In the Studio with Marta Salogni
Marta Salogni is an award-winning Italian studio engineer who also produces and mixes music and is making her mark on the music scene. Working with esteemed artists such as Bjork, MIA, The XX, Glass Animals, Goldfrapp, Blossoms, Frank Ocean and Sampha, she is at the forefront of new music.
In this interview, we spoke to Marta about her early career in live sound, the importance of affordable technology and microphone technique.
Congratulations! You won the 2018 UK Music Producers Guild (MPG) Award for Breakthrough Engineer of the Year. What does winning mean to you?
Thank you. It's a great honour for me to be recognized by the MPG - some of its members have been –and remain - my mentors and role models. I know how high their standards are. It makes me very proud to be acknowledged by them.
You started your career in your home country of Italy as a live sound engineer. What made you decide to move to London and change to working in the studio?
I loved live sound and its immediacy, the thrill of knowing there was absolutely no margin of error. The feeling of being part of the show, under a completely different kind of performance, is electrifying. I felt my role was as important as the band's, therefore I put all my efforts and concentration into 'playing' my desk as much as the artists would play their instruments.
The only thing I was missing was the possibility of experimenting, because of the time constraint and inevitable pragmatism live sound naturally entails. I dreamed of spending my time perfecting techniques, trying out others, inventing or discovering new ones. I wanted to completely immerse myself in understanding everything I could about sound and the vehicles for its manipulation.
My mind was completely fascinated by it all. Being able to shape sounds so that they could create different emotional responses. London felt like a point of convergence of brilliant minds, driven by a great collective force - the perfect environment.
You mix, engineer and produce music in the studio. Do you have a favorite role and why is it your favorite?
I love the three equally because their boundaries aren't that rigid and all of them are part of the same body of work which is music making. I wouldn't put any on top of the others in terms of hierarchy. Sometimes it is the engineering part of a record that determines its excellence. On other occasions, it is the mixing that brings the tracks to a different level. Other times it is an impeccable production that makes an album or song so memorable. In the ideal scenario, all of them together. All three are essential and interlinked. A dream combination.
When I first started recording local bands on my own during downtime at the studio, the budgets were so small I had to be able to do everything. I threw myself into the deep end where suddenly I was the one responsible for the sonic outcome of the records I was contributing to, from mic placement to production decisions, to mixing.
It was a steep learning curve, but ultimately it built a strong confidence in me - gear and technology can be intimidating sometimes, I wanted to be empowered by them instead.
Do you have something you can't live without while working in the studio?
Mmmh...black tea with sugar and almond milk and my Revox PR99tape machine. A window too - it's the best piece of studio equipment.
You are a fan of affordable technology for people to start a career mixing, engineering, producing or music making from home. What are your favourite affordable items you'd recommend to anyone starting out?
- RME makes very good and affordable interfaces. Universal Audio is on the expensive side, but worth the quality.
- Shure mics are great and affordable. An SM7 is the microphone of choice for many occasions. I have A/B'd it with much more expensive mics and it rarely failed the challenge. Get versatile mics, ones you can use both for vocals and other instruments too. If you have the budget, one dynamic and a matched pair of condensers can cover you for a vast number of situations.
- Get a reliable computer or a reliable tape machine. Having a smooth workflow (without too many technical problems in the way) is essential for creativity.
- Backup your work! Especially with hard drives being cheaper than ever, this is a good time to make sure your precious projects are safely stored in multiple locations.
- 500 Series units can be cheaper than the classic rack-mounted counterparts (and more portable). If you haven't settled into one location yet, they could be an option for you.
- A good compressor can do wonders while recording.
I hope that manufacturers will always keep an eye on their prices so that music doesn't become this art perpetuated only by the privileged who can afford it.
On the other hand, I also hope that music makers (especially the ones who are making a profit from their work) pay for their tools. This shows respect for the craft and the community, and allows companies to grow and develop new technologies.
Is there a microphone technique you use regularly in engineering sessions? Or a microphone technique that really like that you'd like to share?
MS, mid and side. Always loved it since the first time I got shown it. Sounds beautifully natural on acoustic instruments. It involves two mics, although it has a three-dimensional feel and it's always mono compatible.
One mic is cardioid (mid), one is a figure of 8 (side), duplicated, put out of phase and panned.
I also like using multiple mics at multiple distances from the source to achieve more complex tonalities, especially when a room has good acoustic properties.
Do you have a Shure microphone that use regularly on when engineering? If so, what is it and how do you use it?
SM7, SM58, SM57.
I use them for pretty much all my sessions.
SM7 for live vocals if everyone is in the same room and I am trying to get good separation between the players, '58 for guide vocals, often in the control room with speakers on, '57 on snares and guitars.
You have said before that you become an extension of someone else's mind when making or mixing an album. What do you do during a session to stay mentally alert and after a session to recharge?
I take regular breaks to make sure I don't drive my mind to exhaustion. Tiredness makes us react differently, our decision-making is affected, we become more easily frustrated and therefore our creativity suffers from it.
I try to recognize when I am entering this circle and if so, I'd take a break and do something completely different. Leaving the room for me is essential. Change of horizon to freshen my brain. Read a book, walk to a park, or simply make a tea. I left the studio many evenings scratching my head on how to finish a song, came back the day after with fresh ears and got it done much quicker than the night before.
Studio work can be quite isolating, remember to make time to see your friends and family, or whoever makes you happy,- often. I suffered from solitude at times, driven by the false notion that we must sacrifice our social lives for the job. A healthy personal life and a successful career shouldn't be mutually exclusive. We all must challenge the idea that these two aspects can't go hand in hand.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with the world outside the studio is essential and it's a source of inspiration. Closing yourself in a room for too long can make you lose both prospective and purpose.
What are your future career goals?
Having a studio like the one Joe Meek had: one big house, lots of rooms to record in and in London. Maybe even build my own desk and gear. Have a studio back in Italy too, where I was born, overlooking Lake Iseo.
Have my favorite instruments miked up with my favorite microphones, connected to my favorite bits of equipment. And many tape machines that never break.
Carrying on being part of this brilliant community of people who care, who are shaping the future of music in this time of major change and make me look forward to the future, always.
Interested in more interviews and educational content? Subscribe to our email list at: shure.com/subscribe.