Unlike most of Dallas, Tre Nagella won’t be sitting at home and watching the Grammys this weekend. In fact, a track he worked on last year is up for an award, so he's headed to California. You may not have heard of this Dallas-based producer before, but you’ve undoubtedly heard some of Nagella’s work, on some of the biggest hip-hop, gospel and country albums of the past few years.
Nagella works his magic at Luminous Sound Studios, just off Keller Springs Road and the tollway in North Dallas. Luminous Sound owner Paul Loomis, an award-winning Dallas composer who often works in the advertising industry, enlisted Nagella to produce the tracks that he would write. “I would do that advertising work during the day, and all the musicians around here have day jobs, so they’d want to work evenings and weekends,” says Nagella. “I would stay after work and work with them in the evening.
Before that, though, Nagella was a musician. He started playing guitar in high school and continued playing in bands until he was in his mid-20s. “After I started playing guitar, I bought a four-track and a drum machine and started laying down tracks,” he says. “I always joke that I’m basically doing the same now, just on a much bigger scale. I’m still playing guitar and working with drum machines, it’s just no longer in my bedroom.”
His first project with a “major” artist came when Young Buck broke away from 50 Cent’s G-Unit to pursue a solo career. Nagella engineered a couple of tracks on Young Buck’s first album, which eventually ended up being released as singles. “He wasn’t super famous at the time, but that was the first major-label project I ever did on my own,” says Nagella. “It was for Interscope, and working in that environment with a major label budget, that was the first time I realized that this was going to be a big record. A lot of the stuff I’d worked on was more amateur or local. There was just a huge difference in the environment and the quality. I remember it feeling different.”
From there, Nagella somehow managed to build his chops in the R&B and hip-hop world, despite his own interest in rock music. Fortuitously, that landed Nagella a gig with gospel legend Kirk Franklin. “When I met Kirk Franklin, he told me that he’d asked around to see who was producing the best hip-hop records, and that my name came up three times,” says Nagella. “We had a little trial period, two weeks or something, and as soon as he heard the work I was doing, he said, ‘You’re my dude.’”
That partnership has since evolved into a 10-year working relationship with Franklin, and two Grammys for Nagella. Nagella spent the better part of last year working with Franklin on his highly esteemed 2015 release Losing My Religion, the first single from which is up for a Grammy this weekend. Outside of his own work, Franklin keeps Nagella busy with his dozens of other projects, from his Sirius XM radio show to a reality show on BET to his own record label of aspiring gospel artists. He's also worked with Christina Aguilera, Pat Green, Snoop Dogg and Lady Gaga, and mixed three unreleased Pimp C tracks that were included on a posthumous album last year.
Nagella’s studio has also become home to country’s Blake Shelton. Shelton typically records the bulk of his albums in Nashville, but resides (for the most part) in Ardmore, Oklahoma, just about two hours north of Dallas. When he needs to record a quick project, he makes the drive to Dallas to record with Nagella at Luminous Sound. “If he just needs one day to do some vocals on a song or cut guitars, he’ll drive down here to work and then go back home to Oklahoma,” says Nagella. “He likes the studio, so now any time he has a small project to do, he’ll just come here and work with me on it.”
Considering his success, you might think that Nagella would have moved to Los Angeles or New York to further his career, but he says that Dallas will always be home. He’s currently serving on the board of governors for the Texas chapter of The Recording Academy, a nonprofit organization that Nagella believes doesn’t get quite enough attention. “Everyone sees the Grammys, but this organization does a whole lot more than just giving out awards,” says Nagella. “We do stuff year-round to work for working musicians in the industry and to help benefit artists in general.”
Part of that work includes the Academy’s latest initiative, focusing on hearing health. “So many young people are at risk of damaging their hearing because of earbuds and smartphones and car stereos,” says Nagella. “There’s no law or regulations on how loud music can be at concerts, and fans don’t know that they could be permanently damaging their hearing by just going to a show.”
The Academy also works in Texas and across the country to help independent musicians obtain health insurance, provide addiction recovery programs and provide scholarships to young musicians along with making donations to help keep music education in public schools. Nagella has been involved with the Academy for the past 10 years, and has held voting privileges for “at least five or six” of those.
Tomorrow, he’s headed to California to attend the Grammys as a member of the Academy, and he’s pulling for Dallas musicians who are nominated for their own awards. He’s rooting for his close friends and Denton’s own Snarky Puppy, members of which have performed with Kirk Franklin in the past. He is also, of course, rooting for Kirk Franklin — and himself, in a way — to win Best Gospel Song.