Harry Chaplin: Mixing, production, and the power of sync

Mix engineer, musician, and entrepreneur Harry Chaplin joins Headliner for a chat about his illustrious career so far, from splitting his time between the UK and the US, breaking new Afrobeats talent, and his sync music business Songbird Sound…

As a multi-talented mixer and musician, Chaplin’s career to date has seen him work with an eclectic roster of artists from all over the world. Taken under the wing of Grammy-winning mixer and producer DJ Swivel, Chaplin spent his formative years as a studio professional learning on the fly. As Swivel’s mix assistant he learned both the technical and social aspects of what it takes to mix sessions for all manner of artists, styles, and genres. So far he has worked on tracks for the likes of Lil Nas X, Dua Lipa, Adekunle Gold, and Rema to name but a few.

He has also launched his own company Songbird Sound, which provides sync opportunities for artists and producers.

Here, Chaplin sits down with Headliner to discuss how he forged an unconventional path into music, the projects that have shaped him, and how new artists can earn more from their music…

When did your passion for music first begin?

I got into music really young as I was learning guitar from about eight years old, and I started playing in bands from when I was a teenager. That’s what got my love of music going. In bands you have to rely on other people a lot and I started to wonder if I could just make music myself. So at about 18 I started to get into music production. I wasn’t sure that a career doing that would be possible though, so I went to uni and started doing a science degree and that’s how I came across Swivel. When I was doing my last degree, he posted online that he was looking for a mix assistant. I didn’t have any qualifications, so I thought if I apply he’s not going to accept me. So I had this spontaneous idea to hire him on Skype and then when I got on a call with him I explained that I wanted to be his assistant. And he thought that was clever. So, we chatted for a while and he said if you can get to LA in a week the job is yours. That’s how it began.

What happened when you arrived in LA?

It was like jumping in at the deep end. It was only when I was on the flight that I thought, what have I done?! I started working with Jordan at his home studio and at the time he had just finished working on a lot of the Chainsmokers music, and I was getting into EDM at the time so that’s how I knew him. It was a complete schooling in mixing and production. And it got me on the path for a career in music.

What were some of the key learning experiences at the time?

Working for him was a lesson in the fact that the technical stuff is great, but artists are human beings so you have to be a good person to be around in the studio. So that practical social knowledge was key. He helped me understand what artists want in the studio, plus the technical things that help you to get work.

How did you career evolve from there?

That went on for about a year, and then he started having me work on mixes with him as an assistant. And he has a studio in LA that he let me start running, Artists like Ty Dolla $ign were working there and that started to open doors. I’d get guitar on songs or start mixing songs for different labels, so that’s how the opportunities started to develop.

What were some of your highlights from this time in your career?

In the States, a lot of the music is rap and hip hop and obviously pop. And at the time, Jordan wasn’t hugely well known in America and one day a project got sent through for Rema, who is this Afrobeat artist a lot of people know for his song Calm Down. That was his first EP and when it got sent through I’d never heard of Afrobeats before. Not many Afrobeats artists at that point had sent their music to America to be worked on, so that was a highlight because I started really enjoying the music and I got to work on his EP with Jordan. Then I started to reach out to other Afrobeats artists in Africa, and since then I’ve been working with a lot of Afrobeats artists.

How do you balance working between the UK and LA? Are there any key differences between how the two markets work?

I started my career out there and then once my internship Visa expired and Covid happened I decided to come back to London. And then I started working virtually from here and because Afrobeats was on the rise I was getting lots of work from Africa, and London seems to be a rising community for Afrobeats, so it made sense to be here and not rush back. That helped me with those projects.

London and LA are very similar, but there are certain genres that are more prominent here, like UK rap and Afrobeats are more well known here than in LA. So, the genre difference exists but apart from that it’s very similar. They are very interconnected.

What are the biggest challenges for mixers and studio engineers in 2024?

I would say because we live in a world with social media and everything being very instant, the timelines people work on are so fast. Most of the projects I’ve done have been on such short notice. I worked on a project that was 18 songs and the label gave me three days to do it. That is a big challenge. People are just getting used to these super-fast turnaround times.

Tell us about your studio setup.

A lot of the core elements in my studio are mobile because I like taking everything with me. My whole setup computer-wise is run off of Mac Studio and I have a pair of Sennheiser HDX headphones, which are there for when I’m on the go. Speaker-wise I will mix on headphones until I can get into a nicely treated room. Jordan introduced me to Genelec speakers, which are amazing, so I use those when I’m in a room. I have the 8010s, and they are just so honest. I mix completely in the box on account of having to move around a lot, so I don’t use any analogue equipment.

Do you have any tips for aspiring mixers and studio engineers?

When I first got to America, I asked Jordan what it would take for me to be successful, and he said, ‘you have to mix 200 songs’. You aren’t going to understand things fully until you have done the work and practiced. There isn’t a shortcut or tip that will get you there quicker, you just have to keep working and honing your skills.

What’s on the horizon for you?

Aside from doing lots of mixing recently, my love of guitar is starting to creep in again, so artists are getting to know I play guitar. And I have a few co-production credits on songs coming out. I still love playing guitar and producing, so I might start doing a bit more of that rather than just mixing. I’m always working on the Afrobeats stuff with up-and-coming artists, and I have a business where I make music for brands and adverts called Songbird Sound. I have a network of singers and producers where we work on sync. I started the company last year with a good friend and producer and between us we write, produce and mix, and supply those mainly to adverts in America.

Is the sync world an opportunity that artists are increasingly pursuing these days?

Yes. For a lot of artists at the start of their career it doesn’t cross their mind, but it’s a really good avenue for making money through music. Even if you’re streaming well you aren’t going to receive royalties for a long time. I defiantly recommend it to producers and artists.