Nicky Bomba of Melbourne Ska Orchestra’s Savvy Seven

The Melbourne Ska Orchestra are a unique twist on the classic orchestra format. Comprised of 36 members, the group has become a beloved musical act of Australia delivering their high energy performance to audiences around the globe. The energetic and charismatic, multi-instrumentalist/producer Nicky Bomba has lead and directed the Melbourne Ska Orchestra throughout the years with undying enthusiasm and passion for music, taking part in several other music acts including his own solo project, Bomba and John Butler Trio.

Good Days Bad Days  their latest single is out now and they’re kicking off a national tour (see details at the bottom), so we were stoked to catch up with Nicky and get his industry insights and advice… read on below.
1. What inspired you to pursue music as a career?

I’ve been playing music since I was a kid with my family band and so I kind of got into it without even really knowing. I just realised that I had a talent for playing drums. I was in the band when I was 6 or 7 years old then when I turned 16 I kind of thought ‘oh, I’ve got the opportunity now to do kind of what I want’. I was actually working out what my career path was going to be and I realised that if I could somehow make a living in all the actual different aspects of music whether it was teaching or performing or recording and everything. That just seemed like where my heart was. In Year 11 I did my correspondence and went on the road and thought ‘you know I’ll give this a go, if it sticks it sticks’. If not, oh well but this is the age to do it, and I wrote my first song and I just haven’t looked back since. What I’ve realised though is you have to spread the tentacles a bit as far as income is concerned, you kinda need to do a bit of a teaching a bit of this a bit of that, have a couple of different bands happening and just be willing to work really quickly and spontaneously. And I’ve been doing that pretty much all my life in different shapes and forms.

2. Besides making music, what have you done to get to where you are?

Where I currently am is a happy place, is a place where I’m currently able to make a living from music. I moved to the country because I get inspired by nature and I get less distracted than being in the city, so I set up my studio in the country and disciplined myself. I have a family, I had two children to raise and one of the big things I did was learn how to operate a recording studio. I realised that rather than spending a lot of money in studios, I could just learn that craft and do it myself. I bought a four track and a mixer and I never actually went through any formal lessons but just by trial and error I learned how to record . For a good chunk of the years, when I was bringing up the kids, most of that was in the recording studio as a producer and engineer, and also a drummer and multi-instrumentalist. So I can get a singer-songwriter to come in and it could just be me and him. All he’d really have to pay for is myself and the studio and he’d walk out with a fully-fledged album. I think the advantage was that it opened up my learning capabilities, I was constantly learning and I still am now. If you can run a studio really well, you could really get into the concepts of sound sonics so it’s a complete learning process. I would say the main thing that drives me is my enthusiasm with learning things in regards to music anyway.

3.  How do you approach developing timelines for your career?

I’ve realised the more you do it, the more careful you’re going to have to be, slowly getting things right and not over exposing yourself. It’s about getting the balance right. Really, it depends on what you’re doing, like if you’re an original band that’s releasing material you have to be really careful how often you play in the city for example and then in the touring schedule finding out what places work, what places you’re gonna go back to. I like to look at my year in seasons, your summer touring season, you got your overseas tours, you got your time to write, you got your time to chill. I think it’s important to be disciplined in this craft because we don’t clock in and go ‘right here’s my job, do this, do that’. Most of us are self-employed so we have to be really careful with our time, because you can waste a lot of it and you can put all of your energy into something that’s not actually efficient. I don’t television, I really doctor my screen time, I go into flight mode a lot on my phone so I don’t have that kind of distraction which is easy to get sucked into, because you start scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and 2 hours later you go ‘far out what am I doing?’ You get lost in that void and I did that for a while and I had to pick myself up out of it. I tend to wake up thinking of every day as a universe in a day and so I try to be respectful of the time I have. You have to learn to say no sometimes, especially if you’re doing your own stuff. My problem a lot of the time was that I was just saying yes to a lot of other people to record, then I came round to doing my own stuff and I’d be doing it in between and I wouldn’t be giving myself that respect or the time to record. As a producer I needed to be that kind of person that was like ‘okay, I need to invest in my own music here’. Then what I find is when I’m doing my own recordings I might get an engineer in, so that way I’m not the producer or the engineer, I’m just a musician. I love playing live and I love recording, I love thinking, I love fishing, so I just trying to go about making sure that it’s in the span of a week that I do all of those things and that’s kind of where I am at the moment.

4. What is the most significant challenge you have conquered in your career?

I think the most significant challenge is my finding peace with ambition. In the many years I really wanted that hit record, and I really wanted that recognition. I’ve had many bands that were nearly there and we got a hit single, we nearly got signed and it kind of caused this frustration, this bitterness, this whole victim personality, you know, ‘What’s wrong with my songs? My song’s better than that song.“ You get this whole kind of thing happening but you realise it’s all a bit of a game really, and the most important thing is to do the best art you can. It is art so it’s subjective, you don’t have to be following any trends, just do what you think sounds good for yourself and then if you feel pleasure by what you’re doing. The concept is if you like it then other people will like it, or if you like the experience or how this makes you feel then other people will have that same human feeling and you can hope that it translates. That’s kind of why a lot of people do art in the first place, it’s because they’re trying to invoke an emotion, or invoke a thought, or you can give people food for thought, or sometimes you just want to make people dance. It kinda depends on where you’re coming from and the biggest challenge was just to believe in myself, that’s probably the biggest one.

5. What will musicians discover from touring and how should they prepare for it?

Well, there’s a lot of different ways of touring but when you’re starting out it’s easy to burn yourself out. There’s a big thing with partying and not getting much sleep. At the end of the day, you’re on stage for 2 hours and it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are on for those 2 hours and you’re not rocking up drunk or stoned or anything. I mean, after the gig go seek whatever, but there’s a certain healthy regime that you need to understand on the road. You need to eat well, you need to sleep well and party when you need to party but it’s knowing that if you’re not up to your physical capabilities. The whole idea of being on the road is to win over people and share music and try to get people on board so the next time you’re playing you can double the amount of people. Being on the road is part of a marketing strategy about getting the music out there so just understanding eating well, staying hydrated, and if you need to stop and catch up and sleep for 12 hours make time for that. It’s easy just to go and let loose but if it’s going to affect your performance you need to be looking at that.

6. How should people educate themselves on current industry issues?

I would say not so much issues, more like current industry landscape. Back in my time, my first release was on vinyl because that’s all there was. I’ve gone from vinyl, to the cassette, to the CD, the CD duplication, and there was mini disc for a while. Then to the point where Spotify came out, and iTunes and Apple, and everything and you didn’t need to buy CDs anymore. So the landscape changed and being informed about what is going on; there’s lots of stuff online, you know, kind of just being aware of what people are doing. A great example of someone who bypassed the record label is Tash Sultana. She just put something up online because she realised that social media was where it was at, and she just did regular things, busked as well, and developed stories and now she’s got a full-fledged career out of it. She’s probably signed to someone now but nowadays you can access a lot more people without having to be signed to a record label. What seems to be the way is you spend your money on social media companies that know how to distribute and promote your product in relation to a marketing campaign which might involve touring and a film clip and bits and pieces. It is in a state of change at the moment and there’s push back to vinyl as well.  Just kind of seeing what people are doing, seeing where other people are playing, seeing how other people are doing things. You can copy their ideas, no one owns that stuff, ask the questions and just be the student. And again, there’s a lot of stuff online but I like talking to people and getting people’s perspectives. You know, managers and the agents and getting their view on things and see how it adapts. There are workshops and other things as well.  For instance, as far as song-writing goes a lot of people don’t know really how things work in relation to publishing, and you can ring these people up, you can ring your APRA and you can ring a publishing company directly and they’ll give you the like. For example, if you record an album with your friend recently and he had no idea about registering songs and about Spotify and RC codes, it’s not hard to learn but you make one phone call to a publishing company and they explain it to you really easily. It seems like it’s too much information or it’s all too hard and everything but it’s actually not – just ask the right people. You can actually also contact a lot of labels and managers; you can ring up most managers to ask questions about what you’re doing. Most people will help because they understand and they’ve been in the same spot at one point.

7. How have you integrated modern technology into your content process?

Well, when I started it was just all analogue tape and then it was digital, and now it’s pretty much Pro tools, it’s screen-based. And the good thing about using pro tools, a computer based software, is because if you want to recall something and change something in the mix, it’s identical to when you left it. Whereas in the old days, you had to put the tape on, set up a mixing desk, take a photo of the actual desk so that you can copy everything and it was always a process just to put the bass guitar up a little bit louder. It took me a while to make the shift to a computer-based system, but it’s certainly quicker and more efficient, and the plugins that you have nowadays are pretty incredible. I still love old school gear, and my engineer Robin Mae is still a purist nut. We have Neve Consoles and Shadow Hills and really good microphones so we still kind of use the old method to track but then once we’re on the computer we tend to stay in that world.


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