Nick Breton is a world-class recording engineer, mixer, and producer who also happens to own Truth Studios. For over decade, Nick has been busy building his studio space and racking up credits with chart-topping artists such as SZA, Joey Bada$$, Dom Kennedy, Noname and many more.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Nick for our ongoing 20 Questions series. Read on to learn about his go-to vocal chain, his most prized pieces of studio gear, and how he has cultivated a hip-hop scene out of his Los Angeles studio.
1. How did you get started making records?
When I was 15-years old I was in boarding school and my friend Skyler Gross introduced me to the world of digital recording. I dove into GarageBand, making beats, putting loops together and recording myself rapping. I loved it. It was one of the happiest times in my music-making career. There was no outside pressure and I was doing what I loved.
I outgrew GarageBand fairly quickly and purchased whatever version of Logic was available at the time, Version 7, I think? I purchased a Summit Audio mic pre and Mojave Audio MA200 tube mic and got to work. It grew beyond my own music and I started a record label in high school. I used my little recording set up to produce, record and mix a full album with a singer-songwriter named Zach Nicholas.
I also produced, recorded and mixed a five-song EP with my close friend Dylan Sands aka Pro.Found. I even put a verse on one of those songs, see if you can find it [Laughs]. We made those projects in the barn behind our house in Utah. I built a booth out of plywood and mattress foam. It was hotter than Hell in there, but we made it work and it was a blast.
I’ve always loved listening to music. Looking back on it, I would zero-in on one or two songs and listen to them on repeat for days or weeks, maybe even months. Ask my Mom how many times I listened to “Only Wanna Be With You” by Hootie & the Blowfish.
2. Tell us a little bit about Truth Studios.
Truth Studios is my recording studio in West Hollywood, Los Angeles. It grew from my first apartment in LA where I ran it for three and a half years with my partner Glenn Gonda. I would record everything and he would mix it and master it unless we had it mastered by someone in town.
We had a goal to become the biggest hip-hop studio in Los Angeles and work with the new generation of hip-hop. We became a cultural hub, a big family. Everyone was hanging out together, playing video games and smoking weed and drinking. We’d do whatever was necessary to help our clients. Glenn took on live sound for some clients and I picked up a camera to take pictures and film shows or recording sessions. Eventually, Glenn had to move on to a more stable career and I took the full responsibility of the studio on my shoulders. The engineer and studio business is one of the most challenging.
Today, Trush Studios is thriving in the heart of Los Angeles. I believe I have one of the best locations in the whole city and my clients absolutely love coming here. The studio feels like a New York loft home. It’s very cozy with enterprise studio style and a lot of character. I’ve remodeled my studio over 10 times in the last eight-and-a-half years. Chris Owens did all of my acoustic design and treatments, he’s a wizard and I'm very thankful for all of his help.
The gear collection is some of the best ever made in the world. I have a Sony C800G and a Fairman TRC, which is one of my most important pieces. I recently purchased a Telefunken V76 preamp and U73 compressor, which has led to some of the best recordings I’ve ever done. The vocal is basically done by the time I’ve finished recording. I always wanted to get to this stage, it’s mind-blowing to see it all come together.
I’ve been very lucky to meet great mentors who gave me tons of valuable advice. Just wanted to make sure I shout out my brother Tyler, Billy & Mitch Kapler, Anthony Marshall, Dominic Shiner, Rick St. Hilare and my guy Carl in the UK. I also have to thank Polyester The Saint, JP Keller, Chuck Inglish for introducing me to so many great people over all these years. Having people support your dream makes all the difference, it’s all about the community support.
3. You do a lot of recording, as well as mixing. What’s your favorite part of the music making process and why?
I absolutely love to be creative. I think of myself as an artist first and producer or engineer second. Collaborating with other artists is where the big creative energy lies. I feel the most inspiration when we lock-in on something together, whether that’s just me and one other person in the room or a full group of people. When we all sync-up while creating art together that energy is indescribable.
On the other hand, I'm very introverted and I love to be by myself. When I'm mixing I don't like to have anyone in the room with me. I like to lose myself in the music and be focused on what I’m hearing and imagining so I can blend the two together until it feels right. I can’t have distractions that take me out of that mindset, it doesn't work for me. If someone is taking a phone call, making noise from their phone or social media, opening and closing the door, stuff like that, it all distracts me from completing the art with the focus and attention it needs.
4. What’s an average day in the studio like for you?
I have a tremendous amount of respect for running a clean ship, so my first order of business is to clean. I start by sweeping on the first floor and cleaning the bathroom. After that, it’s up to the studio to vacuum and clean before booting up. It’s all very tedious, but I’m meticulous with it, so I've never hired outside help. I can’t risk someone trying to clean my gear and breaking something.
I may have a string of two or three recordings sessions, sometimes back to back. Some days may go up to 16 or 20 hours. I just finished recording, mixing and mastering an album with Rush Davis & J.Kelr. I'm currently finishing recording an album with C.S. Armstrong and before that, I finished recording Lorine Chia’s debut album. I’m mixing and mastering five albums this month, so my workload is very heavy right now. When I’m not recording, I’m mixing. I tend to prioritize that way unless there’s a sharp deadline for mixing, then I'll block off time to get a project done.
I take breaks to go to places in my area. I'm fortunate to have an amazing location, so I'll break out for a meal next door at Potato Chips or walk across the street to Erewhon. We have one of the best coffee shops in the city on our corner, Andante Coffee Roasters. The owner is an award-winning coffee roaster. When I'm working with Armstrong we also go around the corner to a store called Gallery Dept. Shout out to Josue, Trent and Jesse! Those guys are great and their clothing is incredible. Pygmy Hippo is also one of the best gift shops in town. It's nice to be able to catch a short break and do any of those things then get back to it. I have a park one block away and The Grove is about one block away as well. I love to walk, so I find myself leaving for a half-hour walk to clear my mind and ears.
5. What mics do you use most often?
Over time, I've used different mics for long stints of time. My first mic was the Mojave MA-200, which I used on a ton of recordings. I fell into the trap of buying a “modified mic that sounds like an ELA M 251”. The Manley Cardioid Reference Mic was up for about two years, but it was topped by the Sony C800-G purchase. That’s been the mic on a majority of my most recent sessions, but I also purchased an original vintage Neumann U67 that I set up from time to time when I feel it’s best suited. SM7Bs and SM57s get used almost daily as well for room writing mics and sometimes for final vocals.
6. What EQs do you reach for most often?
I have two Neve 1084s that I run the EQ on often, especially when tracking. I love the sound of them. I also purchased the Telefunken W395as from Vintage King Audio about a year ago, thanks to Andy [Catlin]! I was actually told about that from a German engineer and gear tech named Felix that I met through Instagram. He was kind enough to share a lot of info about different vintage German gear and we still talk regularly. I love talking to people who are smarter than me.
In Pro Tools, I almost always go for the FabFilter Pro Q 3, I love the visual aspect and the clean precision. The Pultec EQP-1A by Universal Audio also goes on every session multiple times for both vocals and instruments.
7. What about compressors?
I’ve been doing a lot of tracking without compression these days. It depends on the artist and their mic technique, but I like the open dynamics going in. I use the Tube-Tech CL 1B for clients who want the “standard pop sound,” but I prefer an LA-2A.
When a client lets me have my own way with the sound, I run our Telefunken U73, which is a really unique tool. It’s got nearly identical circuitry to the legendary Telefunken V76 preamp, but it has a fixed ratio of 100:1 and the character is very unique. When I get to run both the V76 and U73 at the same time it’s got crazy mojo.
8. What’s the least expensive piece of gear you’ve ever used on a record?
The SM57’s for sure, I got a handful of them off of Craigslist for $40 each. It was used all over the new Clairo album, Immunity. I tracked seven of the 12 songs on that album and I believe three of them were SM57 for the lead vocal. She sat on the couch right behind me and held the mic. I also took the mic and held it to the amp when she played guitar. Holding a mic is a really important level of connection to the music. It’s a game-changer for some artists when it comes to getting the best performance.
9. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done to get a specific sound in a recording session?
Weirdest thing so far would be sound design for Cam O'bi's upcoming debut album, Grown Ass Kid. One day we just went for it, whatever his mind could come up with. We wanted to make the feeling of splashing water and tried to figure out how we'd do that by creating it. I found an empty bin downstairs and filled it in the sink. We took it up into the studio and started recording it in all different ways. The end results felt like being in a fairy cave, which is exactly what he wanted.
10. Imagine a world where hybrid studios don't exist. If you had to choose in-the-box or completely analog, which would you choose and why?
I'd go all-digital for ease of use, no maintenance and ability to travel. I know there is an undeniable character to analog gear, as well as some flexibility that you just can’t get with digital. There’s a significant advantage to hybrid workflow, but I’d have to go all digital if it was one or the other.
11. If you had to create a vocal chain for a genre outside of your wheelhouse, what would you pick and why?
Original vintage U67 mic to 1084 and an LA2A if I needed it. I think you can literally do everything with that and get results that will blow peoples' minds.
12. What do you do in your free time, when you’re not making records?
Lately, I haven’t had much time to do anything I grew up doing. Living in Utah, I’d be outside from when I woke up until I went to sleep. I love to fly fish, scuba dive, ride four-wheelers or dirt bikes and motorcycles, and golf. Out of all those things, I mostly golf or ride my Triumph motorcycle.
I also love to eat, especially sweets. Spending time with my girlfriend and my family are my highest priorities. Bailey has been my biggest supporter since high school. We’ve known each other for almost 15 years now. Also, my parents have always supported me in chasing my dream.
Time is going by so fast that I really struggle to find time for myself these days. I wish I had time for all of it, but I’m so deeply bonded to music I don’t feel like I have any other choice.
13. What's your go-to meal when cooking at home?
I keep it clean and simple when I cook at home. Lately, it’s been lemon pepper chicken with some nice rice and veggies, usually peppers and onions. I use a Forman grill. I love the taste of grilled and charred food. Sometimes I’ll make steak instead, but they’re easy and quick meals that are really satisfying to make. I love to cook, I wish I had more time to learn about spices and how to combine flavors. I have a very particular standard for everything in my life, food especially.
14. What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Anything by Mitch Albom is a winner. I love his writing style, his storytelling and the way his books ready so easily. I always struggled with reading, so the ease of reading is a big factor for me. I'd also add The Richest Man In Babylon and The Alchemist. Ready Player One is another favorite. I’m a very visual person, so I love books that I can build a world for in my imagination.
15. What new music have you been listening to lately?
I mostly listen to the music that I’m working on because I have short timelines to get things done. I’m also connected on a deeper level to music that I'm working on, so I gravitate towards that. Rush Davis and J.Kelr just released two singles. I love the song “Go” and I'm so glad the album is out now.
Jesse Royal’s new single “LionOrder,” which is mastered by Chris Athens sounds incredible. The texture of the intro blew me away. It made the air feel thicker coming out of my speakers. I’m also a huge fan of the new reggae movement with Protoje, Chronixx and Jesse. SiR’s new album Chasing Summer is really awesome. So is Earth Gang’s new album, I’m a huge fan of Olu.
Clairo's album Immunity is a big winner for me. What the guys did with it after we recorded was mind-blowing and I feel like it's one of the better full albums I've heard in a long time. It's a sonic journey and it's a really special debut album. I'm thankful to have played a big roll in creating it with her. I’ve been a huge fan of Little Simz for ages and her new album Of Grey Area is a masterpiece. Cam O’bi is one of my all-time favorite music makers, I listen to a lot of stuff we’ve made all the time.
Jake Troth's new music is incredible. C.S. Armstrong is one of the most unique living singers I’ve ever heard. I love everything we've done together and his recently released music he made with Dr. Dre's team. Smino's albums also stay on rotation. I think he and Monte Booker have some of the best music chemistry I've ever heard. Monte is a fucking genius.
16. What’s one of your favorite albums of all time?
Blu & Exile's Below the Heavens. I’m very thankful Blu gave me one of the original 500 test pressings for that album when we were working together. That album changed my life. I can put it on any time and it changes my energy. His lyrics really resonated with me. I've been through a lot of similar situations. His storytelling is beautiful and Exile’s production is packed full of energy. Miguel’s vocals are out of this world. You could tell he was destined for greatness back 12 years ago.
17. Who's someone you look to as a constant source of inspiration, whether on a personal or professional level?
The fact that Elon Musk does so many things at the highest possible level is constantly inspiring. I aim to get to that level in my career. Joe Rogan is another big source of inspiration. I love that he gets to talk to such a diverse group of people. And everything is done on his terms with no outside influence.
Chance The Rapper is also a huge inspiration. I met him in 2012. Things were picking up for him, but it was still early. You could tell he was going places, but to see him win three GRAMMY Awards with his team, tour the world, give back to his community, be politically engaged and promote such a positive lifestyle is really inspiring. Especially at such a young age. I’m always interested in what he has going on, and what he’s going to do next.
18. Name a "dream artist" that you'd like to work with someday. What would you do differently than their previous records?
I have a small bucket list of people I’d like to work with: Adele, John Mayer, Bon Iver, Lewis Capaldi, King Kruel, and Eryn Allen Kane. Eryn and I worked together once but it was just background vocals on a chorus. I want to make a full song, if not a full album with all of them.
I’d want to make very raw recordings with them. They're all unique singers. My preferred style is old school, so I would dial in the sound for everything to be recorded live. I would do some light mixing during set up and tracking to get the sound and movements right, and then record through all the analog gear so it’s mastered when they’re done performing the song. No time to overthink, mistakes and all.
19. What has changed most about your production style or technique over the years?
I’ve learned so much about the technical side. I’ve learned all about my gear, like what needs time to warm up and what I can just plug and play. I’ve spent the last year really dialing in my room so all the instruments are hot and ready at all times.
The ability to get into a flow state and continue in it until the end has changed the most for me. I used to worry about how I'd get this to sound like something else or sound as loud as someone else etc. I'm close enough now where I don't worry about that stuff. I just try to sync with my clients and get everyone on the same page. The rest is natural.
I’ve also let go of boundaries that I built for myself. I started producing my own records and releasing some singles to get back to my roots and create what I want without anyone else’s input. It helps me grow so I can be more useful to my client’s needs, and it also helps me feel like I need to do what’s best for them instead of what I want for them when we’re working together.
I believe I’m becoming one of the best in the business. My track record is strong and shows my growth and progression. I’ve invested everything I have into my room. Once I really grow into all the upgrades, I’ll be up there with all the talented engineers we’re blessed to work with and follow online.
20. What’s one piece of advice you have for aspiring producers or engineers?
Never forget that we make music for a living. We’re the most fortunate people in the whole world. We get to make magic.
Photography provided by Katie Levine
As a part of his community-building efforts at Truth Studios, Nick Breton has created a fun live video series that shows artists creating in his recording and mixing space. Watch the videos below to see Jake Troth, Chuck Inglish, Chance The Rapper, and Vince Staples working at Truth Studios.