Hotel Garuda

Tellie's The Beat talks with Hotel Garuda—producer, songwriter, and DJ based in Los Angeles, CA.

Check out Hotel Garuda's page for Tellie's The Beat

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. 


Introduction

My name is Aseem Mangaokar. My artist name is Hotel Garuda. I’m a producer slash songwriter slash DJ slash gamer slash day-trader slash interested-in-tech person. [Laughs] I’ve been making music for eight years, deejaying around the US and around the world for about six. And yeah, making music is what I love to do. 

Beginnings…

For starters, my dad comes from a family that is not your usual sort of Indian family. His dad traveled a lot for work and would always bring back CDs and cassette tapes of different kinds of bands when my dad was growing up, and that was sort of passed onto me when I was a kid. I’ve always been interested in all kinds of different music—a lot of rock music and a lot of band music. I didn’t really know what electronic music was until I found my dad’s Ministry of Sound 2001 CD in high school sometime. From there, I got really obsessed with it. 

I always wanted to know what it would be like to deejay or produce or something like that. I didn’t have the wherewithal to find that out until I was in college in the US and one of my friends from middle school had started an artist project. He had been posting little mashups and little deejay edits and things. I connected with him and we started making music together. He was sort of responsible for teaching me a lot of the workflow that makes me do what I do nowadays. So in a roundabout fashion, I didn’t really know how to make music when I first started as a professional. It kind of went viral on accident and I had to catch up to how viral it was going.

“That’s just not how it works. You have to really focus on honing the craft, sharpening your pencil, and putting the time in to make sure that what you’re doing is authentic and what you’re doing is really representative of what you want to put out there. ”


When did you know you could do this for real?

We put out our first song on SoundCloud and it sort of just exploded online in the first few days. I had an inkling that this could be something I could pursue, but… Like I said, my family is not a traditional Indian family, but they’re traditional enough to be like, You know, maybe don’t put all your eggs in the music basket. Maybe still go to school, still focus on your education, and maybe the musical thing will work out on its own. I was still in school at the time, so I kept my head down and got my degree. I was doing that alongside the music starting to go successfully viral. Pretty much song after song we put out on SoundCloud was doing millions of plays. At the time, SoundCloud was kind of the arbiter of who was popping in the online music space. 

We weren’t doing it long. It’s not like we didn’t get any plays on our songs for 10 years and then all of a sudden, one song went viral. It happened right from the first song. And that was kind of a blessing and a curse because it definitely went to our heads a little bit. Definitely went to my head for sure. [Laughs] I was like, Every song we put out, it’s going to have however many million hits or whatever. That’s just not how it works. You have to really focus on honing the craft, sharpening your pencil, and putting the time in to make sure that what you’re doing is authentic and what you’re doing is really representative of what you want to put out there. 


Can you imagine a life without art or creativity? 

Yeah, I could imagine that. I could imagine a life where I have a desk job, a clock-in, clock-out sort of routine. That’s the kind of life I think I was gearing up for, truth be told. When I was in college, I was studying economics and math. I was fully prepared to go into investment banking or something in the financial space where I would probably just be clocking in and out. Probably making way more money than I make right now. [Laughs] But I’d probably be miserable. I think that’s the trade-off, right? For me, I could probably live with the trade-off of not being as free to do whatever I want, but then having the stability of a bill-paying job with benefits and things like that. The security that comes along with that, the peace of mind that comes along with that, that’s a trade-off I’d make. I’d make that deal. 

How has the internet affected your work?

I think the internet got so saturated with people who are very talented and very hardworking. People’s attention spans can only keep up with so many things at a time, so you can have a song with a million hits or 10 million hits or 50 million hits. But the next week, somebody younger, more attractive, and more hardworking than you is going to have another song like that. So it’s important to understand that the internet is part of the business—it’s not the entire business. It’s not the entire end goal to be popping on Spotify. That’s cool because it’ll pay you money and stuff, but of those 50 million plays you have on a song, how many of those are going to turn into tickets you sell at a show? How many of those are going to be people that will actually buy merch versus how many will be passive listeners who have your song on a playlist and don’t give you more than 10 seconds of thought when they listen to one of your songs?

What would you say to young Aseem? 

Take your guitar lessons more seriously. I would tell myself to really buckle down and learn theory, scales, and more of the actual inner workings of how the instrument is played, rather than wanting to learn a full album of Guns and Roses songs. 

“I realized I’m not one of those people who makes music because making music makes me happy. I make music because deejaying makes me happy, and making music lets me deejay.”


What does creativity mean to you? 

I think people have different outlooks on creativity depending on how one’s own creativity works. I’ve been fortunate to work with and be around people for whom creativity is like a tap. They can it turn on and off. At least, that’s how it appears to me. I’ve been in rooms with people who open their laptop and it just pours out of them. Like it’s effortless. Like it’s just turning on a tap. I don’t know if I see it the same way for myself. I have to put myself in a situation where if the tap turns on, I have to be under the tap holding a bucket. I have no control whether the tap turns on or not. I just have to be under the tap holding a bucket, so to speak. I have to show up and try and do something. And if something awesome happens, it’s great. I have the bucket and I’m holding the bucket. If something doesn’t happen, then I’ll still have the bucket at least. [Laughs]

What makes you come alive?

Deejaying for sure makes me come alive. I’m a different person when I’m in the DJ booth. In real life, I’m a very gregarious, extroverted, very sociable person. It kind of weirdly turns around in the DJ booth. I’m very in the zone and sort of shut off, which is kind of a weird thing to say when my job depends on audience interaction and stuff like that. I’ll interact with the crowd when I need to. I’ll talk to them on the mic and stuff, but I’m in my own bliss. I’m in a perfect nirvana space most of the time when I’m deejaying. Not a lot of jobs will give you that when you’re on the clock. 

The pandemic and you.

I think the pandemic was really good for my sense of self in a twisted way. It gave me a sense of direction and a sense of clarity with regard to what I want to make and why I want to make it. I realized I’m not one of those people who makes music because making music makes me happy. I make music because deejaying makes me happy, and making music lets me deejay. So I think that’s what I learned about myself over the course of the pandemic. And it really made me appreciate all of the gigs I get to play and the people I get to meet when I’m touring. 

What does the near future hold for you? 

I’m looking forward to taking music-making a little less seriously, and putting a little less pressure on myself to be making songs that have to be Spotify or commercial hits. I think that’s the sort of mentality that’s really toxic. It’s a really unhealthy mentality to go into every creative idea with the expectation that it has to be a commercial success—it ties back to what I was saying about learning what I wanted out of music in the pandemic. I’m really just looking forward to making music that I want to play in DJ sets. 

You know, I also hope to provide some guidance to people who are in the position I was in eight years ago. When you’re starting out making music, you don’t really know that you’re starting a business. Nobody really tells you that you have to be making smart business choices and smart business decisions—not only with the way you handle money, but the people you keep around you. Keeping the right people around you is super important. I’d like to be an advisory voice for new creatives, new musicians, new artists, and people who are new to the DJ circuit. Any advice they want that I may have to offer them? I would love to be that person. Because I think that while a lot of people are caught up in the artist rat race of who’s going to sell out the Staples Center first, I’m less concerned with that. I’m more concerned with making sure people who are starting to put out music can survive off of the money they make. I want to help them have sustainable business models in place to keep that going, to make themselves happy before they place priority on making their fans happy and doing everything for their fans. Which is important, for sure. But at the end of the day, you definitely have to look out for yourself and make sure you’re making the best decisions for the long-term sustainability of your career.

“When you’re starting out making music, you don’t really know that you’re starting a business. Nobody really tells you that you have to be making smart business choices and smart business decisions...”


This interview was conducted on November 3rd, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

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