Reggae Renaissance at BNV Productions in Burbank
“BNV Productions is strictly a mom and pop operation — we don’t have rules here; we can do whatever we want,” said Brian Vasquez, co-owner of BNV Productions, a multifaceted, full-service boutique recording studio in Burbank, California. “When artists come to BNV to record I want them to understand, it’s about you. It’s about Jamaica, and it’s about Jamaican culture. There are only positive vibrations here.”
Vasquez was explaining why, as Kalifa Madden wrote for KingstonToLa in December, BNV “is infused with all the feel good vibes that [are] unique to the islands,” such that it has quickly become “a magnet for reggae and Jamaican artists.” The roster of legendary and emerging reggae artists BNV has already worked with in its nascent three-year history includes Barrington Levy, Third World, Jesse Royal, The No-Maddz, Joe Mersa Marley, Arise Roots, and more.
“We don’t have a bunch of bureaucracy, red tape, and levels of approval” (like at bigger, more traditional recording studios); “Here, it’s just me and Nicole,” Brian continued, smiling admiringly at his wife, Nicole Vasquez, “the mom” and co-owner of BNV. As a music composer and sound engineer, “Brian, is really, really good at what he does,” Nicole said candidly; “he has a special ear” for music.
Brian and Nicole met over fifteen years ago working together at 106.7, “The World Famous” KROQ, a popular Los Angeles radio station, where — after more than a decade of experience working with a litany of stars like The Beastie Boys, Godsmack, A.I., and The Roots — they both reached the highest levels of production and management. At KROQ, Nicole focused, as she does now, on the business and marketing side of the music industry, while Brian became a master sound engineer, perfecting his skills in music recording, mixing, composition, and voiceover work (though Brian is quick to note that Nicole also does voiceover work and, “she sings too. She also has that ‘special ear’ — she knows when something is working musically — and when it isn’t”).
The Vasquezes credit their tenure in radio for honing the most critical skill essential to the success of any recording studio: The know-how to foster a musically creative environment where artists can, as Brian aptly described, “make music that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck — the kind of music that gives you goosebumps; you hear it, and you just know.”
It’s not enough to have the requisite acoustics, the expensive fine-tuned instruments (amps, microphones, guitars, digital audio work stations, etc.), the plush overstuffed couches, and the obligatory “live” performance, isolation, and high-tech control rooms with colorful illuminated buttons that look like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise; this ubiquitous setup can be seen in almost any reputable music recording studio.
What separates BNV from the rest of the field is having a sound engineer like Brian, a self-described “gear head,” who is constantly upgrading and tweaking his equipment. Even more important, Brian explained, you need a sound engineer who knows how to use that equipment, be it analog or digital, with maximum efficiency to elicit (and record) the very best of an artist’s talent.
When they first left KROQ, Brian and Nicole initially worked assisting with the syndication of several big-name radio personalities like Perez Hilton, and this, in turn, led to increasingly more lucrative projects for the couple — like helping to launch Apple’s iTunes Radio in September of 2013. These early successes on the heels of they’re leaving KROQ allowed Brian and Nicole the financial security to start BNV Productions where they can fully pursue their passions, including producing top-notch reggae music.
Assisting Brian and Nicole in this endeavor is an old friend of theirs from their KROQ days, “Native” Wayne Jobson. A former reggae artist from Ocho Rios, Jamaica (who recorded an album with Lee “Scratch” Perry in 1977) Jobson has, for the last two decades, been a successful radio personality and “reggae authority” in the U.S. In addition to being a Grammy winning music producer, Jobson is well-known for producing the documentary, Stepping Razor: Red X, about the life and untimely death of Peter Tosh. The Vasquezes reconnected with Jobson through their work with Apple, and together, the trio has created an artist showcase called “Catch a Fire Nights.”
The reason for Catch a Fire Nights, which has already been blessed by a number of melodic goosebump-raising performances from reggae statesmen like Third World and Barrington Levy, “is simple,” Brian Vasquez explained. “We wanted to create a space where both new and established musicians who respect roots reggae culture, can come, be creative, and make beautiful music. That’s it.”
In an interview before performing at Catch a Fire Nights in February, Barrington Levy told Native Wayne before a small studio audience: “Give thanks for being in this business and being in it for the love of it. I think it makes sense. Because this music business is very selfish. If you just come for the money of it, and you’re not watching the lyrical content that [you’re] putting out, and spend time with it, and try to make songs that are timeless, it’s a wrap — leave it alone.”
Meeting with the Vasquezes, it’s clear that part of the reason for the meteoric success of BNV, is the studio’s governing philosophy mimics Levy’s when it comes to producing classic, conscious, roots-infused reggae music. The Vasquezes don’t play penny-pinching games or otherwise try to gouge artists they work with; for them, the strong relationships forged with their clients and the quality of the music that BNV produces is always paramount.
Evidencing their growth-potential in the music industry, BNV recently joined the DIGILAND campus, described in a press release as a collaborative of “digital disruptors, content creators, and entrepreneurs,” located on the old Jim Henson (of Muppets fame) lot in Burbank, just 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles.
The “cutting edge facility includes [collaborative] work spaces, pilot offices, conference rooms, creative suites, sound stages, [and] post-production rooms.” Most importantly, though, despite the modern opulence of DIGILAND’s primo facilities, which will also henceforth be the new home for future Catch a Fire Night performances, BNV has Brian and Nicole Vasquez running the show, and that fact — more than anything else — is what accounts for BNV’s tremendous success.
If you dig timeless reggae music, music that stays true to Jamaican culture, BNV Productions is a music-recording studio to watch. Just like Bob Marley’s Natural Mystic “blowing through the air,” there’s a reggae renaissance occurring in Burbank, CA, and it’s happening right underneath BNV’s roof.
Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. His twitter is: @SteveCooperEsq