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THE STORY OF KARMA

As a fledgling professional musician at the tender age of eighteen, Chris Craker (Karma’s owner and founder) first stepped into a recording studio at Granada TV, Manchester, in the UK. It was in just his second week as a clarinet student at The Royal Northern College of Music. Chris was pleasantly surprised and somewhat startled to be hired to play on Bill Connor’s soundtrack to the new legendary documentary “Great Railways of the World”. The experience was one never to be forgotten. The look and feel of the studio, the air of mystery surrounding the equipment; the vibe of the engineers and the producer… and soaking up the amazing atmosphere, observing the subtle process of working first hand with a composer to commit music to tape that was literally ‘hot off the press’ from the night before, was an experience that Chris has never forgotten.

It was in that very first session that Chris Craker knew he’d found his spiritual home inside the hallowed walls of recording studios. 

Over the ensuing years, he was one of the most frequently booked session musicians in London on innumerable commercials and films including major Hollywood blockbusters like John Williams’ ‘Return of the Jedi’ and ‘The Phantom Menace’ (Star Wars) and James Horner’s ‘Braveheart’ and ‘Legends of the Fall’. Pop and jazz sessions with Elton John, The Alan Parsons Project, Tony Bennett, Sarah Brightman, and Benny & Bjorn from Abba were straddled seamlessly with periods of work with the London Symphony Orchestra working with conductors like Leonard Bernstein, Claudio Abbado and Lorin Maazel. All these experiences left an indelible impression on Chris as a consummate professional musician who’d toured the world and experienced the art of recording at the very highest level from day one.     

Having been bitten by the ‘studio bug’ the penny quite quickly dropped that Chris would not simply stay as an orchestral session player for the rest of his life. And, in his late twenties, Chris decided to take something of a sabbatical from playing and studied the record industry from an engineering standpoint and that of a producer. He’d been on the other side of the glass from many of the world’s top producers in the very best studios including Abbey Road, Metropolis, Air and Angel, week in and week out, and the concept of being on the producer’s side of the glass was just too enticing to resist… 

Chris quickly set up his own state of the art production company (Black Box) in 1998 and by 'being in the right place, at the right time', he entered the record business producing the very same orchestras he’d been sitting in as a player, recording in the very same studios - he’s now notched up producing over 100 records in Abbey Road Studios! 

Making records for the major labels was rewarding and lucrative, and Chris elected to invest in the start up of his own record label of the same name (Black Box). The company grew to releasing some 80+ titles at which point he entered into a joint venture partnership and become Head of Sanctuary Classics, prior to being head hunted to run Sony Masterworks, initially out of London and, later, at The Sony Centre in New York. Still, the studio bug was eating Chris up…. and after three years of highly successful corporate life, primarily in  New York, Chris took the decision (amicably with the Chairman of Sony) to resign and immediately set up the now globally renowned exotic studio complex that is Karma Studios in Thailand. Never one to burn bridges, Chris now provides A&R concepts to Sony and has continued to produce many of the biggest selling records from Sony Masterworks, to this day.

So why did Chris build in Thailand?  In 1996, he’d had been asked to produce a recording for His Majesty The King of Thailand (King Bhumiphol Adulayadej) to celebrate 50 Years on the throne. This was to be a landmark project for Chris and the start of making nine further albums of His Majesty’s music, often alongside Mom Luang Usni Pramoj, himself a fine musician who’d been playing in the King’s Jazz Band (and who was a talented composer and arranger in his own right). Chris fell in love with Thailand from day one - the Land of Smiles, certainly smiled upon him, and it was the obvious choice for Chris to set up an exotic ‘creative utopia’ away form the real world…

The renowned composer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Harvey (and former owner of Snakeranch Studios in London) encouraged Chris to visit and explore the quaint fishing village of Bang Saray, where he himself had built a house. Once seen (and having experienced the local seafood eating emporiums!), little persuasion was required to entice Chris and his family into buying a large plot of land just inland from the beach. Soon after, architects and the best studio designer in Thailand, Khun Jom Vorabutr, were engaged to bring Chris’s dream into a reality. Jack Pattanatabut from Jack Sound, and Khun Tre Pramoj were instrumental in assisting the choices of builders and service providers, and so the journey began. The building project was an immense challenge, as the task in hand was to convert an unspoilt piece of jungle (with no running water or electricity close by) into a world class recording studio environment. The plan was to create a luxury, resort-style, recording studio complex with multiple recording spaces and boutique-style accommodation within the grounds of exotic tropical gardens. It took about two years to break ground and have a working building up and running. Equipment was flown in from London and Los Angeles (courtesy of Funky Junk and Vintage King, respectively), including a vintage SSL 4056E/G+ console previously owned by UB40. With many tears and a few tantrums along the way, financial crises (plural), and the most extraordinary personal challenges necessary to execute the build, this was to be a life-changing episode in Chris Craker’s life. But the lessons learned and the obstacles that were overcome, have provided an unparalleled level of experience in dealing with people, overcoming problems and drawing on one’s innermost higher power, that has stood him in good stead ever since. These experiences, when added to his extraordinary career as a producer of over 450 albums, have all gone towards developing and creating the very ‘soul’ of Karma - which, everyone feels, the minute they walk though the doors.

The resulting Karma Studios are beautiful. Stylishly cool, light, airy, great sounding and truly inspirational. The interior design and decor providing am almost zen like air of tranquility that musicians from all genres and background absolutely love. The British rock band Placebo were among the first acts to grace Studio 1 with their presence, and tracks from those sessions made their way on to the album, Battle of the Sun. Notably, this album included the amazing track ‘Trigger Happy Hands’, that Chris was instrumental in helping to be released as a unique single product where the audio was unlocked from the purchase of a t-shirt! Innovation out of creativity…

And that sums up the magic of Karma…. not only do people find they do their most inspired and amazing creative musical work at Karma, something magical unlocks in the minds of all who hang out there and everyone starts to think differently. Inspired, creative business ideas flow and fuel an all-encompassing spirit of optimism that’s supported by the staff’s mantra that ‘everything is possible’…

One journalist recently wrote of Karma, that “…if James Bond had a studio, it would be Karma”, and that mysterious, quasi secret vibe is definitely evident. Others have described it as “the studio that never sleeps…”. Often sessions are still going as the sun rises, so that, too, is true. And perhaps the tag line at the end of Chris Craker’s private email signature sums up the entire ethos. As a self-confessed workaholic, and “Creator of Opportunities”, he has instilled a way of life at Karma that allows people to be both truly creative and innovatively entrepreneurial at the same time. These are qualities that are so vital in this intoxicatingly fascinating current phase of the music industry. Digital disruption has brought with it opportunity, and Karma Studios is THE perfect place to unlock one’s creativity, providing the perfect place to think outside the box and explore literally all artistic and commercial opportunities…

A visit to Karma must be on every musician’s ‘Bucket List’.