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Music Interview South Africa

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#YouthMonth: Ciaran de Chaud changes his tune from underground gigs in Mzansi, to recording studios in LA

Ciaran de Chaud, an accomplished recording engineer working in LA, has come a long way - from working gigs in the underground and independent music festival in Mzansi to working alongside industry icons, including Grammy winners Prince Charles Alexander (Notorious B.I.G, P Diddy), Leanne Ungar (Leonard Cohen) and Susan Rogers (Prince), multiple Grammy winner Larry Klein, known for his work with Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Tracy Chapman and many others.
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How it all began...

"I can’t remember a time in my life where I’ve thought of anything other than a career in music. I’ve been learning instruments, playing in bands, writing tunes, and messing around with microphones all my life. I’m also very fortunate to have grown up in a family that nurtured and encouraged my musical growth and ambition. I was never made to feel that a music career was unrealistic or far-fetched, says de Chaud, when asked what motivated him to pursue a career in music.

Throughout his childhood, de Chaud's identity became more and more intertwined with music, and it became apparent to everyone around him that music was going to be his life path.

The one question de Chaud couldn't answer was which part of the industry he would focus on.

Says de Chaud, "I have been interested in drumming, composition, production, musical directing, teaching and everything in between. I have found that taking every opportunity that comes my way and using them to deepen my knowledge and gain experience has naturally guided me to where I am today- in the world of production and engineering.

I have no doubt I’ll morph into different roles as I let my experiences continue to guide my interests and expertise."

De Chaud had spent a few years writing and producing music for TV commercials in South Africa. One of his most memorable projects was his very first major TV commercial that he landed. It was called Checkers - Hope Garden.

"I composed, produced and engineered the project and it was my first commercially successful piece of work out in the world. In the world of advertising music, a few different music producers compete by producing their own piece of music for the project, and then one is chosen for the final placement.

I somehow came out on top of some of the most experienced producers in the scene, and it really kick-started my career. I remember the surreal feeling of seeing the commercial for the first time on M-Net during primetime on a Sunday evening, and hearing my music being broadcast to over six million South Africans."

Another notable project de Chaud worked on was the culturally impactful Gillette - Nosizwe creceivedommercial, which received praise from South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa.

After a fair amount of success of producing music for TV commercials in South Africa, de Chaud was feeling creatively drained and needed a change.

"I initially moved to the United States to pursue a music degree at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Berklee had always felt like an unattainable dream due to the distance and immense cost.

But having garnered some good credits, I felt like maybe it wasn’t too crazy to give it a shot. I was accepted with a fairly substantial scholarship and was able to piece the rest together with various grants and sponsors," he says.

De Chaud notes that his time at Berklee was invaluable and opened the door for a career in the American music industry. With the strength of the Berklee network behind him, he decided to move to the heart of the recording industry, Los Angeles, and has since been climbing up the ladder and making a name for himself.

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When asked about how the music industry differs from South Africa to the US, de Chaud says, "Fundamentally, I think the key difference between the US and South African music industry is scale.

The music industry in America is the centre of the global industry, and is vastly larger than in South Africa. There are hundreds of thousands more musicians, many more studios and venues, huge record labels, and billions of dollars at play."

"There is so much musical talent in South Africa, but sadly, it is very difficult to find financial stability in a music career because the industry is so limited," he adds.

"For the most part, South African music professionals have to wear many hats and fulfil many different roles in order to make ends meet, such as performing and teaching and producing and mixing and maybe even a non-musical day job.

In the US, it’s much more realistic to specialise in one particular area, because there is enough demand for it."

Cultural influences

In terms of unique cultural influences that de Chaud incorporates into his work, he says, "I wouldn’t say that I necessarily incorporate tons of South African cultural elements into the projects I work on.

Sure, there are some particular subtle rhythmic feels and grooves that I gravitate towards when I’m writing. But these days I’m mostly recording or mixing in the studio."

De Chaud adds that the largest part of South African culture that he brings to his work has more to do with his energy and the way he carries himself and engage with others.

"South Africans keep it real. We ask each other questions and know how to engage and connect. I’m struck by the realness of all of my encounters every time I visit home. When I’m in the studio, I’m with a different client and a different team almost everyday. My clients come into the studio to make some of their most personal and intimate art.

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Image supplied

It’s so important that they feel comfortable in the studio and are able to connect with everyone in the room. I attribute my ability to facilitate a good vibe and feel connected with my clients to my cultural roots and the realness of South Africans and the way we engage with each other and the world."

Trends and technologies in the music industry

When talking about the trends and technologies in the music industry, de Chaud remarks, "To be completely honest, the music industry is one of the few creative industries where technological innovation has been quite slow over the past few decades.

The last major technological leap for music was the introduction of Pro Tools and digital audio in the 90’s. Since then, we’ve seen slow and steady improvements to the same digital tools that we’ve been using for the past 20 years.

"It’s actually quite easy to keep up with the technology, as long as you’re working with it on a daily basis and exploring all of the options at your disposal," he adds.

De Chaud has found that his knowledge and understanding of older equipment and workflows to be his greater asset.

"I currently work at one of the top A-list recording studios in the world, where every superstar you could think of records their music, and we are still using vintage mixing consoles from the 1970’s and microphones from the 1950’s, in a hybrid workflow with modern digital technologies. They just have such a special sound to them."

De Chaud's historic understanding of audio also gives him a much deeper conceptual understanding of his craft, and makes it easy to grasp all of the modern innovations that were ultimately born out of these ideas.

"With the recent advent of AI in music production, I think we’re about to experience the first major change to the way we make music in a very long time, and it remains to be seen how music professionals weather these changes," notes de Chaud.

For de Chaud, living in the center of the global music industry has introduced him to a vast amount of musicians and music professionals from all over the world.

"The music industry here is so diverse and I have had the privilege of working with people from every corner of the globe. I have absorbed so much knowledge from all of these collaborations and have developed a much larger and deeper musical vocabulary and toolbox than before my exposure to all of these amazing people from all over the world," he says.

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