Berklee Alumni Spotlight: Nick Buda ’96
Written by: Shantell Ogden ‘05
Nick Buda (’96) started playing drums on his mom’s couch cushion when he was a kid in Cape Town, South Africa. As early as ten years old, he was begging her to take lessons.
“I got my first set of practice pads when I was 13 and my family moved to Nashville to escape apartheid in South Africa,” said Nick. “I used to play along with bands like Living Color and James Taylor with my electric drums for hours everyday. I was 14 when I got my first drum kit.”
It was in high school that he began cutting his teeth as a performer in several rock bands.
“In 9th grade I was in an indie rock band and we snuck into a studio through a window after hours to record our first EP; one of the songs even had a swear word in it,” Nick laughs. “I played in a few local bands in high school and I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Nick was already considering Berklee when he met Vinnie Colaiuta (drummer for Sting, Beck, Joni Mitchell and many others).
“Sting was playing at Starwood Amphitheatre in Nashville and I was friends with a music journalist that got me backstage at the concert,” said Nick. “I got to meet Vinnie and he brought up the subject of Berklee. Because he was one of my key musical influences, that was deciding factor in going.”
Actually attending Berklee was a ‘huge eye-opener’ for Nick.
“Three days after I got there I was in the dorms on Commonwealth Ave. and there was a common area where students would jam,” he said. “I was not a jazz guy, but I learned quickly that I needed to get into whatever style of music I needed to, even if I wasn’t the best at it, so I could make it work.”
Nick credits Berklee for his first experiences in studio work, expanding musical foundation and ear training.
“Working in the studio with other students made me much more aware as a musician and helped me gain studio experience in the safety of school,” he said. “Ear training was valuable for me, it helped me learn how to chart songs.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree with a focus on percussion performance Nick returned to Nashville. After two years, he heard about a touring position with Colonel Bruce Hampton through a Berklee connection.
“I toured with Bruce two years and it was a real-life road education,” said Nick. “Bruce was really quirky and he had a cult-like following. Shows were about ‘go to war’, and it was two hours or more of heavy-hitting hard work every night.”
After touring with Bruce, Nick took road gigs with country singers Cindy Thompson and Aaron Lines, acts that were opening for Alan Jackson and Brooks and Dunn. He also toured for about a year with Mindy Smith and spent time on the road with Edwin McCain.
“I was getting tired of being out on the road at that point so I started to look into session work,” said Nick. “I also found out that session players who played on artists’ records were often first-call drummers for bigger road gigs.”
It took Nick awhile to break into the studio scene in Nashville.
“You may know a lot of people and be friends with a lot of big writers, but these people usually always have their group of players they work with,” he said. “It takes time to build a reputation and client list as a session drummer.”
Nick met and became friends with producer Nathan Chapman, and he started calling Nick to play on demos.
“Nathan is a workaholic, and we had a small band that did two demos a week,” said Nick. “Nathan was playing guitar, Tim Marks was playing bass and Chad Carlson was engineering in the sessions. We were all starting from the same place as session players and it was cool for all of us to come up together.”
After about a year, Liz Rose asked them to record a demo for a song that she had written with Taylor Swift.
“Taylor really liked the vibe and the sound we were getting on the demo,” said Nick. “At 15 years old, she went into the head of the label and said she wanted to record the songs with a bunch of unknown session players. That took a lot of courage.”
Taylor struck a deal with the Scott Brochetta to allow Nathan to record two or three songs with the crew that had played on all of his demos.
“Really it’s unheard of in Nashville,” Nick said. “You never hear of an unknown artist choosing unknown producers and players for a debut record. But, there was something to be said about our chemistry. We were all hungry and it was fresh and new. That was true for Taylor too.”
In addition to playing on all of Taylor’s albums since then, Nick has recorded with such diverse artists and producers as Richard Marx, Jewel, Jeffery Steele, Jimmy Wayne, Hillary Lindsey and many, many more.
“I love commercial music, and the trick is to keep it creative while trying to stay within the lines in Nashville,” said Nick. “I like to keep it interesting.”
So what’s next for Nick?
“I still love playing drums, and even on a bad day I still get to playing them,” he said. “I get to play on stuff that’s on the radio and to be in that circle of some of the world’s greatest players is extremely flattering. I’m looking forward to seeing whatever’s ahead for me, but the bottom line is it’s still all about making great music.”
For more information about Nick, visit his website at www.nickbuda.com.