, he loved the Planet dhol sound and would always make sure it was included on his key songs. An example of this would be “Kharku” by Diljit Dosanjh. Attention to detail and a passion for Punjabi folk music has kept Tru-Skool at the top of the pile and a major influencer on the worldwide scene.
Coming from an altogether different angle was the Bollywood-friendly Partners In Rhyme. Prem and Hardy, two Coventry lads with a global vision. Their major breakthrough came when Hardy took a trip to Bombay (as it was called back then), and connected with some of the big players in the film/music game. Sony Music took the bait and pretty soon super-producer Prem would be putting a heavy western slant on the audio gold of the original film songs (vocals, strings, flutes and mandolins) and delivering masterpiece remix versions. That led to lots more Bollywood film work, both remix and original productions. and collaborations with top singers such as Kumar Sanu, Satinder Sataaj and many many more.
They were responsible for “Kala Chashma” which was India’s No1 song 2016.
The last decade has seen massive changes in the worldwide music industry, as record sales have been replaced with music streaming (Spotify, Apple Music, etc in the western world, Jiosaavn, Gaana etc in Asia). And the rise of YouTube has made artists realise just how important a quality video is as a promotional tool to represent their brand, and how the number of views can be taken as a quantifiable measure of popularity and success. A strong social media presence is also essential for artists to entertain and expand their audience, and many of my clients have become experts in this field. Its not unusual for an artist to pause a recording session for 20mins to do a live broadcast, and the first I know about it is when they say “hey Tom say hello we’re on facebook live (and there’s 100k people watching and sending comments!)”.
During the last few years it has been a great pleasure to continue to welcome to Planet Studios some of the worlds finest Asian singers, such as Diljit Dosanjh, Jaz Dhami (one of only a very few artists with a song notching up over 100 million youtube views, even Stormzy only has one such song, “Shut Up”), Jasmine Sandlas, Jazzy B, Satinder Sataaj, Sidhu Moose Wala, Kulwinder Billa, JK, Mika Singh, Naseebo Lal, and many many more.
We’re also very proud of our continued association with some of the Asian worlds top producers such as Tru Skool, Partners in Rhyme, Sukshinder Shinda, Aman Hayer, Popsy, and the many talented, up and coming, future music makers that have come our way.
And finally, to all the past and present clients and friends of Planet Studios…
A Massive Thanks