Kevin Churko could name drop if he wanted to—he’s worked with Ozzy Osbourne, Shania Twain, Ringo Starr and Five Finger Death Punch, to name a few—but he doesn’t. The Canadian-born producer/engineer/songwriter keeps things low key. For about six years, Churko has lived and worked (partially, anyway) right here in Las Vegas. Now, the three-time Juno Award-winning man behind the music is opening his own private studio on Las Vegas Boulevard. The Weekly sat down with him to talk about our city’s potential in the music industry and the process of opening a studio here.
What brought you to Las Vegas?
The price of a house, to be honest—it was a situation where I was doing most of my work at home in LA. I really wanted to buy a house, was ready to settle. When I was looking around there, the prices didn’t seem reasonable. So, I started looking in the suburbs there. I got so far out, and I didn’t want to live there either. I figured if it takes me two hours to drive into town, maybe I don’t have to live here at all. Then, I started looking at other cities—Phoenix, Vegas. It’s a one-hour flight. I can live there most of the time, but I can have a fly there if I have to.
And how do you like it?
I’ve really come to like living here. There are a lot of [industry] people here. It’s really quite a secret, especially given its population. I think more of the music industry is going to gravitate here.
The profit margin is so much lower on music these days—tours are down, money is down, all the financial part is down. We’ve had to start thinking more about money, and one way to save is to make albums for less. Having less tax here helps. There are a lot of great reasons like that, yet you are still so close to the industry. Plus the other thing is that the industry is globalizing. It’s not as important—what with the Internet and communication—to be in those major centers. The artists that are doing well are building their own universes. You can be part of big conglomerate and make less money, or you can actually wind up with more money in your pocket by going smaller. I think Vegas plays into a lot of those things.
The professional music community in Vegas seems to be pretty small. Everyone seems to know one another.
I think the studio scene is pretty amicable here. I’ve worked at a lot of places. I really like the people working there. I think it’s really set up to be a great recording center. There are some fantastic studios and really talented people. ... Music in general has lost a little of the community spirit with the fall of the good times. We need to bond together a little more and really share the community spirit. Las Vegas has a bit of that.
Now you’re opening your own studio on Las Vegas Boulevard. Take me through the decision to do that.
As my business gets bigger and bigger, I just felt the need to expand—it is as simple as that. I can make great-sounding records here, buts it’s not necessarily a place I can invite the record execs. They are paying me a lot of money, and they need to feel comfortable. Even if the product sounds great, it needs to have a bit of a showpiece in a sense.
Also, I wanted to create a place with that idea of community spirit of, hey, maybe I could help others. I’m not going to be using my studio constantly—it’s essentially a private studio for my son and me. So, during those times I am in LA or overseas, I could sublease to it some band that doesn’t have the big budget for a studio. They can take advantage of the tools I have. I don’t plan on making money like Odds On or the Palms Studio. People hire me, not the studio, but, if I have a studio, I might as well help people.
You mentioned your son (Kane Churko of local duo Modern Science). He’s involved in the local music scene here, right?
He is my connection to the city a lot of the time. He’s certainly crucial in my business; he works with me on all my projects. With the studio, I’m building my control room, and I’m building his. My son will be available to local artists so the don’t have to worry about paying the prices I might want. I think it’ll be really interesting, to have a have both the high-end clients and some band from the local pub.
You’re building your studio from scratch. How’s the process going?
It was a much longer process than I anticipated. The county sure doesn’t make it easy to start businesses. I think that’s something that needs to be taken a look at. Las Vegas has to exist on things other than the big casinos. They need to be a little more flexible when it comes to small businesses.
When are you hoping to open?
End of June—that’s playing it safe. It all depends on fire inspectors, building inspectors. There are always problems that arise. A studio is even more difficult to build because the construction is so crucially important. One error in the lighting or wiring and it just doesn’t work. So, it takes a lot of focus.
Vegas never used to be considered a place you could record an award-winning album, but now there are several notable studios here. In the six or so years you’ve been here, have you been surprised at the growth?
It hasn’t grown as fast as I thought, actually. When I first moved here, there was great attention paid because of Killers and Panic! (at the Disco) but it dropped off. I think in the next couple of years it will come out again, and I think more industry people will come. The infrastructure is here. The wheels are starting to turn.