George Nicholas got an early morning phone call. It was his manager telling him he was nominated for a Grammy.
The 34-year-old Sydneysider, from Surry Hills, said it was a “total shock” to learn last year he would join the likes of Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar and Adele on the red carpet when the Grammy Awards are held on Monday (AEDT).
George Nicholas is a producer, composer and mix engineer from Sydney who has been nominated for a Grammy.
Nicholas is nominated in the Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical) category for his production work on Kiwi-born artist BAYNK’s record Adolescence. Other nominees include Harry Styles’ record Harry’s House and Father John Misty’s folky Chloe and the Next 20th Century.
It’s not a bad effort considering Nicholas has never actually met the recording artist (aka Jock Nowell-Usticke), or his co-nominee, music engineer Ryan Schwabe, in person before.
“It all happened on the internet through COVID,” Nicholas says. “One of the reasons I’ve come over here for the Grammys … is that it would just be nice to celebrate what we’ve worked on together in person, rather than on WhatsApp threads or email chains.”
“It will just be fun to go on the red carpet and do all of these things that are so far removed from my day-to-day job, which is to sit in a dark room by myself, with no shoes on, mixing records.”
For those in the Australian electronic music community, Nicholas’ nomination is not a complete surprise. He already has several ARIA gongs to his name for his prolific catalogue, which includes Genesis Owusu’s Smiling With No Teeth (which won best album in 2021) and Yesteryear by Cosmo’s Midnight (nominated for best dance release).
In a past life, he was a celebrated artist himself with groundbreaking Sydney electronic trio Seekae, who toured internationally and have just under 800,000 monthly Spotify listeners. Hottest 100 winner Flume once reworked their ‘indie-tronica’ sounds.
But Nicholas, who describes himself as introverted and shy, soon got tired of travelling to perform Seekae’s chill dance hits. The group wrapped up in 2016 after collaborating for a decade.
“I just found it really anxiety-inducing,” Nicholas said. “The whole thing of getting on a plane or getting on a bus and turning up somewhere and worrying about if people are going to show up or if they’re going to like it. And to talk to lots of people … I’m quite an introverted person and it’s not something that was appealing to me.”
George Nicholas is competing with Harry Styles to win an award for best engineered album.
Through his time with Seekae, Nicholas discovered another musical passion when the group had enough money to hire outsiders to help produce their work: mixing.
“We’d go into a room with these mix engineers, and they were like these mysterious figures who managed to completely alter the emotion and energy of whatever thing you spent years producing. And I just found that absolutely fascinating,” Nicholas said.
Nicholas explains his job as “finding a balance of the elements within a song”, often via heightening certain sounds while lowering others – be it turning up the vocals to help a chorus sing on an iPhone, or beefing up the bass to make a track thump in a club.
“You want the elements to have a sense of cohesion and glue together, so you can process them in a certain way. Sometimes you might want to really prioritise an element to make it sort of jump out of the mix,” he said. “It’s all the stuff that comes at the later stage of finishing a song or album.”
Grammy-nominated music engineer George Nicholas’ Sydney studio.
“You think about how you can make it translate on sound systems. If it’s lacking some low end, it might not sound as good in a car or in a nightclub. Or if the vocals aren’t loud enough, it might not sound as present on an iPhone or a radio speaker.”
Nicholas has flown over to Los Angeles with his partner and six-week-old baby for the Grammys. He and Schwabe have a one-in-five chance of winning, with the other nominated albums including Wet Leg’s eponymous indie-rock debut and pianist Robert Glasper’s rap-infused, jazz-based Black Radio III.
But despite his chances, Nicholas still hasn’t written a speech.
“It’s a total treat to be in the running. I have very low expectations. If we do win, that’d be great, but I’m just really happy to be here,” he said.
Although he openly admits he finds it daunting to network with others, Nicholas said he might have to try to meet some global music stars on the red carpet, naming Styles’ album producer Mark ‘Spike’ Stent as one of his favourite engineers.
Nicholas humbly plays down his role in his nomination, praising frequent collaborator Schwabe and describing BAYNK as an “amazing producer” whom he jumped at the chance to work with.
”He’s just a producer with a really unique palate, which is what sets [the album] apart from so much other electronic music, [where] a lot of the percussion is quite angular and aggressive and precise,” Nicholas said. ”A lot of his musical elements are really rich and warm and emotive. So, it’s this nice sort of melding of the directness of electronic music and the soul of pop music.”
Nicholas says he mixes around 150 songs per year for a range of artists – some taking six hours, and others taking a week.
“I just want to get better at what I do, and work on music that I like, and help people, which sounds so f–ing Mother Teresa, but I just like working with people who share a similar creative vision to me.”
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