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Chris Craker

Chris Craker

Producer, Musician
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Chris Craker

Multi-Grammy nominated producer and entrepreneur Chris Craker left the high-rise world of the major labels and headed for the tranquility of the Thai coast to set up his now world-renowned Karma Studios. Still heavily involved at the highest level in the classical, Hollywood soundtrack and jazz scenes where he built his reputation, Chris has added an astonishing client list from a wide variety of other genres, from Jamiroquai, Bullet For My Valentine and Babymetal to the King of Thailand!

Jamiroquai, Bullet For My Valentine, Babymetal, Hans Zimmer, James Horner
Chris uses these Aston mics at Karma:
Spirit
Origin
Abbey Road to Karma

"Originally I was a clarinet player in the London Symphony Orchestra, I did that for five or six years, but I was always fascinated by the recording process. As an orchestra we were hired to do lots of big films, with John Williams and all of the big Hollywood film composers, and I had an insatiable appetite for getting into the control room at Abbey Road whenever we were doing the films.

I decided to take a six month sabbatical to study the whole world of production and engineering. I never went back to playing full-time in the orchestra. I set up a production company and borrowed a little money from my dad, bought some gear and quickly got into the scene, I had a few lucky breaks, for sure, but being an experienced instrumentalist helped me connect with artists in the studio, and we started getting good results early on in my career as a producer. Soon I was making records at Abbey Road for various classical orchestras and artists from all over the world. I ended up doing a lot of stuff with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra in particular, and things grew and grew until I set up my own label in the early 90s called Black Box, which I built for five or six years and then sold to the Sanctuary Group, and then on to Universal shortly after that.

After that I was headhunted to go and run Sony Masterworks, running an office in London and one in New York. I did that for four years, making and marketing records with Lang Lang, Yo Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Murray Perahia, the big classical and jazz acts and soundtracks for films. Then nine or ten years ago I decided I really wanted to get back into making records again and so I left the corporate world of Sony Records and built my studio, Karma, in Thailand."

 

By Royal Appointment

"I still produce a couple of records every year for Sony and several other labels. The last big ones were Hans Zimmer, ‘The Classics’ and James Horner ‘The Classics’ which are re-workings of their biggest theme songs for full orchestra and soloists. We did all the pre and post production at Karma and all the tracking in Prague, London or Los Angeles. I get to work with Hans a couple of times a year, at the moment I’ve just been working on the sound world of Mulan with Harry Gregson Williams for Disney, which comes out in 2020.

Back in the mid 90s I was hired to make some records for the late King of Thailand, as strange as that may seem. He wrote music (maybe ninety or so tunes!), and I made a CD for him to celebrate his 40th Anniversary on the throne. He’d heard a jazz record I’d make with Michael Brecker and John Schofield featuring the London Symphony Orchestra (with the legendary Vince Mendoza) and he really liked the sound of that, so he engaged me to make a similar sort of orchestral thing of his jazz tunes. I kept coming back and coming back and in the end I made eleven CDs of his music. During that time we built friendships with various people in Thailand and I was offered the chance to buy land there, which is difficult as a foreigner, so I thought it would be very cool to set up a studio a bit like George Martin had set up Air in Monserrat in the Caribbean. That’s why we’ve ended up with a tropical studio in a slightly unusual location, but it’s pretty magical by the beach here in Thailand and artists and writers absolutely love to get away from the real world, and land in a creative, tropical utopia.

We have all kinds of clients through the doors of Karma - anything from hardcore metal bands through to classical, jazz, film and local pop stars here in Thailand. Big pop stars from China keep coming through too - we had the fastest and largest selling single in China, a song called ‘Ugly Beauty’ by Jolin Tsai. I just learned it’s been nominated in seven categories for the Golden Melody Awards, which are China’s ’Grammys’."

Two billion streams later

"All kinds of people come to Karma, from all over the world. 85% of our business is foreign and 15% Thai. We had a big success with Jamiroquai’s ‘Rock Dust Like Star’, Bullet For My Valentine have been here, Enter Shikari, Young Guns had their big hit with ‘Bones’ which then got adopted as the theme tune for WWF in America. We’ve enjoyed watching the success of innumerable No 1s with Babymetal from Japan and with all the big Thai pop stars. We’ve been responsible for over 2bn streams over the past 12 months or so, that have been recorded of mixed at Karma. The Hans Zimmer stuff has been pretty massive too.

I’m in my late fifties (about to turn 60!) and all my other staff are in their early twenties or thirties, so we attract all different kinds of clientele of every genre, and that’s great for the studio.

Aside from that we are famous for holding Songwriting Camps and Artist Development Retreats, where we’ll wheel out all the Aston mics. They’re used at all the camps, where we have four or five stations set up and people want to do good quality vocals while they’re still working quickly on things - often the vocals captured at teatime make it to the finished cut, so having the Astons up all the time, ensures we get a great sound during that demo (to finished-master) process.

I’m still very active. I’ll do two or three big records a year, so I get involved at every stage of that; then I’ve got three full-time producer/engineers at Karma, one Australian and two British, in the studio complex all the time. We also enjoy have visiting producers and engineers from all over the world, who come with various clients as and when - notably Jake Gosling, Kipper, Phill Brown, Tony Maserati, Guy Massey, Jeff Miyahara, Steve Lillywhite, Justin Stanley, Brandon Darner and many others who have all had the hugest successes with Ed Sheeran, Sting, Talk Talk, Jaz Z, The Libertines, The Rolling Stones, Beck, Imagine Dragons and many others!"

Creating a vibe

I use the latest version of Pro Tools and have been for fifteen years. Any programming I do for films or pop tracks I’ll do in Logic Pro X, but everything else I’ll record and mix in Pro Tools. My favourite mic pres are by Millennia, I find them really transparent and clean for the film stuff. For monitoring I’m usually on ATCs or B&Ws. I used to endorse B&W but their Nautillus 805s are still a monitor of choice as nearfields. In the studio we also have some massive 1034 Genelecs which are great for creating a vibe with the big pop tracks.

We have a vintage SSL 4056 E/G+ console from 1983, which is completely refurbished and sounds like a brand new console. It’s got 9000 new capacitors in it! It’s a go-to for me for most projects. Dave Nally did the work on this console. He’s the guy who set up Air Studios for George Martin. He did all our tech work. He’s incredible, we’re so lucky to have him. He comes out a couple of times a year and tweaks the place for us.

So that’s my clean signal path, no outboard at that stage, but for mixing we use Lexicon 960s and all manner of plugins from UA and Waves. I’m very closely aligned with Orchestral Tools for sampling and we’ve been creating some really special sample libraries for them at Karma. We’re doing all their ethnic wind instruments and strings. We’re their studio of choice for their Chinese and Indian libraries.

Straight up and down

"I use Aston mics as a go-to whenever I’m doing pop tracks. I was tipped off about them by Jamie Hartman, the British songwriter, who’s living in Los Angeles. He’s famous more recently for doing Rag and Bone Man’s ‘Human’. He dropped a note saying ‘these mics are really incredible’ so I went out and bought one. And then I went and bought two more and gifted a couple to people too! In the sub $2000 mark, Astons are always in the first tranche of the things we try. We have a Spirit and an Origin permanently set up in Studio 3. I’m not particularly wed to one or the other, just whichever works. We also use them on acoustic guitars.

Recently we used an Origin on some Thai ethnic instruments when we were doing some music for the Coronation of the new King of Thailand. He’s not a musician like his father, but we were asked us to do some music for all the surrounding media coverage of the Coronation. The Origins worked really well for us on that.

I find the Astons very natural and quick to use. We may use a little bit of EQ from the SSL, an API Lunchbox 500 Series or sometimes our GML EQ. They seem to work so well for us in Studios 1 and 3, I don’t know if the acoustics just suit things there but it seems very straight up and down for us."

Out-takes

Q. Who are your favourite artists?
A. Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, (currently) Billy Eilish, and I’m a big Jamiroquai fan so it was so great that they came into the studio, I’d have paid them to come, but don’t tell Jay that!

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?
A. I’d be directing commercials or short films I think. I’ve always been fascinated in everything to do with the media, and I love commercials, I’m obsessed by them!

Q. What would your fantasy mic be?
A. Something that peaked my interest, creatively, in my early days was using a Calrec ambisonic mic, so I guess I’d like to find one mic that sounds incredible in the middle of a room and captures everything. That would be the dream, in a kind of omnispheric way in a real ambisone 360° situation - we recorded four Steinway Grand Pianos at one time for the soundtrack for Interstellar. I’d find creative ways of working with that, because we’re working on a load of horror sound tracks at the moment with the guys who made the Halloween movies!

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston, or your experience with the brand?
A. Quality, value, transparency, simplicity

Q. What is the first song that made you cry?
A. It’s a close call but maybe it was either ‘Evergreen’ by Barbara Streisand or Stevie Wonder’s ‘Love’s In Need of Love Today’.

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