by Candice Anne Marshall
In the latter part of June 2017, I was introduced to one of the industry’s most notable, influential peers and music inspirations Mr. Chris Craker. Undeniably, Chris comes from a distinctive background: he was General Manager and Senior Vice President of the International Division of Sony BMG Masterworks, Producer of the soundtrack for Director Christopher Nolan’s movie “Interstellar”, with the Oscar nominated score composed by Hans Zimmer, as well as producing the 2017 Annie Award Winning score for “The Little Prince” for Paramount, directed by Mark Osborne (of Kung Fu Panda fame). In April 2008, Chris resigned from Sony to set up Karma Sound Studios and devote more time to his own creative endeavors and management of a select group of uniquely gifted artists. Karma is now recognized as the number one luxury residential recording studio complex in South East Asia who’s first guests included three iconic global bands: Placebo, Jamiroquai, and Bullet For My Valentine.
Chris Craker has won numerous awards and received acclaim for his activities as a performer, recording artist, composer, arranger, producer/engineer, record label founder, artist manager, author, critic, industry commentator and strategic advisor. So, it doesn’t surprise us that he has plunged right into his projects at Karma Sound Studios with successful results (see our interview below). Karma, located among the luxurious sand and waterways of Thailand located just outside Bang Saray, provides a picturesque fishing village on the coast and surrounded by beautiful countryside which is perfect for inspiration.
The accommodations at Karma boast 6 bedrooms which are all ensuite, four with private balconies overlooking the 60 sqm swimming pool and extensive gardens. All rooms have an in-room private safe and are supplemented by a massage room, small gym, and a private bar situated around the swimming pool and BBQ area. The outdoor dining sala doubles as a live stage area for al fresco pool-side concerts and the ultimate “unplugged” video shoot location. TVs/DVD/Games Console and full broadband internet access and a table tennis table are all available.
Studio One provides spacious recording areas (200 sq metres), consisting of the main live room plus a very large drum booth / isolation area that can contain up to a twelve-piece horn or wind section, as well as a large vocal and guitar booth, and two further guitar amp / speaker isolation areas. The control room’s centrepiece is the SSL 4056 E/G Series console, supported by a 32/56 I/O Pro tools 10 & 11 HD system, complemented with outboard by BAE/Neve 1073s, Millennia, API, Great River, Emperical Labs, Teletronix, Universal Audio, dbx, Thermionic Culture, Avalon, Lexicon, Eventide and many more!
Studio 2 at Karma provides the ultimate ‘Swiss-army-knife’ set-up for the modern songwriter/producer. Designed with simplicity and flexibility in mind, it runs Pro Tools 10 & 11 HD Native, Logic Pro X and Reason 5 running on a UA Apollo Quad with D-Box monitoring and summing. Both studios have access to a comprehensive sample library and the latest 64bit plugins. Mastering grade ATC monitoring is an unusual but welcome provision, along with Yamaha HS8s & NS10s, B&W 805 Nautilus and Aurotones. Outboard provided by AMS Neve, API, SSL, Universal Audio, Teletronix, GML, SPL, Radial, dbx, Empirical Labs Inc. and more, mean very few studios can compete for the price.
*A full GEAR list of equipment in both studios can be found (here)
I hopped on a call with Chris last week and we spoke about some of the future projects coming up at Karma, his collaborations with some of the worlds’ top Artists (whose songs are written at Karma), and the projects which SMC will be in support of by way of press releases, interviews, and video content on the SMC Spotlight and Starlight Music Chronicles website. We are excited to share the content over the next few months and begin with our press releases on Karma Sound Studios Songwriter Retreat 2017 (click here) and the Superstar 101 for Aspiring Pop Stars (click here). Needless to say, when the website says ‘If James Bond had a recording studio it would be Karma…’, they were not kidding!
There will be much more to release over the course of the next six months on our SMC Spotlight so be sure to subscribe to our site and the Karma Sound Studios website (here)
Settle back for a few moments and enjoy this glimpse into the studio.
SMC Spotlight Exclusive Interview | Chris Craker
SMC- Hello Chris! We are happy to have you on our SMC Spotlight! I’m going to get right into it – I have read your bio (here) and it goes without saying that you are THE man in terms of the music industry. Your career history timeline includes that of being Former Senior Vice President of Sony BMG (among many other exceptional accomplishments!). I am certain that you have hundreds of amazing experiences that you are proud of. Can you tell us of a few highlights in your career(s) that have stood out most prominently for you?
Chris – Probably the biggest highlights we working as the Producer of the soundtrack to Christopher Nolan’s incredible movie ‘Interstellar’ and the Composer (my friend) Hans Zimmer. It was nine month of my life that then cumulated in me also being engaged as the Executive Producer for staging ‘Interstellar Live’ at the Royal Albert Hall in London – a sold out show which we screened the movie with a live, 90-piece orchestra playing the score, and speakers before the show including Stephen Hawking, Chris Nolan, Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine, etc.…
SMC – I could probably sit and listen to your story all day (laughs), and I have so many questions that I am sure I will think of later, are you open to SMC continuing to support you by way of our SMC SPOTLIGHT Numbered Series? This is a chronicled history and timeline of your career accomplishments via interviews, ongoing support for new and current projects, and press releases.
Chris – I would love to be a part of this…thank you for asking.
SMC – You have worked with some of the world’s finest Composers and Musicians, which have you developed a kinship with and why?
Chris – Composers I’ve worked closely with include Hans Zimmer which has been inspiring; working with Lang Lang the Chinese classical Pianist was amazing and needless to say, it was a real pleasure having Jamiroquai at my Studio. Recording Leona Lewis was incredible too – watching how someone takes their artistry so seriously and setting super high standards for themselves…we all found her an inspiration.
SMC – Can you tell us what a typical day is like for you? Pick a day, any day will do.
Chris – Ha ha…I get up at 5:30 or 6 am and in the gym by 6:30 am the latest. Work starts around 8:00 am and continues all day with a mixture of either creative work or business/management issues with my Artists and colleagues. A normal day will include half a dozen overseas Skype or Facetime sessions too – which, by default, means that the working day is long so that I can coincide with multiple time zones…
SMC – I do know that with anyone in the entertainment industry, there is never a dull moment so I look forward to hearing what your thoughts are on this: is there any moment in time that stands out to you as an ‘ah-ha’ or ‘pinch me’ moment?
Chris – That’s a great question because it is odd sometimes when I think back to being in serious discussions with Christopher Nolan, Lang Lang, Benny & Bjorn from Abba, Hans Zimmer, Jimmy Page, and Actors like Dame Judi Dench, Michael Caine, and Christopher Lee – surreal really…
SMC – I heard you juggle between Europe, Thailand, and the US. Can you tell us where you feel most ‘at home’?
Chris – Actually, I feel most at home in Thailand since my studio is there – but I have family in London and always enjoy being in Santa Monica too…they are three amazing locations to spend my time.
SMC – Have you ever met an industry peer who was difficult to deal with? If so, how did you handle the situation?
Chris – Some Artists and Managers are more challenging than others and without naming names, I find the best approach is simply to be incredibly polite, friendly, and always do my job and try to exceed expectations. Then, if people are still difficult to deal with, it’s clearly them that has the problem! I try to surround myself with like-minded spirits and most of the time, working relationships are very cordial.
SMC – What are your thoughts on the music that is being created today as opposed to, say, 20 or 30 years ago?
Chris – I love what’s happening now – it’s just very different in content and the methods of creating are so different now. Also…the method of delivery to fans and the engagement with fans is so different from 20 years ago. I actually think the Music Industry is an incredibly vibrant place to be right now, and one of immense opportunity if one is prepared to think and act differently from the past!
SMC – Are there any other ventures you are involved in currently that you will be announcing at a later date? Obviously, I realize you can’t divulge full details, but perhaps even a hint at it….
Chris – I am expanding my Management and Label Activities. I am heavily involved in the field of Music Industry Education and have set up a new joint venture to forge that ahead – and later this year I will be rolling out a program that aims to help Musicians and Artists who have suffered at the hands of drug and alcohol addictions and giving them ‘Music therapy’ and a second chance at making it back into the industry.
SMC – What was your personally most rewarding experience from any one completed project?
Chris – Seeing Karma Studio open for the very first time and to see albums being created here that then have global success which changes people’s lives.
SMC – Who is your go-to team? Are you a solo thinker/doer, or do you like to bounce ideas around with your peers?
Chris – I have a small team of trusted Advisers but do most things on my own…the team at Karma is amazing – great administration and creative and technical support.
SMC – Which of your awards are you most proud of being a recipient of and why?
Chris – The award that brought me most satisfaction was winning the gold medal at an international music competition when I was just 18 years old. It was the first time I’d won anything of consequence and it really boosted my confidence to then go on and try to achieve great things in the music industry.
SMC – I read that you have been behind successful Artist projects in the USA and Asia. What draws you to Asia and where do you see the difference in the style of Pop Musicians between the two countries? Would you say Asia is more advanced?
Chris – we have amazing acts all over the world and the best ones are all unique. Styles and flavors change from country to country but I would say that I am excited at the prospect of breaking Asian acts into the west and western acts into Asia. That’s always fun to see cross pollination and true global success…
SMC – Where do you think ‘it’ is in terms of the future of music platforms supporting Artists – Radio, or alternative platforms like Spotify and Pandora?
Chris – I see Spotify dominating globally before too long. It’s an easy to use and very functional platform. I listen to the radio in the car, but more and more, I am enjoying having control of what I listen to on Spotify and then being surprised by playlists that others have created.
SMC – We often hear from industry professionals that the music of today ‘isn’t what it was’ 20 or 30 years ago in terms of quality. What are your thoughts on what the Millennial generation of Artists are creating? Do you share these same opinions of your peers in the industry to a degree?
Chris – I wholeheartedly disagree – there’s loads of great music being made now and 30 years ago, there was also great music and a lot of terrible music being made! Nowadays, everyone has access to very affordable simple technology to record and create which is a wonderful thing…then, as people develop their skills, they use the more sophisticated platforms on which to create and truly amazing music is flowing from Artists from all over the world.
SMC – Have there been any indie Artists who have wowed you in the last few years? If so, who?
Chris – Adele started out as an Indie Artist and caused a massive response from being truly authentic. I have also loved watching the rise to fame of Dagny – a Norwegian Pop Singer who has now been snapped up by Republic, but she started from grassroots and evolved as an Artist and is now wowing people all over the world.
SMC – For you, what do you find personal satisfaction in?
Chris – I love bands like Muse and Radiohead. I’ve really enjoyed live shows from Queen featuring Adam Lambert, and the Chainsmokers we fun in Los Angeles earlier this year.
SMC – When an idea comes to the forefront of your mind, do you act quickly on it or do you take the time to research and develop it?
Chris – I like to move quickly whenever possible! But I make sure to research too. That can be quick these days with access to everything we ever need to know online!
SMC – What was the most rewarding or memorable moment in your role as Senior Vice President of Sony BMG?
Chris – It was always great to see the younger acts coming through and making their mark. But, from a corporate point of view, seeing the end of the year financial reports always showing growth and always above target – that, as a result of making great music with our key acts. Also, ensuring that the back-catalogue was always being stimulated and refreshed and presented in new vibrant ways to the public.
SMC – Aside from Artists/Musicians/Songwriters, what kinds of initiatives or individuals professionally are you most likely to support or which you are most passionate about?
Chris – I take a strong interest in supporting mental health practitioners who help Musicians. Our industry is so demanding physically and emotionally and often, Musicians end up in difficult places. We need to look after them and ensure they are supported when the going gets tough, for whatever reason…
SMC – Last question before we head into the Press Release questions: What do you personally feel your greatest accomplishment is to date? Professionally?
Chris – Producing the soundtrack to ‘Interstellar’.
KARMA SONGWRITING RETREATS
SMC – When Mike (Rogers, mutual industry friend) had introduced me to you, he sent me a link to your website (here) and I was blown away! You are the owner of this venture – can you tell us what inspired you to get this project going? (for our readers, the press releases will be included with this interview below)
Chris – Having been working in London and New York for Sony, I really wanted to do a project that would get me back to making music and making records. I had always wanted to do build a strong studio and I thought about what the ideal studio should be. Naturally, there were palm trees and a beach location springing into my mind (laughs) and I liked the idea of being away from the real world in a tropical paradise – Thailand! We have subsequently developed these songwriter retreats for writers from all over the world to come and enjoy the vibe here. Fifteen writers from all over the globe, congregate and write together in the most exotic and inspiring location imaginable. Great songs flow!
SMC – What is the kind of work that goes into the planning process of these retreats? Do you have a team that organizes this for you or do you prefer to be hands-on?
Chris – I am very hands-on but we have an Administrator who looks after all the accommodations and logistics as well as amazing Producers working with the writers and programming them up, ready to pitch to major label Artists all around the world.
SMC – I feel that a studio in the middle of paradise is probably every musician or songwriters dream. As a writer myself, this inspires me to get the creative juices flowing just looking at the video of the studio (laughs)! Do you feel location for this project when you initially came up with the idea was essential to getting the creative juices flowing for the Songwriters/Artists? If so, why?
Chris – Choosing this location was all about the vibe. It was all about what would inspire Musicians. The world is full of studios in cities, and most Musicians have a set-up at home. We needed to be different and it seems to have worked! We are constantly full.
SMC – Can you tell us a little bit of history on the studio in terms of who has attended and whose music has been picked up by major label Artists?
Chris – One of the first bands to come (to Karma) was Placebo recording their album ‘Battle Of The Sun’ and since that time, we also have made records for Jamiroquai, Bullet For My Valentine, The Libertines, Enter Shikari, Young Guns, Heat, Hellions, Trophy Eyes, and amazing bands from Japan, Russia, Australia, Scandinavia, and of course, pretty well every major Thai act has been here too!
SMC – Is there one (or a few) Songwriters who have attended the retreat whose music has stood out to you or impressed you greatly?
Chris – There are a number…a young guy called Syps (Alex Sypsomos) really stands out and you will be hearing hits from him in the next none months, I guarantee. Also, Gia Koka from Holland was amazing. Also, Jackson Dimiglio Wood and Rich Craker have done some pretty awesome things too for major label Artists.
SMC – Can you tell us about some of the Artists who have had some hits that originated from the Songwriters in this retreat?
Chris – Well it’s early days, but we know that a new Artist with Avex in Japan (Momo) is about to break with a brand new single written at Karma. We also have songs on hold with Rhianna and Leona Lewis currently.
SMC – Can you tell us what kind of feedback the Songwriters who have attended the retreats have to say about their experience?
Chris – We have such lovely feedback – people absolutely love being here and they do their best work but I get looked after so well too…our staff tend to everyone’s every need and the whole thing is pretty idyllic.
Karma Studio & Superstar 101 for Aspiring Pop Stars
SMC – Was the studio built from scratch? What kind of details can you give specifically about the studio equipment and the studio itself?
Chris – Yes, I bought the land and built the entire complex from scratch. We have three studios – one equipped with a 56 channel SSL G+ Console and the other two are very sophisticated production and post-production studios with a mixture of state of the art and vintage equipment from all major brands.
SMC – Is this your first time hosting the Superstar 101 for Aspiring Pop Stars program?
Chris – Yes, it is. We are the perfect ‘destination studio’ for this kind of project. We can make such great footage here and shoot great pictures to accompany songs from hit songwriters.
SMC – Can you tell us a little more about the program and where it was incepted and why?
Chris – This is a program that enables a young singer with some financial backing to fast track into the business and to work with amazing people within a concentrated period of time. At the end of the one-month program, the Artist will have an album and all the video and image assets required to be marketed internationally. And with my connections at the major labels, we can introduce them to senior A&R teams in London, Nashville, Berlin, Los Angeles, and New York as well as release direct to market via our own label linked with iTunes and Spotify.
SMC – Although at first glance of the costs for this program seem high initially, when one looks at what is offered to an Artist in terms of career advancement, I feel this is a valid and wise investment! Can you tell us if there is any other program out there which offers what you do or is this a first?
Chris – I don’t think there are many programs out there quite like this and when one knows that quite commonly top Writer/Producers are charging $10,000 – 20,000 a track, $100,000 for an entire album with two videos and two photoshoots plus all the other ancillary help is an amazing value!
SMC – You seem like the kind of man who is an innovator in terms of unique opportunities for the music industry. Can you tell me what the vision for the next five to ten years is for Karma Studio Artists or the Studio itself?
Chris – I do indeed like to develop new things, you’re right. In the next five years, we will have a very strong and innovative management company linked to the studios, as well as the label, which has already started but we are also very attentive to the ways that the market changes and so, right now, we are making it our business to work closely with Spotify, Snapchat, Facebook, and numerous other emerging platforms. We keep on top of the latest marketing techniques and ensure our Artists benefit from these…
SMC – What determines a successful candidate for this program? What are you and your team looking for in terms of qualifications/skills from the Artists submitting their music to you for this program?
Chris – It’s simple – a unique voice and a passion for success that matches our own hunger!
SMC – In your experience, what do you think makes up the components of a truly successful Artist?
Chris – Someone who has a genuine, authentic talent, who cares a lot about every single detail ad who works incredibly hard…there is now substitute for hard work and I love it when I see young acts really giving their all and matching our own drive and enthusiasm.
SMC – What do you and your team(s) hope to do in terms of having the Artists attending your program ‘stand out’ in mainstream music?
Chris – Again, in one sense, the answer is simple: we move heaven and earth to write and produce hit songs. One song can change people’s lives…
SMC – I read in your press release for the Superstar 101 program that ‘“There’s no real substitute for working with top class, writers, producers and engineers in a high-end studio environment” said Chris Craker. “Yes, we live very much in a DIY environment for most young musicians, and amazing results can be achieved with just a laptop, a microphone, a great idea and a lot of hard work at home in your bedroom. But, really, none of the top stars are working in their bedrooms on their own… they all have a support network around them, with amazing cowriters, talented producers, skilled musicians and engineers to help make the end results truly compelling and chart-worthy! And that’s our aim with the Superstar 101 program – to give young artists the opportunity to really have the best chance of success from day one…”
How do you feel your program is superior to that of one who writes, records, and produces music in their own personal space/environment? I do see that you have a lot to offer and I know that really, $100,000 isn’t much to ask for what you are offering in terms of services and the ability to get the Artist who attends this program the ‘established’. What do you think is the main benefit of the Superstar 101 program?
Chris – Along with the exceptional Writer Producers that we have on the team here, the other main benefit is the incredible links to industry that I offer. Yes, the old adage that ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ does ring true and If we have the right Artist here, I can have them in front of the right people in any major city with the very best assets to ensure they fast track to the top.
SMC – Can you tell us of a time you have had an Artist come on too strong and it was a turn-off? How did you handle it?
Chris – Well, naming no names, we did have one act that had a lot of drive and very little talent, but was not aware of this fact. I love people with passion and I always try to help, but there does need to be a base level of talent at all times!
SMC – In relation to the last question: Can you tell us of a time where there was an Artist who you felt was grateful for all the hard work you and your team did in establishing them and how did they reciprocate this gratitude?
Chris – The studio name is ‘Karma’ and actually, whenever we give our all to people, they always reciprocate in some way. We’ve built up amazing relationships with acts from all over the world, and the best way anyone can reciprocate is by recommending us to others…that’s the greatest gift.
SMC – Where do you think this kind of program becomes personal and about the Artist and their talent/art as opposed to the business aspect?
Chris – We will connect with the Artist from day one. That’s when it all starts. We need great chemistry and we work hard to develop the best environment and conditions for a healthy stimulating personal relationship.
SMC – What has been the best collaboration with an Artist from Karma Studios you have experienced to date?
Chris – Wow – there have been so many! I guess we have been instrumental in bringing a young Australian band ‘Hellions’ into the mass market but working with the new guy ‘Syps’ has been amazing. Watch this space…. he is destined for the top!
SMC – Okay, final question: Can you tell us about some of the dynamic or insightful experiences an Artist has shared with you about their time at Karma Studios?
Chris – The one thing that reoccurs from most of our most valued clients is simply, their gratitude that ‘we care’ and that we go the extra mile to make sure they have the perfect environment in which to create. The Libertines were especially grateful because we took our duty of care to the n’th degree looking after Peter Doherty (Lead Singer) for six months before he was ready to record. That’s an example of how our care and attention to detail pays off for people. They are now back playing major festivals all over the world, rising up from a long period of dormancy. It may well not have happened if they had not spent time at Karma….
Karma Studio Contact information & Social Media (click to view)
The Karma Sound Studios Songwriter Retreat 2017 (click here)
The Superstar 101 for Aspiring Pop Stars (click here).