With the music industry in a constant state of upheaval, one thing’s still a given: artist will always need to record their music. And those recordings will somehow reach your tympanic membrane, whether via tiny ear buds or ginormous arena stacks. We decided to pay a visit to our informed sources at Bang’s studios in NYC to meet up with two audio engineers who’ve probably recorded & mixed more bands in the past few years than anyone on the planet.
In the studio, Paul Vitolins and Nick Cipriano calculate their total number of artists mixed and produced at 264—with an impressive range of work from the greats, such as Willie Nelson, to leaders of the new era of sound, like Kendrick Lamar. Needless to say, these guys would know a thing or two about where the sound waves are breaking.
So, 264 artists? Is that even possible?
PV: We’ve been recording artists for Spotify since the their US launch in 2011. Started with an 8-track setup in a 20 person conference room…
NC: …and expanded to a 64-track setup at SXSW, recording 50 bands in a single week.
50 bands in a single week is wild. You guys mind name-dropping a few?
PV: Kendrick, Ne-Yo, Sheryl Crow, D’Angelo, Weezer, Jackson Browne, Jason Derulo, Cyndi Lauper, Jason Mraz, The Kills, Leon Bridges, Miguel…
NC: Snoop Dawg, Kacey Musgraves, Demi Lovato, Halsey, Ed Sheeran, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Maren Morris, Migos, Tove Lo…can I stop?
I think so… A lot of engineers and producers specialize in certain genres, whether it’s rock, hip-hop, EDM, country. How do you approach mixing so many different artists?
NC: The key is that these are live recordings, in front of an audience. The mission is to capture that experience sonically, whether it’s bass-heavy hip-hop or acoustic guitars. It makes a huge difference when you hear those crowd reactions clearly, or the front row singing along.
PV: Exactly. Plus, we’ll multi-track every performance as if it were being done in the studio, which gives us our best opportunity to create great mixes.
So, the studio is where the ‘magic’ happens?
NC: The thing is, we want what the artists want, whether it’s Kendrick or someone you never heard of—it has to sound great, and we obsess over that…in the studio.
PV: Definitely. You should see some of the voodoo that Nick can do in Pro Tools. Scary.
Did you have a favorite session? An artist who snapped your head back, really surprised you?
PV: It was very early on, but when Grouplove came to play in Spotify’s offices, they had so much buzz that we had to move into a bigger room last minute. I was warned by their drummer that Christian (the lead vocalist) was really loud, so I should just watch his levels. When he finally belted out his first note, it was so raw, and so unfiltered, I think it did actually snap my head back. The recording of their song “Colours” still gives me chills.
NC: Lee Fields and the Expressions killed at their session. Lee’s a legit old school soul and funk artist from back in the day. The band was simply on another planet and Lee practically melted the vocal mic. That was one of the best sessions I’ve ever recorded and to just 8 tracks in small office conference room!
It feels like the music streaming space is getting super crowded with so many big players in the mix. What do you see as the next “phase” in that evolution?
NC: Even from the inside, it’s hard to keep up with the changes! Right now Spotify is doing much more video content, which I find really interesting. They’re filming and recording bands live and behind the scenes, documentary style, and we’re mixing & mastering that content which is then made available to their subscribers.
PV: Yea, pretty cool. They’re sort of filling the void left by what MTV used to be, but on your phone or tablet! And for me, it’s even nostalgic, because I started my career mixing MTV shows. I feel like I’ve come full circle.
The reality is, streaming music has now become the biggest revenue source in the industry.
And yet vinyl seems to be making a comeback…
NC: True. The factories are actually expanding capacity! People still like to drop the needle on a record…and the late night shows need something to hold up for the camera, ‘cause mp3s don’t look that great on TV!
PV: Ironically, most of the records being pressed to vinyl were recorded digitally. The reality is, streaming music has now become the biggest revenue source in the industry. There won’t be any turning back from that.
Wild. So who’s up next in the mix at Bang?
NC: Well we just finished mixing 2 Spotify documentaries, on Green Day and Metallica. But Spotify’s just a fraction of what’s in the pipeline…right now I’m mixing an indie film from James Franco’s production company.
PV: And I’ve just started Season 9 of Ink Master for Spike TV. The host is Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction, and it’s one of the network’s top rated shows. Oh, and the team is in the throes of composing music for a new Nat Geo series called “Year Million,” which just had its premiere.
NC: And the ad and promo work too, which has been ongoing since Bang was founded—spots for AT&T, L’Oreal and Google most recently. Would you like to see the clip for Victoria’s Secret swimwear that we scored?
Does it involve athletic women playing and laughing in the surf in St. Barth?
NC: Actually, it does.
Send it over. Would love to give you some audio-related suggestions.