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Nick Chahwala is a Grammy-nominated record producer who has worked on records with Katy Perry, T.I., Mariah Carey, Gym Class Heroes, and more. Envisioning a new way for independent artists to take control of their own branding and content, Nick founded his own studio in 2014. Bravo Ocean is an Atlanta-based hybrid studio that specializes in a custom approach to hosting music, podcast, VO, and ADR recording sessions.
Bravo Ocean recently unveiled their brand new Ocean Suite, which features the largest control room in Atlanta. Nick enlisted the help of designer Ulrika Chahwala and Vintage King audio consultant James Good to outfit the new control room with a Solid State Logic Origin inline recording console, a custom Augspurger monitoring system, and everything else needed to service today’s top stars in both the music and film worlds. We recently sat down with Nick to talk about what makes Bravo Ocean such a unique studio and got the scoop on what’s on the horizon for him and his team.
How did Bravo Ocean get started? What’s your studio’s origin story?
Bravo Ocean started in 2014. There was this big shift in emerging artists from a new generation—both signed and unsigned—that were trying to take control of their careers in new ways. They were putting out their own content and retaining ownership of their records and masters. That was a cool new approach to me. Before I started Bravo Ocean, I was working as an intern at a large commercial recording studio. That’s where I got my bearings and understanding of how the music industry pieces fit together, from the artist perspective to the business perspective. From there I started working with major labels and major producers like Tricky Stewart and The Dream. They brought me in to produce and make records.
One of the things I found when I started working on records for Capitol and Epic was that often these artists that were getting signed would get stuck. There was this gap between the major label artists that were getting pushed out with marketing budgets and the other group of newly signed acts that would have great music and talent but didn't have access to better distribution and marketing budgets. As I worked closely with these artists, I saw the need for these artists to learn how to take control of their own careers. They were signed but didn’t really know how to create a sustainable business. The labels weren’t really helping them. So from there, access to social media was changing and access to distribution was changing with things like TuneCore and CD Baby. Artists were finding different ways of connecting with audiences through lifestyle content, streaming and social media. I wanted to work with those guys instead of just the major-label circuit. So I ended up leaving that circuit in 2014.
When the contracts came back around, I decided to work with artists that are doing it for themselves, the more do-it-yourself approach. When I was with the label circuit, that's what we were called upon to do anyway. We’d form relationships with the artists on Epic or Capitol. We’d create these beautiful albums and then they would get stuck. The label would then ask, “Can you make the music video?” Yeah, we got the resources for that. “Oh okay, can you build the website?” Yeah, we have the resources for that. “Can you put the live show together?” Yeah, we got the resources for that too. So we started doing that and doing it very well.
That’s when we began to realize we have the power to do this for ourselves. I left the circuit and we created our own hub. Instead of just helping the major label artists with big budgets, I wanted to be with the new signees, the next wave. So we started the first phase of Bravo Ocean and offered all these services of recording, mixing, mastering, production, videos, live shows and branding all in one shop.
It was overwhelming providing so many services at once. We were spread too thin. We were forced to cut services back down to what we’re great at, which is music and audio for film. We cut out everything that wasn’t audio-related.
From there, little by little, we started chipping away at what Bravo Ocean is. Now, we offer recording, mixing and mastering services, as well as anything that’s related to audio for film and animations, including VO, ADR, and of course, podcasting. Talent and artists can still, however, access our resources in branding, live shows and video development. That’s one of the things that makes us unique. You’re going to find a community here. You’re going to get a hub of creatives from video to music who are eager to collaborate.
One of the most beautiful things that we took from the era when we were trying to provide everything is the knowledge we gained about film and animations. We went from making simple music videos to getting asked to make TV commercials and bigger branding spots. We had to quickly learn the whole world of audio for film. Even though we don’t offer video production services now, when we converse with the film studios, we know exactly what they want and need when it comes to audio for film and animations.
What makes Bravo Ocean different from other studios in Atlanta and other studios in general?
To sum it up quickly, we are a hybrid studio for music and audio for film. Each member of Bravo Ocean Studios delivers a 5-star and authentic experience to our customers. This builds credibility and integrity. Our internal culture is that of constant training and collaboration. We keep award-winning engineers in each room. We have a worldly and Scandinavian aesthetic incorporated into our studio design. We’re on a journey to becoming the first zero-waste studio, and finally, we are a smoke-free but smoke-friendly studio.
I wanted to level the playing field with a company like Bravo Ocean by showing you can still access the best engineers, equipment, 5-star hospitality and the best studio design in the world without sacrificing your full budget. You can still get in here and have similar resources to a major label. I was once an artist, and then an intern, and then produced some great records, including Katy Perry’s Grammy-nominated album of the year. I’m bringing that knowledge to the next generation so they can do the same kind of thing out of a studio that’s going to back any talent on a mission to reach their full potential.
The engineers here are extremely trained, so you’re going to get a tailored engineer for your project and exactly what you do. Our clientele knows they’re going to get that attention to detail. So our engineers are going to be built with different clientele around them, which are suited to their skills and vice versa.
We’re probably one of the first studios in the world on a zero-waste journey. That includes everything about how we offer hospitality to the stuff we keep inside our studios, our restrooms, and our trash. We try as much as possible to promote sustainability inside of our studios. We had Sofi Emma Armenakian—the sustainability and operations executive with the Atlanta Hawks—come in to teach and advise us on that. She still does that for us. We consult with her constantly on how we recycle; how we do events without making trash, and how do we sort trash at the end of the day. That’s a big journey we’re on, and we’re very proud of that. It’s what we want to do for a better footprint for our studio and for our earth.
In addition to recording music for Grammy-winning artists, you also do podcasting and VO. How are those sessions different from music sessions?
Not only do we have award-winning engineers for music, we also have world-class engineers for film, TV, podcasting, ADR and VO. That speaks back to the talent and training we do here at Bravo. Engineers that are tailored for music have a specific hat on—understanding vocal and musical properties, how a song is going to fit on an album or its final destination and where is it going to live for that artist and their fans.
When we do ADR and podcasting, it's a different type of mixer. It’s not the same guy. For podcasting, there’s a lot of preparation. How many mics? How many speakers? Are there any remote guests? That same engineer needs to understand how to set up those mics for the camera because podcasts are often also shot and posted on YouTube as well. The engineer needs to understand a little bit about film, how it looks on camera and how the backdrops look. They need to understand remote patches from Zoom, how to integrate that sound for film and how to edit that sound later, so people can integrate perfectly and just concentrate on their conversation. They can just focus on the content and getting it out.
Then there’s ADR or automated dialogue replacement. When actors flub their lines on set or there was a noisy environment, they have to come in and redo their lines. When they do that, it’s a different set of mics, booms, and lavaliers. We use EdiCue for prompting the actor’s cues and integrating that with Pro Tools. The actor can come in quickly and use the prompts and cues to replace their lines. But the mics need to be built the way they were on set, so we can get a similar sound.
In the film world, the language you use is different. The adjectives are different. The way they discuss things is different, the equipment and their work flow is different. Our engineers understand frame rates, they understand media with sound. They understand remote patching capabilities and software and so much more. It’s not the same mixer, its not the same engineer. A lot of music studios think they know ADR but they don't. We do, because of our previous hands-on experience on the video side of production. So we love the fact that we do each side very well. That’s why you might see Quavo or Jack Harlow using one of our rooms while Amazon Music is running a live Twitch show in another, all while Kevin Bacon or Zoe Saldana is replacing lines with ADR for a Netflix film in another studio at Bravo.
It’s been a huge win for us to understand that side as well as we do. There are a lot of film industry creatives in Atlanta, but there aren’t really any audio post houses here. Everyone’s going back to California for that. But a lot of these editing firms are all around the world. They can’t find their talent in their city, but there’s a lot of talent working in Atlanta. They can send them to Bravo Ocean and recapture the lines here. We know how to set them up remotely so the director can be in California, the editor can be in London, and the supervisor can be in Miami. It doesn’t matter, they can all get in on the same conversation in real-time and we can knock out great work for them quickly.
You recently unveiled a brand new SSL Origin console at Bravo Ocean. Why did you select the Origin? Which studio did you put it in? How are you using it?
We put the Origin in our newest room, the Ocean Suite. This is a major room. It’s the largest control room built in Atlanta. We needed the correct board for that, which turned out to be the SSL Origin for many reasons. The Origin makes sense because our recording engineers and mix engineers are next-generation. A lot of the new engineers that come in and rent our space are also next-generation. We wanted a board that was intuitive and the Origin definitely is. We didn’t want to scare anybody with our board, if they want to come use it. We didn’t want it to be too technical. The Origin is a beast. It can do everything I want it to do. But it’s so intuitive that you can grip the board within a few hours. You can really start flying on that board as a mix engineer or recording engineer quickly. A lot of the guest engineers coming in—Jack Harlow’s engineer or Jordin Sparks’ engineer—they like automating in the box. The SSL Origin doesn’t have automation but it has everything else that we need. So once they get in here, they can still fly on their mixes, by automating inside their DAW, they can do their bussing or summing the auxes really quickly on the SSL. They aren’t losing detail by getting so technically wrapped up in it. They can just be creative. That’s what the SSL Origin really does for us.
The center section of the SSL Origin is beautiful too. I love that it’s modular and you can reconfigure it. In that center spot we have some 500-series compressors and processors that pair really well and we really like to use, as far as outboard gear. So we can have our favorites right there in front of us.
We love that the Origin features an inline design. In the Ocean Suite, we do a lot of live streaming, live concerts, Twitch episodes and podcast tapings. The Origin is perfect for things like that because its inline design makes it easy to dial in preamps and quickly get microphones running for live stuff. It can also go straight into Pro Tools where we record live bands and orchestras fully.
The learning curve was probably the biggest thing. I wanted our engineers to work quickly and they can still submix on the Origin or buss out to all the outboard gear that we got from Vintage King. The 32 E-series EQs are great. I’m an old-fashioned guy. Those are my favorite EQs. When I saw that in the Origin, it was a no-brainer. Along with the iconic SSL bus compressor. Those are must-haves for me when I mix records.
As a studio owner, I could purchase the SSL Origin and it matches everything in the Ocean Suite, without breaking my budget and taking too much of a risk, especially coming out of the pandemic. Price-wise, it made it accessible to have a beautiful desk that fits the design of our studio and looks very modern. I might want to change the monitoring in our studio based on what the market is going to bring us. There are a lot of new expectations with things like Atmos and the Metaverse, how modern music is being recorded, and how that experience is going to change.
The SSL Origin allows me to enter into the console world without thinking I made a bad decision one way or the other. Because of its inline design, I can have a separate monitoring system for Atmos in the same room. It’s going to be this type of 2.1 mixing, but I can also do 5.1, 7.1, and still add additional monitoring systems to the SSL and be able to expand off of it—without changing everything we designed the studio to become.
Can you tell us about your new Augspurger custom monitoring system?
Before we decided what the main monitoring system was going to be for this room, we had to ask ourselves why. Why this specific brand? Why this specific Augspurger system versus Genelec or anything else. Augspurger has a great reputation in Atlanta, especially when paired with an SSL console. I know what that should sound like, coming up as a mix engineer and producer. I was used to that, understood it. So I basically conveyed that reputation right over to my engineers. I knew what to expect.
The Augspurger and SSL combination is reputable all around the hip hop community, which is a demographic we find a lot of in Atlanta. It can also translate to the pop community, which our studio gets a lot of. It just works. They also have the best output, as far as how large our room is. It fills the room nicely without losing any type of integrity. It gets loud, but we have no problems with them blowing out, burning out, or having to replace the monitoring system two years from now. I know they can handle it because of their reputation.
You also picked up a pair of Barefoot MicroMain26 monitors for the new Ocean Suite control room. Are those your go-to nearfields?
They are indeed my go-to nearfields. I already knew what to expect out of Barefoot. When they introduced the MicroMain26s, I had my eye on them for a long time, mainly because I like their emulation technology with all the different speaker sounds. I didn’t have to buy ten different sets of speakers just to hear how the mix translates to other speakers. Alongside the obligatory Yamaha NS10s, we can pretty much cover all the ground with our Barefoots and the Augspurgers—from the nearfields to the farfields and all the different EQ curves we can get out of these sets.
What kind of outboard have you put in the new room?
We have the tried and true stuff you would expect in any great studio—1073, Distressors, CL 1B, LA-2A, 1176, the Bettermaker mastering limiters and EQs, Neve 33609, API 3124, ultra-clean John Hardy M1 preamps for podcasting and ADR stuff, Millennia preamps for VOs—anything you would expect, we got it. We also got some pretty rare microphones in the new room—Sony C-800, which are pretty hard to come by now, and a Telefunken 251. Vintage King helped us get all of that. From microphones and preamps to compressors and EQs, it’s all here. We got it all.
What’s the MVP in your outboard section? What piece of gear do you use in every mix and on every session?
The MVP for me is the SSL bus compressor. That’s a part of the Origin itself. I always glue my mixes together in the end with that one before hitting the Burl ADC. If it’s not that, I use the Neve 33609. But that’s just me. If you ask each of my engineers, they all have their own chains that they really love. A new one that they’re loving is the John Hardy M1 to the Tube-Tech CL 1B combination. That’s their thing. I prefer the Neve to the CL 1B, but everyone’s kind of moving over to the M1.
What was your experience working together with Vintage King to build out your new studio? What was that process like?
There’s no way I could’ve used anyone else besides Vintage King. And I genuinely mean that. I didn’t even know anyone at Vintage King before we started this journey building the studio. Someone referred me to sales representative James Good. When I called him, I fully trusted in him after our first conversation, which is hard for me to do—especially when you’re spending a lot of money with somebody.
The first thing that I noticed was that he wasn’t selling me on anything. He was genuinely trying to understand what I needed and how he could get me there. There were no fast answers. He worked through all the questions with me. Then he gave me complete access to relationships, resources, rare gear, and consulting. When I would venture into the wrong area, he would let me know. He was confident in his choices on gear, and he educated me on what was coming and what I need to be prepared for. He understood what we’re going for at Bravo Ocean—our culture and our clientele. He took the time to understand that.
I can’t say I’m great friends with many salespeople. But we’re friends now. I only met him because of this process. Trust is a big thing for me. He only cared about the finished project and helping me create a new classic studio. He understood that what we’re creating in Atlanta is special and different, and we’re already well on our way.
If I wanted to go cheaper on something, he wouldn’t allow it. If I wanted to buy the most expensive thing but it wasn’t the right thing, he wouldn’t allow it. There’s no way I could’ve built this studio without him. We’re not even public with the Ocean Suite yet and it’s staying slammed booked. We can barely get in the room anymore because of what we’ve done with the design, equipment, talent, and space. I couldn’t have accomplished that without the knowledge that James has and the resources he gave us.
Did Vintage King help with the installation process?
They offered that service, but since I have experience as a studio designer and builder, I didn’t quite need that. That was something else that James at Vintage King understood. For instance, my approach to wiring was going to be that I would come in and solder a million things together and put all my panels in and solder them. James showed me another way of doing it. He introduced me to quick connects and he pre-configured the entire patch bay and the routing to all my walls, the Dante-networking, all of it. He did it off-site and just delivered it to me in a box. He understood I could install it. We worked together and he helped me save tens of thousands of dollars and hours by doing it this way.
How long has the new Ocean Suite been open?
We had a soft opening and we've been booked constantly. April 1 was the public opening of the room. We started telling people in the end of December, and so far, the word of mouth has almost worked better by not telling many people. It’s like a speakeasy room. Since we’ve opened, we’ve had sessions and projects with Amazon Music, Adidas, Netflix, Legendary, Rolling Stone, RapTV, HBO, Jordin Sparks and more. We’re also working on ADR for the show Atlanta and some other projects I can’t name right now. It’s just going nuts. It stays booked for 16 hours a day. It’s working like it's supposed to. It’s a dream come true.
What’s next for Bravo Ocean?
Ocean Suite is just the first of many rooms we’re going to open up that support the kind of work this room is already doing. Ocean Suite is providing all the analytics we need to build more rooms like it. I wanted to focus on the new Ocean Suite room, to take care of what my demographic needs right here right now, in music and film. We took care of that. From here, I’m going to wait for the next room and how I’m going to outfit it based on what happens over the next 18 months and where the industry is moving toward. I think there are going to be big shifts in the way recording studios are used, from remote capabilities and binaural recording to Atmos and streaming. I want to be confident that those things aren’t going away for 10-15 years. When I get a grip of seeing something that’s coming, I don’t care about being the first adopter—I just want to learn how to help myself and others move in the correct way.