Interview With Multi-Instrumentalist, Vocalist & Engineer Nathan Nasby
Nathan Nasby is what you might call a triple threat. He’s a super talented singer / songwriter with extensive experience as a music producer and recording engineer. Nathan is a great study for any DIY artist as he’s skillfully harnessed all his skills and talents into a full time career writing and producing music out of his studio on the Canadian prairie. He has major label credits as a session vocalist, his compositions have made their way into film and tv, and just this past month he was selected as one of Reverbnation’s featured artists. Here at AirGigs, Nathan is in-demand for his online session vocal gigs. His work has been garnering some great reviews and we’re pleased to introduce him to you. You can find his gigs here: http://www.airgigs.com/user/nathannasby
Tell us a bit about your musical background and journey?
I sometimes think that I’ve lived a few different lives when I think about all the directions that music has taken me. When I was first introduced to music it was through classical piano lessons, and vocal quartet music with my family. My dad played guitar and bass so there was always a bit of experimenting with the guitar as well. When I was 14 I remember watching a Canada day celebration on Tv and heard Cape Breton style fiddling for the first time. Looking back now that experience really stands out as a key moment in fostering a passion to discover and participate in the many styles and genres of music I was being exposed to at a young age. I had developed such a broad music appreciation I had trouble saying no to any opportunity to perform and sing even if it was at the opposite spectrum of the kind of music I had just been involved in. By the time I was into my 20’s I had been the front man in a couple different rock bands, sang and played guitar in punk band, did solo singer/songwriter performances, spent 4 years in musical theater, sang in several acapela vocal groups as well as sang and played numerous instruments for a host of weddings. Though that entire journey I have had the opportunity to learn quite a few instruments including piano, guitar, bass, bodhran, flute, violin, mandolin, and tenor saxophone.
You have a wide range of skills and experience from being a Multi-Instrumentalist , to a session singer, to a singer / songwriter and music producer. Do all these work together synergistically, or do you find it challenging to switch between roles?
Every aspect of the music industry that I’ve worked in has in one way or another strengthened the others. Each role I fill for a given project certainly has it’s own head space and workflow. There are times when as a creative person I may want to focus on a specific role, but as a business person with paying clients I have had to learn how to flick the switches in my mind to prepare to produce a track when I may have felt like singing. I have learned that wearing multiple hats, so to speak, is just a matter of being organized and disciplined. It sounds easy when I write it out in a quick sentence haha, but sometimes it is a challenge to be realistic when the creative side really wants to do something on inspiration. Gordon Stobbe, A mentor of mine that I have learned from in several music workshops, once told me that creating music is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. I was really skeptical at that point in my music career because I worked off of the moment and waited for inspiration to motivate me. Yes I was mostly working on my personal projects void of deadlines. Now being a working professional in several different fields of the music industry I truly have found that the process of digging in and applying myself to a task truly does generate the inspiration needed to get the creative job done.
Your reputation is growing in the EDM world from placing in several major songwriting competitions…is EDM your main genre as a songwriter and performing artist?
I think this question has two answers. From a client perspective I would say EDM brings me a good majority of my work. From the perspective of a music creator myself I would say my first love will always be singer/songwriter. It’s simplicity and raw nature will always be a timeless listening experience that demands more depth in maturity and lyrical content. I fell into EDM as a result of an invite to a small facebook page of mostly EDM producers. I posted a few of my songs and got my first offer to collaborate with Keiko, A producer from Norway. We have worked on quite a few projects together now that have turned out really well. Later on I did a collaboration with a producer from Sweden named Civic. This turned into a really solid track that has been getting radio play. From there it just kept snowballing to where I almost always have several EDM songs on the go with multiple really amazing producers. I love EDM and I am definitely going to keep working on this music, but I think at heart I would say my main genre is the more intimate singer/songwriter.
Tell us a bit about what you learned from the process of building your own recording studio
I am certainly not an expert in the field of designing studios. I can say that having worked on or built 4 or 5 studios now it has been a very gratifying experience. I have also gained a lot of appreciation for the science of sound. When I started doing more sound engineering and mixing work I quickly realized that the inferior acoustics of a room can make the job very difficult. Doing the research to treat a room and create a good sound environment for the work you are doing will always help build your skill and awareness of the craft. I’ve done everything from home built acoustic treatments to professionally designed wood and foam products. The most important lesson I learned was that you need to seek out the experts here, and get involved with sound engineering forums with people who know what they are talking about. My first attempts were based off of trial and error and advise from other DIY home studio owner, who though they had some good advise and input were really not basing their advise off of anything more than their isolated experiences. With my last studio I approached companies that had competent sound engineers I was able to send sound samples to so they can analyze my room acoustic and give advise to what frequencies and anomalies should be addressed. Whether you build or buy, you really want a good sound space that you can know is designed to best capture and work with your music. Especially if you have an untrained ear like mine was at the start.
How do you approach doing session work, both from the perspective of being a session musician and as a recording engineer / producer?
For me the key here is about being organized and having a good workflow. I always start with a good understanding of what a project requires. Before I started doing a lot of client work this didn’t seem as important, but as soon as you are dealing with a high volume of work as well as deadlines it is absolutely essential. For a client project this means having a good discussion about goals for the song, general sound options, any reference tracks that may help get the song on track, and what the end use of the song will be. For personal work it’s very much the same process and running through my mental checklist before I start. Over the years of creating and collaborating I have discovered that dissecting the different tasks involved in this work and giving them their own uninterrupted space has been very critical. For instance, when I’m doing the creative part of writing or developing melodies etc. I want to give myself that space and let my mind be free of the tedious and distracting manual functions of setup in my DAW. For any session project, I start with creating project templates in my DAW. This includes having the inputs for mic setup, any basic presets for eq, compression and fx as well as any master presets that I may use. This saves me a lot of time when I may start several projects in a day. I will have these templates for everything from vocal projects, to full production, to my basic mastering plugins. I can then move onto the creative process uninterrupted by the tasks of assign mic channels and configuring fx buses etc. Once I am happy with the creative aspect I can move my head space back into the opposite brain function of engineering and moving knobs and dials. It’s about understand and respecting the different functions of music creation and giving them that space to work efficiently.
What do you think about the process of working on other people’s albums at a distance (i.e online session work)?
I feel privileged to be living in a generation that is uninhibited by location. Long distance work has opened up a lot of doors in my career and allowed me the freedom to live where I want without needing to be connected in close proximity to a major music hub in order to survive. 10 years ago I never would have imagined living in a small town on the Canadian prairies and still working with artists and producers from all over the world. There really are no limitation with the technology that exists today, and the technology has never been more affordable. There are always difficulties when working long distance, but I have found communication is the most important things when working in this way. You have to keep the dialogue going and learn to communicate in a clear professional way when that is all that you have to make sure a client is 100% satisfied. I wouldn’t have my career any other way. Right now I have the convenience of the lifestyle I want with the work that I love to do. Does it get any better than that?
Who are your greatest inspirations (musically or otherwise)?
So many people have inspired my life over the years. My dad and mom are right at the top. I know I wouldn’t have had the same fearless and adventurous attitude towards life and my music career without their influence. I often brag that I had the greatest music teachers in the world. Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Sir Cliff Richards and on and on. I grew up from as early as I can remember watching and listening to the amazing old classics and trying to imitate their work. Excellence and mastery in any form, whether it’s the fiddle music of Natalie Macmasters, a Jimmy Hendrix guitar solo, or a brilliant vocal solo from Lea Salonga, are powerful influences that are always around you, but you do have to look for it and let it influence you. I’ve never shut out a particular music form because I wasn’t “into that”! You really have to appreciate the genius in all these different creative forms. Then you can’t help but be amazed at the crazy places you will find inspiration, and how important those experiences are to your own ability to create music.