Sleepy fishing village near Pattaya is home to spectacular Karma Sound Studios, where British owner Chris Cracker is hosting some of the biggest names in music
By Colin Hastings
WHEN popular British rock band Enter Shikari recently celebrated their new album ‘A Flash Flood of Colour’ topping the UK charts, the good vibrations resonated all the way to a quiet corner of Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard. Here’s why…
Karma Sound Studios is the fulfillment of one man’s extraordinary dream to build a spectacular state-of-the-art recording studio and locate it within a luxurious residential complex in a far-off exotic destination. Now, after three years, his Gauguinesque ‘dream’ is catching the imagination of some of the biggest names in music.
Getting to Karma requires a bumpy ride down a dusty track through fields and woods, and, just when you’re thinking this is nothing but empty bush country, you suddenly come across a mini-fortress. Behind high walls lies a secret tropical garden covering several acres, complete with swimming pool, guest rooms, massage, gym, spacious living areas and a world-class recording studio that is earning Thailand a reputation for musical excellence. One artist recently remarked “if James bond had a recording studio, it would be Karma...”
It’s a magical place, welcoming and inspirational. The four young musicians from Enter Shikari with celebrated producer, Dan Weller, were clearly motivated by Karma’s unique qualities last year, tapping into its amazing technical resources to record their first chart-topping album.
Many others have similarly been inspired by the studio’s special atmosphere, including iconic global bands Placebo, Young Guns and Jamiroquai from the UK, as have a slew of top Thai artists like Palmy, Tata Young, Chin Chinawut, Potato and Myra, winner of Thailand’s Got Talent.
Artists from Brunei (Maria Koh), Singapore (SIXX) and Japan (Akiro Jimbo) have also graced the studios, along with some of the world’s top producers like Kipper (Sting’s producer) and Joseph Curiale, who has famously worked with Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson.
Super star Jessie J from the UK dropped by and wants to record there. And one of the truly greats of rock music, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, who is currently working on a collection of Brazilian samba music has also enjoyed the vibe of this very special place. Celebrated classical musicians have graced the studio and to further underscore Karma’s broad appeal, highly rated English classical crossover singer Thomas Spencer spent all of last month at the studio.
Founder and owner of Karma is Briton Chris Craker, who’s spent the past 30 years at the highest levels of the music industry in all capacities, from composer, conductor and record producer to musician, author and successful businessman, spending three years as Senior Vice President of Sony BMG Masterworks in London and New York.
Impressed by his experiences here and the people he met, and increasingly disenchanted by the way the music industry back in the West was heading, Chris saw a golden opportunity to realize a dream and establish a world-class recording studio in Thailand.
“I felt that there was so much emphasis on hype and manufactured acts, that I wanted to build a ‘creative utopia’ where really great artists could do their very best work, in private, in a beautiful exotic location, away from the cares of the real world.”
To make it possible, Chris quit his job at Sony BMG, uprooted his family and ploughed his life’s savings into the project.
Further inspiration came from the past success of Air Montserrat, the recording studio set up in the Caribbean in the 1970s by George Martin, the musical genius behind the Beatles, which had a huge influence on the development of music. But don’t compare Air to Karma, insists Chris. “Karma is actually rather different and unique. It’s the only luxury high end residential recording studio in Thailand and among the very best in the world. We are also quickly becoming the ‘must go to’ facility in SE Asia,” he says.
There’s been an unforeseen bonus too. Thanks to its beautiful – and concealed – tropical garden setting, Chris’s “creative utopia” has also become a popular venue for shooting videos, TV programmes and private concerts featuring poolside acoustic sets.
“Some artists come to record, others to shoot videos and some simply to soak up the magical atmosphere and ambience of the place and write hit songs – all of them go away having had a truly memorable experience and our guest book reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the music industry, with one effusive comment after another,” says Chris.
Placebo were clearly motivated as it took them a mere four days to record the single Trigger Happy Hands, along with a number of tracks for their re-released album Battle of the Sun. “They absolutely loved it here,” says Chris
Jamiroquai were similarly inspired. So much so, in fact, their charismatic lead singer Jay Kay decided some time after the band had finished recording to hang out on the nearby beach and chat with the locals, none of whom suspected this was the rock star rumoured to be holidaying in the area.
Another recent Karma client was the Welsh band Bullet For My Valentine, who spent five weeks at the studio. “They were amazing – by far the noisiest band we’ve ever had,” recalls Chris. “When they asked in advance for 40 replacement drum skins, we were puzzled. By the end of the recording session, they had got through the lot, and we understood the reason for this odd request.
“But for all their loud music, scary tattoos and long hair, away from the studio, they were all really charming nice, quiet guys who left the studio with what promises to be a monster hit album that their fans will love forever.”
Surprisingly, perhaps, few of the visiting musicians have lived up to their hype as wild things. “Generally, they quickly get into the local culture, visit the markets and temples, and have a good time here. And Pattaya is really just a little bit too far away to pose any worries – although when time off is required, it’s just twenty five minutes away,” says Chris.
Other clients have included Young Guns who recorded their album and hit single ‘Bones’ at the studio. Rising stars Franko are regulars, which is great for Chris as his son Richard is a band member.
With Karma’s reputation now firmly established and demand for studio time growing rapidly, Chris has ambitious plans for the project which will require him and his wife Kate to spend most of the year in Thailand.
On the drawing board is another studio block with a dedicated area for shooting videos, as well as three additional recording suites. Chris is also setting up Karma’s own IPTV channel where content created at the studio can be disseminated all over the world.
Later this year, Karma will launch a series of educational courses covering the art of songwriting, production techniques, and marketing in music. “We’ll be opening our doors to some international schools and university music departments in Thailand in order to build strong links with developing artists as well as those wishing to enter the music industry,” explains Chris.
Beyond running the studio complex, Chris somehow also finds time to get involved in staging concerts and live musical events through his association with Rock n Rolla, a Bangkok-based company that has brought in top international names like Fatboy Slim, Deep Purple, DJ Shadow and most recently Incubus, who appeared at the Silverlake Music Festival in Pattaya. In November, Rock n Rolla will step up a gear by putting on Bangkok concerts featuring musical luminaries Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.
The rise of Karma Sound Studios from one man’s wishful thinking ten years ago to become a major influence on the world’s music industry is truly astonishing. Who would ever have thought that sleepy Bang Saray might one day become synonymous with such a famous enterprise?
Facilities and equipment
KARMA Sound Studios is a cross between a luxury resort and a wonderfully equipped recording studio complex. Two studios, both with outstanding sounding live rooms, are set around a beautiful swimming pool, private gym, bar, massage room, an outdoor live performance area and stunning tropical private gardens.
The equipment is a fusion of classic analogue and state-of-the-art digital: Studio 1 has a large, spacious, live room with four isolation areas and a massive window overlooking the pool and tropical gardens, giving an extraordinary sense of natural light. It is equipped with a very highly spec’d Pro Tools rig running on a Mac Pro 8 core Intel computer (with full UAD2 Quad system attached). The spacious control room boasts a fully refurbished ‘classic’ SSL 4056 E/G+ desk with Total Recall.
Studio 2 is a smaller writing, tracking, mixing/mastering and overdub suite with a comfortable control room and a fabulous sounding live room for vocals, guitars etc. Both studios have access to a comprehensive microphone collection and an excellent selection of vintage and modern outboard gear. A useful selection of instruments and outboard gear are available at extremely reasonable rates.
Karma also features stylish en-suite guest rooms, indoor and outdoor dining areas, and two beautifully appointed lounges. A bi-lingual Housekeeper oversees the needs of guests, including full catering. If required, further luxury accommodation is available just two minutes’ drive away in a stunning boutique resort hotel.
In-house staff include award-winning producers and engineers involved at the very highest level in the music business internationally, led by Chris Craker, who can also assist with brokering licensing deals, marketing campaigns, the staging and promotion of live concerts and tours in SE Asia.
CHRIS Craker has been at the forefront of the music industry for more than 30 years, winning awards and acclaim as a performer, recording artist, composer, arranger, producer/engineer, record label founder, artist manager, author, critic, industry commentator, and strategic advisor. Before setting up Karma Sound Studios, he was General Manager and Senior Vice President of the International Division of Sony BMG Masterworks, where he maintained offices in both London and New York.
Now fully independent once more, he consults for a number of high profile music, media and arts organisations, and works in conjunction with related industry partners in telecommunications and film, as well as managing various highly talented acts through his company CMC (Craker Media Company LLP).
Chris has acted as the A&R Director and produced over four hundred classical, jazz and pop recordings and has gained a unique position as one of the most respected record producers based in the UK, responsible for selling many millions of records and helping to shape the careers of many hundreds of artists. His activities have taken him extensively throughout Europe, America and the Far East working on projects for BMG, EMI, Decca, Virgin, PolyGram, Universal, Sony, Koch, ASV, Naxos and Marco Polo (as well as 30 other independent record companies).
Chris has worked with many of the world’s finest artists, orchestras and soloists, and has acted as a concept provider for various music products marketed by PolyGram/Universal, Sony, Decca, EMI, Classic FM/BMG and Virgin.
Highlights from the jazz world include co-producing Vince Mendoza’s ultimate cross-over album ‘Epiphany,’ featuring the LSO with jazz icons Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, Kenny Wheeler, John Abercrombie and John Taylor. In 2002 Chris was Executive Producer and responsible for the international marketing campaigns for Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts’ Big Band albums, recorded live at Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club in London.
He has also either played on or worked in a marketing capacity for recordings featuring Elton John, Sarah Brightman, Celine Dion, Tony Bennett, Alan Parsons and many others. He conducted the musical Chess in London’s West End working alongside Benny and Bjorn from Abba and featuring West End musical legend Elaine Page, as well as being involved in productions in the West End of Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Chris also co-produced the Chris de Burgh ‘Live in Bangkok’ album for which he was also Musical Director and conductor for the live shows. As Executive Producer for the new recording from the world’s most celebrated guitarist, John Willams, Chris has covered all styles of music from early classical to contemporary jazz and pop.
Over the past ten years Chris has frequently undertaken recording projects in the USA and Asia, and has formed a strong link with many recording artists in those territories. In South East Asia, he has produced more than ten recordings in Thailand featuring the compositions of His Majesty The King of Thailand, King Bhumipol Adulyadej, which has been an absolute career highlight for him.
With his all-round experience, Chris is also in demand as an industry spokesperson on radio and TV, as a strategic consultant to numerous organizations, and as an adjudicator for international music competitions around the world.
At Karma Sound Studios Chris is helping young artists get onto record. “I’ve always loved helping new talent to shine through, and with some 30 years’ experience at the front line of the business, I feel I can make a difference and assist the genuine stars of the future.”
For more info: www.karmasoundstudios.com www.crakermedia.com