Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

A Grammy for the Backup Plan 

A Grammy for the Backup Plan 

Headshot of Karl WingateEngineering was Karl Wingate’s backup plan to appease his mom. The Baltimore native played guitar in rock bands as a teenager, and would record music on home computers and friends’ laptops. However, at some point at Towson University, where he studied electronic media and film with an audio production focus, he realized that his favorite part of making music was the production aspect.

“I fell in love with it, even though it was initially the backup plan,” says Wingate (MA ’14, Recording Arts and Sciences).

Fast forward to 2023. Wingate, now based in Los Angeles, was nominated for Record of the Year at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards for his engineering work on R&B singer Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit.” In all, he worked on albums nominated for nine Grammys this year.

“I haven’t really processed it,” Wingate says, reflecting on the Record of the Year nomination. “It’s great to see the reaction it’s had, but that nomination was a little surprising. I mean, we were going up against a lot of great artists who dropped albums this year—Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, Adele. That’s stiff competition. But I was super excited for Steve.”

While “Bad Habit” didn’t win Record of the Year, Lacy’s album, Gemini Rights, was awarded Best Progressive R&B Album, earning Wingate his first Grammy.

Wingate collaborated with Lacy in his capacity as senior engineer at The Village, a legendary recording studio housed in a Masonic Temple in West Los Angeles, where he has worked with the likes of Gwen Stefani and Sara Bareilles.

Wingate’s path to The Village traces back to Peabody. Ed Tetreault, manager of Peabody’s Recording Arts and Sciences department, recruited him into the program while he was at Towson. While undergraduate school taught him all the fundamentals of engineering, Wingate had never touched a recording console. But in Peabody’s four different studio control rooms, Wingate learned the ins and outs of a variety of consoles and workflows.

“Confidence—that was the biggest thing Peabody gave me. I came out feeling like ‘I know how to do this,’” Wingate says.

After graduating, Wingate spent almost a year working for speaker manufacturer and audio company Polk Audio in Baltimore. While it was a steady job, the pull to work in a recording studio with professional musicians proved stronger than the security of a music-adjacent 9-to-5.

He moved out west to live with a cousin in Ontario, California. While he was only about 30 miles east of L.A., it would take Wingate hours to drive in and out of the city, where he would grab coffee with anyone who might have a connection. One such meeting, set up by Peabody’s Scott Metcalfe, chair of Music Technology, happened to be with someone who knew the studio manager at The Village. That got him an interview, which landed him a position as a runner—a common first job for those starting out in the industry.

“That’s the classic title,” he says. “You’re picking up lunch, getting coffee, cleaning, setting up, and handling gear reserves.” He worked as a tech on the weekends, and was promoted to assistant engineer, and then, engineer.

“There’s no, ‘OK, you’ve been here X amount of years.’ When the studio needs an engineer, they grab you,” Wingate says. “Much like anything else, it’s half throwing yourself out there, doing the work, and then, just luck.”

Wingate now splits his time between his engineering projects at The Village and freelance projects where he may be working as engineer, mixer, producer or sometimes a combination of all three.

Last year, he served as lead vocal editor on the Showtime series George & Tammy, a limited series about country music stars George Jones and Tammy Wynette starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. Wingate was ultimately responsible for the final presentation of the show’s singing performances, compiling the actors’ pre-production recordings with live takes from principal photography in order to create the best possible performance.

“I approach my career with a sense of knowing that there’s things I’d love to do, but all of the things in front of me are great opportunities that I’d be crazy to say ‘no’ to,” he says. “When I have some time to myself, I try to fill it with these other things that I haven’t had as much time to nurture. But whatever it is—engineering, mixing, producing—I’ll do it all.”

— Marc Shapiro