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Alberto Rizzo Schettino is the owner and resident sound engineer of Fuseroom Recording Studio. He is a gifted pianist and a true synth geek.
Since attaining Best Pianist/Keyboardist 2005 at Hollywood’s Musicians Institute, Alberto joined productions in Progressive Rock. Besides that, he served as an assistant engineer at Cello Studios, prepped music for musicians in the LA jazz scene, and landed a gig with pop star Joss Stone.
Over the years, Alberto has worked for artists and bands like Roger Burn (Chaka Khan, The Mask, Saturday Night Live), Shapes, David White (Mad Max: Fury Road), Anna Oxa, Marco Masini, Derek Sherinian, Planet X, Garsed/Helmerich, Morgan Heritage and more.
Alberto has also worked with leading brands in the gaming industry such as Riot Games (League of Legends), Bohemia Interactive (ArmA), Blizzard Entertainment (Overwatch) and aviation technology giants such as Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways.
Do you play any musical instruments?
How did you get into music and for how long have you been producing for?
As a kid, I got in a band with some close friends of mine and ever since I’ve pretty much always worked as a music producer, among other things (even if the term ‘producer’ was not that fancy, back then).
I had my first music lesson somewhere in 1994 and then never stopped learning. Oh boy, I am kinda old 🙂
What, in your opinion, are the skills needed to be a music producer?
I cannot imagine being a producer without being extremely proficient with one or more musical instruments (voice included). But most importantly, dedication and trust in good methods of study, along with the willingness to learn from the best out there.
How do you become a music producer? Do you study with courses, learn online, or just experiment?
I’ve always studied music formally in music schools and with private teachers. Only about 25 years after my formal years of training did I start to study “by myself”.
Who are the producers who have most influenced your approach to music production and why did they have that influence?
I had the privilege to learn from people like Roger Burn, Russ Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip, Robben Ford, Carlos Campos, Carl Schroeder, Derek Sherinian, Kent Hewitt, and many amazing pros that were in the spotlight from 2003 to 2007, during my stay in the US for studying piano and keyboards.
Later on, due to my work as assistant, I got taken by hand into productions that involved people like Joe Barresi, Michael McCann, TJ Helmerich, Howie Weinberg, and various names in the industry involving all aspects of production from recording, mixing, songwriting, and writing soundtracks for video games, to mastering.
Sometimes I feel I should have learnt much more since the privilege I had in being “there” was just disarming!
What DAW are you currently working with? Why do you prefer to work with this DAW?
I record, mix and master mostly in Pro Tools HDX. I do compose and produce soundtracks in Studio One Pro and Cubase Pro.
I really like PT for recording and mixing because that’s what my mentors have always used and what every studio I’ve been to had. I know it very well. However, for composing and songwriting, I did not want the “sound engineer” approach to jeopardize my role as a composer. For this reason, I decided to use a clean slate and Studio One Pro and Cubase Pro are amazing for this.
And what about your room? How big is it? Is there treatment?
I have the luxury of working in one of the biggest control rooms in Berlin, certainly the biggest I’ve been in, here in the city. It was meticulously built the “old-school” way. It’s calibrated for a very good acoustic response.
What monitors do you use?
What are some of your favorite microphones?
Which microphones do you like to use on vocals?
When you set up your sessions, what’s your general layout and what would you start mixing first?
It really depends on the session. Often times lead vocals are first, then drums, bass, guitars and keys in various combinations.
What are your five most favorite plugins?
What is your favorite Soft Synth VST plugin?
And what’s the one plug-in that you simply couldn’t do without? Why do you like it?
Inherently Native Instruments Kontakt because of how many sound libraries pass through this little guy!
In your opinion, can some plugins really improve the a track’s sound?
As long as “the sound in your head” is able to be tailored on such a plug-in, that plug-in will improve the sound of your track.
Some plug-ins these days, however, have been used in famous records of a specific genre so often that they can sort of automatically give you that 1% resemblance to the sound people “think of” when placed in your genre. This is somewhat important to a certain degree but ultimately, there is no secret recipe as to why a track sounds great. I’ve abandoned some projects early on to avoid sabotaging their sound (when I had been really involved into something from the get-go, usually). They still sound to me more appealing and “magical” than things I’ve worked on for months and revised endlessly due to the client’s requests.
Which plug-ins do you like to use on vocals?
Do you have a lot of compression going on?
A lot of compressors, definitely! But they may be used in parallel and sometimes the needles don’t move, at all. I love it when compressors are used as equalizers and vice versa. I remember this quote from some of the old cats in the mixing business and it’s so true!
As far as EQing goes, are you doing more subtractive, additive or is it an equal amount of both?
An equal amount of both! They’re both equally-important tasks. Some EQs are known to be better for adding, others for removing, but they have to be used regardless, depending on the situation.
In regard to cutting frequencies, are there areas that you find yourself gravitating more towards?
Some could say that areas like 90, 200, 3500 are known to be tough for average rooms and hi-fi systems to reproduce but there’s really no way of knowing what to do on a song without hearing it, first!
What plugins do you typically have on your master bus?
It really depends on the context of my production.
If I am mixing rock, there might be nothing but outboard on the mix buss, maybe one limiter like the McDSP ML8000 on the way back and that’s it. If it’s a soundtrack I am composing then maybe the Softube Zener-Bender, Wholegrain Quartet and again the McDSP ML8000 are probably going to sit there all the time by default! I know them really well and I know why they should be there, doing their work.
How do you make your mix louder?
It really depends on the genre of my production. In rock music it all starts with how you arrange the song, if you want to get to stupid-loud levels.
EDM and dancefloor-oriented genres are the same (funny enough) but if I am composing a soundtrack, I simply don’t need anything else than just to turn the volume up, as I don’t usually limit if not some occasional peak and I have plenty of headroom.
In your opinion, what classifies as a good mix and a good master?
They have to “sound”. It doesn’t matter how good or bad they are. There’s no knowing, as long as they “sound” right. It really means nothing, I am aware of that. I have records I love to listen to in which I can point ten things that I really don’t like about the mix or master, but I LOVE the record and wouldn’t touch it for anything in the world. Then there are other records that I find to be very well mixed and mastered, yet I only give it a listen or two and never go back to enjoy them. The “sound” of a record is what matters and it’s because of this elusive factor that we’re still here perfecting the craft of music production and we sure will die without having done so 😉
What do you do when you feel stuck with a mix?
I stop mixing the song and get back at it fresh, the next day or so. Before going to sleep or while doing my daily routines (yes, including poop). I keep thinking about it and I usually realize something obvious that I want to do just by playing the song in my head. Thanks to my training as a touring performer and the focus on quick learning and improvisation, I am very good at “imagining” a tune and how I would play it before stepping on stage. It comes from the very tough years in which I had to audition, play or do exams in front of a jury with little or no time to rehearse on the instrument. I kind of do the same with tracks I write or mix: I usually find very simple solutions that are never easy to spot while too focused, obsessed or tired. It usually works very well the day after and gets the song going with a strong initial boost, which sets my morale up to good levels and gives me that bump to get it done earlier rather than later.
What is your biggest challenge as a music producer?
The marketing side of myself and my studio is definitely the toughest. Music is easy: when I sit at the piano and play, or record and mix somebody’s song, all the problems are gone and we’re good to go. The toughest is always NOT about the music, but rather the financial implications, the human relations, the team work, the etiquette, the advertising, the financial crisis every musician is in (by definition 🙂 ), the lack of any weight that culture and art have on any political situation (sorry, even the “best” nations are all the same..). That’s what the toughest challenges are all about. When you sacrifice your personal life to the point where you can see the years you’ve lost behind the craft of being a good musician and producer, you start pretending that things go differently, but life, politics, financing, banks, society in general are not going to be interested in your little drama and they are always going to favor the average people in the mass, because they’re more reliable and prone to live, procreate, consume, die, repeat.
What׳s your advice to producers who are starting out and making tracks in their bedroom?
Unless you have a lot of money stashed somewhere or very supportive sponsors (family, friends and/or other more obscure ones) you will never be financially able to sustain yourself without another job. It’s going to be tough getting scolded constantly about your work not being “a real job”, about your slacking because you wake up late and so on and so forth. Be prepared to loose a lot of friends just because you are not that cool or rich and be prepared to see your own family turn against you. If this does not happen, enjoy that it is not happening, don’t just fly past it: take the good in what life gives you because that’s the only thing that is on the plate..and time does not come back. On the other hand, if you face hard times and those bad things I mentioned really happen.. use them as fuel to be inspired and create. Do it for the need to create, to set something straight with the world just by letting a song out and telling your story. Do it for the story, don’t do it for the audience, because this way even if nobody listens to it, you will still feel satisfied just because of your own act of creation.
Has COVID-19 affected your work?
COVID-19 completely reset and cancelled all bookings we had from January 2020 on. It was really hard even before the official “restrictions” started, because the music and art businesses were having gigs cancelled way before the restrictions of March 2020.
I had to reinvent myself and every month we’re paying massive rents without actual returns. We do not receive ANY help from the institutions (even if a lot of people think we do, we do not get a dime from Germany despite our numerous requests… and we don’t even know why, at the moment) and I almost lost it because I was not expecting this nation and its strong structure to abandon me. Then, right before loosing it, I decided to actually use this time to help others who are facing even tougher times, because of customers they lost, music careers they cannot attend at etc. etc. By giving others what I did not have I am feeling a renewed energy and all in all, even if things are tough, I feel like my life is not completely wasted.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add about your music production process, songwriting or music in general?
Some friends recently pointed out that I always like to say that a necessary condition for somebody to do good art, is to be hurting.
Would you like to work with Alberto Rizzo Schettino?