Recording Connection mentor Nick Chahwala is an industry pro in the truest sense of the word, not just because of his Grammy-nominated work with artists like Mariah Carey, Katy Perry and T.I., but also because of his cutting-edge approach to recording and producing quality records. Over time, he’s developed his Atlanta-based recording studio, Bravo Ocean Studios, into a one-stop shop for high-quality recording, production, branding and artist development. What’s more, he recently hired one of his star students, Recording Connection graduate Garrett Pace (whom we featured in the June 29 edition of this newsletter), to be his primary staff engineer!
In a recent conversation with RRFC, Nick talked about some of the secrets of his studio’s successes, including streamlining the studio workflow and entering into artist development. (He also bragged on Garrett a bit.) As is so often the case, a lot of what he said is quite useful to many of our students hoping to break into the business, so we’ve mined some of the best nuggets from that conversation to share with you below.
ON WHY HE FELT THE NEED TO INCREASE STUDIO EFFICIENCY:
Recording Connection mentor Nick Chahwala
“In the industry, sometimes it’s not about the best quality of the product, but it’s also about the speed and how fast you can get there, the timing of things. So basically there was like thousands of dollars that I was losing, and literally when I would hear the product that someone had beat me out on, it wasn’t about, ‘Oh my God, it was the best quality, or the best song.’ It was like it got there first, it fitted their need at that point. And then they were able to go back later after it was produced and get it technically and everything, you know, to where it needed to be. That’s on the production side of things, but as far as engineering, you know, I’m still a stickler about quality; it’s a huge thing for me. So I’ve tried, every single day, to work on my technique on recording and producing to where I can still have a phenomenal sound, but not cutting everything up into layers…So efficiency is a big thing because one, we don’t wanna loose money; two, we wanna beat anybody else, get our product out first.”
ON HOW HE SPEEDS UP THE WORKFLOW WITHOUT COMPROMISING QUALITY:
Studio C in Bravo Ocean Studios
“Everything is like doing eight different concepts or techniques all built into one, into your [Pro Tools] workflow…So, for instance, if I have a tracking vocal, and that’s my main tracking vocal and that input’s engaged, that’s the only one I’ll ever use that entire session. I never shut that out of record and then go to the next track and put that track in record…If that vocalist is singing on that track and I’m listening to it, if I know it needs to be redone, she knows that if I start this over, she’s got to get immediately right into the first verse again…I’m comping while she’s still doing the second take, and I’m still listening…I’ve got my set ups already so we already have a mix….[Using] different Pro Tools flows, hierarchies of vocal levels to where they’re just continuously recording so they’re just in it. They don’t even know that we exist, they are just constantly recording for 30, 45 minutes, and we’re doing over 60, 70, 80 tracks of vocals perfectly pitched, perfectly lined up, timing, harmonized, and first small mix, all by the time they get out of the booth…We get paid a lot for our mixes and our efficiency, so it just works. That’s just one of hundreds of things that we do inside of Pro Tools to make sure we’re efficient.”
ON WHY HE LOVES TO WORK WITH EMERGING ARTISTS:
“You know, we’ve done a lot of major stuff. We’re Grammy nominated for doing Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, No Mercy, the entire record with T.I. Which are great records, but honestly, I think the best stuff that we’ve ever worked on is the stuff we work on with emerging artists, because they still have the drive, the hunger, and there is still a lot of discovery. With major artists, they might be looking for a new sound, but they’re there already…But the stuff that we’ve worked on for emerging artists, for instance our artist Ulrika–and another artist of ours named Prisca, she got compared to like an Ellie Goulding, Annie Lennox, Prince…Every producer can get in the big sessions like Katy and Mariah that we’ve done. And that’s fine, but if you can break your own artist, you’ve really created your own path.”
ON WHY (AND HOW) HE ADDED ARTIST DEVELOPMENT AND BRANDING TO HIS SERVICES:
Control Room A in Bravo Ocean Studios
“Development is record production and finding an avenue and a voice for that specific artist or band. As soon as we nail that, we get right into the branding, we develop the website—we have incredibly talented photographers that work for the biggest magazines that are in-house. So we do the branding, their look, the photography, the clothing style, their social media management and their themes, what they look like out there. And then we have partners, too who are on Facebook, YouTube, all those kinds of things including YouTube partners and stuff like that. It’s [based on] what they need and how big their budget is, but instead of just grabbing that one budget for recording, we try to grab multiple budgets to try and make sure, after we’re doing the most important part, which is production—we want to make our work make sense, by putting it in the right business and the right avenue to get out there as best as possible. And why not do that if we know how to do it already?”
ON WHY HE HIRED HIS APPRENTICE GARRETT PACE, AND HOW HE’S DOING NOW:
“Of all the students that we’ve had, he’s been like the best. I think when he first got here the whole thing for him I told him was to get out of his comfort zone continuously. He’s the only one who’s done that…he became my best student, and then he became the leader of a couple production groups that I put him on and then now he’s my head engineer. And now that he’s through the program, I hired him to stay here at the studio to become my head engineer, so he does all the studio engineering…It’s only been five and a half, six months that he’s been with us. Came in with hardly any kind of ear or any kind of understanding of production, and since that time has put out multiple records and entire projects of full blown albums. And now he has the key to the studio, to where he’s taking all our studio sessions. Last night was his first major [label] artist…I was out at dinner and I couldn’t be there, so I was like, ‘You’re gonna have to take it, you’re gonna have to produce her vocals for her album.’ He came, stepped it up, and now she’s asking for him by name.”