From Rome to New York
From the heart of Rome, Italy to the streets of New York City, producer/mixer/engineer/composer Matteo Marciano lives an international life filled with world-class music. Aside from working on films such as Pitch Perfect, Turbo, John Wick, as well as with artists such as Anna Kendrick, Idina Menzel, Astral Weeks, Chetti, Jacopo Volpe, and Lang Lang; he also currently holds the position of chief professor at the Music Production and Engineering Department of the Master of Music from LUISS University in Rome, Italy. We caught up with him to talk about his work, travels, and extensive use of Sonnox Oxford plug-ins.
Where are you located now?
I’m on the Upper East Side of New York City. I used to work out of a facility that was down on Park Avenue but then I moved into a new space. I have a big room where I can track and mix, when I’m not working as a freelance engineer or producer in other recording studios around New York City.
How did you get started in the business?
I was introduced to music by my father, Mauro who was a percussionist when he was young, and mostly he has an incredible ear for music. I started with the bass and after several years of touring and working in studios, I became fascinated with what happens behind the scenes - which is the producing and sculpting of sound of an artist. After that I became an assistant engineer at a studio, then finally I moved up to the main chair. I was working on projects all over the place, in California, Florida, Alabama, Boston. I worked for Universal Killer Tracks – where I’ve been mixing and producing for their catalog for years.
At that time I was going back and forth between Italy and the United States. Then in 2011, I was hired as a professor and chief engineer from Luiss University in Rome. Currently I am still teaching at their Master of Music inside the recording studio, called Luiss Record.
After mixing bands for a while in Italy, I became involved in engineering, recording and mixing orchestras. Then I got a call from Universal noting that there was a spot available in New York City at a studio that does music for television, film and artists. At that time I was still mixing and composing tracks, however the main focus was for me to be a mix engineer. That was 2013, and since then, I’ve been the Chief Engineer, Executive Producer, and Composer working on many different projects.
How did you first learn of Sonnox plug ins?
I was first introduced to Sonnox by another engineer back in Rome, and since then it was love at first touch. In my work, I use the Sonnox EQ, Dynamics, Reverb, Inflator, SuprEsser and now Envolution plug-ins. When I first moved to New York, one of the main projects was tracking for the film Pitch Perfect. It was a huge movie and was based mainly on vocals – literally hundreds of them. So for me the challenge was to deliver mixes to the composer and producer so they could be excited about them. The best tool for that task was definitely the Oxford Dynamics plug-in and the EQ. Those two have been my best friends for the last 5 years that I’ve been doing this.
How do you use the Oxford Dynamics?
The Dynamics offers me a lot of tools in one plug-in. I really like that I can see the meters of every aspect of it while I’m tweaking them. It’s very important for me to have a visual reference of how the compressor is working aside from the gate or the limiter. When it comes to drums, I also find that handy, where I can see everything at once. The Dynamics works perfectly, and I like to use the Expander because it minimizes background noises. When it comes to snare drums, it makes them pop out through the mix. Then I can compress it the way I want it and limit it from there.
With vocals, I mainly use the sidechain compression and limiter functions.
Mixing vocals for Pitch Perfect and Alvin and the Chipmunks, and many artists in the industry, involved a lot of vocals to be tuned, edited and mixed. With the sidechain, I just work surgically, instead of using a multiband compressor. I can find the frequency that will actually trigger the compressor and work it from there. Normally with pop music, you have to make every vocal super bright, which is what people are used to. The sidechain allows you to have bright vocals always needed in nowadays’ pop mixes, but on the other hand it attenuates every harsh frequency between the range of 2k and 5k which can really hurt the listener. Using the limiter function, I can just grab whatever sticks out of the compressor that I don’t want to over compress.
The beauty of all of the Oxford plug-ins is how transparent they are and how they sit perfectly in the mix. For me as a mixer, I don’t want the listener to know what I did to vocals, drums, bass or an orchestral arrangement, I just want to trigger an emotion inside of them and get them excited every time they listen to a song I have mixed.
That’s one of the reasons I love the Oxford Reverb, which is one of the most transparent ones I’ve ever used. It is there, but it isn’t there. When it comes to mixing drums, you have to create space, especially around the snare. Being able to fade between the early reflection and the tail is amazing - that allows me to have a lot of artistic freedom. I do like the presets, but 9 out of 10 times I tweak everything, top to bottom.
I can literally recreate the exact space I have in my mind around the drummer, guitar player, vocalist, etc. That reverb is the way to go!
What else do you turn to?
I can’t say enough about the Inflator. I call it “the ear candy”. You don’t know when it’s there, but as soon as you put it in, everything sounds fat and magical. It helps to enunciate every transient on every vocal, to make it a little brighter, and bringing it up front. You can do this even if you’re not touching the gain stages or cranking anything.
It also has the ability to create tape simulation, which I sometimes use on the drums master bus and on guitars. You can saturate the input of it in a way that you don’t clip digitally, but it gives the drums a sense of tape, which is often needed when mixing in the box.
How about Envolution?
Ah, that is my new favourite plug in! I use it for emphasis and to give additional punch on drums. You can literally do whatever you want with both transients and sustain. This for me is crucial – especially when it comes to the release of a snare on a rock record. I’ve duplicated the kick and snare and put Envolution on them with the transient and sustain, rolling them all the way to the left to attenuate the initial transients and hit. Then what you have left is the transient and sustain after the initial attack. By compressing it in a certain way, you can create your own room triggers and give to the drum kit a lot more depth and sustain.
This plug-in is a game changer!
Interview and editorial by Rich Tozzoli