Nashville Pros

By 
David Petrelli

A Slow Build: Nick Buda ’96

Nick Buda ’96
Nick Buda ’96

You’ve probably heard Nick Buda ’96, even if you haven’t heard of him. One of Nashville’s most sought-after drummers, his time-keeping talents can be heard on huge records by Lionel Richie, Jewel, Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift, and others. He’s played venues ranging from the Grand Ole Opry to the David Letterman show. As mainstream as his career has become, his journey has been anything but typical.

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, during the height of apartheid, Buda and his family were surrounded by unrest and turmoil. When he was 12, his family moved to Nashville, TN. His aunt was a successful pop singer in South Africa, and the family hoped a move to Music City might help advance her career and also offer Nick opportunities.

But life in Nashville was no fairy-tale escape. For months, the family of four slept on air mattresses in an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment. Having arrived without work visas, they scraped by initially.

When Nick was a child in South Africa, his mom enrolled him in piano lessons, but he was immediately drawn to the drum set stashed in the corner of his piano teacher’s room. The otherwise uncoordinated child surprised his mother by showing an aptitude for percussion. By the time he got to Nashville, he was drumming on pillows in the living room before scoring a set of rubber practice pads. Instead of reading or counting sheep, he fell asleep to cassette tapes blaring in his oversized earphones as he tried to learn the rhythmic patterns of his favorite songs.

During high school, a chance encounter with stardom pointed him toward Berklee. Through a family friend’s connections, Buda found himself backstage at a Sting concert hanging out with the band, which included one of his drumming idols, Vinnie Colaiuta ’75. After the conversation turned to going to college to study drumming, Buda set his sights on Berklee.

At Berklee, Buda studied with drum teacher Rick Considine and was exposed to many musical styles and situations. The experience helped Buda hone his own sound. After Berklee, he scored a gig in Atlanta touring with Colonel Bruce Hampton. Two years later, he moved back to Nashville and struck up a fortuitous friendship with a then-unknown aspiring producer named Nathan Chapman, who was working with an unknown artist, Lori McKenna. Chapman invited Buda to play on her session.

Rather than experiencing one big break in the industry, Buda notes that his career has undergone a “slow build” of opportunities. Soon, Chapman began working with another rising star named Taylor Swift, and asked Buda to play on her record. It wasn’t until he heard his drumbeats echoing throughout the Green Hills Mall on Swift’s debut single “Tim McGraw” that Buda realized that they were onto something big.

Buda loves the creativity required to contribute to great records but doesn’t need to hear himself on the radio to get his fix. “It really all comes down to good music,” he says, “whether it’s playing live or on a simple demo session.” Buda is finishing construction of his new state-of-the-art drum studio, the Loft, which will allow people from all over the world who want his signature style on their songs to work with him. For more on Buda, visit nickbuda.com.

David Petrelli is a songwriter and performer living in Nashville, TN.