Audeze talks with engineer, producer, mixer and sound designer Marc Urselli

September 08, 2021

Audeze talks with engineer, producer, mixer and sound designer Marc Urselli

Marc Urselli is a New York & London based 7-time Grammy Award-nominated, 3-time Grammy Award-winning engineer, producer, mixer, sound designer, and front of house engineer. Marc has worked with U2, Foo Fighters, Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Sting, Keith Richards, Kesha, Jeff Beck, Les Paul, Buddy Guy, Luther Vandross, Børns, The Black Crowes, Joss Stone, Mike Patton, John Zorn, Jack DeJohnette, Esperanza Spalding, John Patitucci, Laurie Anderson and scores of artists performing rock, pop, metal, jazz, experimental/avantgarde/new music, urban/electronica and classical. Marc also composes music for film and television, creates sound design for commercials, and mixes audio for film and television. Born in Switzerland and raised in Italy, Marc later moved to New York City, where he currently resides and works as Chief House Engineer for the historic & legendary recording studio EastSide Sound.

Marc Urselli at his mixboard with his LCD-4zs
"I felt like all the precision in the details and the balance of the whole spectrum was absolutely respected and very much present... The sound is full, all encompassing and enveloping!"  -Marc Urselli
Here's our chat with Marc:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Absolutely, here's a possible top 5, but I could easily make a top 10 ;-)
1. Various Artists "AngelHeaded Hipster: The Music of Marc Bolan and T.Rex"
Produced by the late Hal Willner (one of my mentors), this album took 4 years to make and features 27 tracks with amazing interpretations of rock classics by people like U2, Elton John, Nick Cave, Joan Jett, Borns and so many other greats.
2. Les Paul & Friends "American Made, World Played"
This album won me my first 2 Grammy Awards and features the incomparable Les Paul playing duets for his 90th birthday with the likes of Sting, Joss Stone, Sam Cooke, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Buddy Guy, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and so many others...
3. John Zorn "The Dreamers"
I've made more than 110 records with John Zorn so it's impossible to choose one, so I'll go with the very first one I recorded and mixes for Zorn and which has an excellent cast of players!
4. Lee Ranaldo, Jim Jarmusch, Balazs Pandi & myself
I made 2 records with this quartet (self-titled and "Churning of the Ocean"). I played the bass & keys and I produced and recorded/mixed the whole thing. Our latest album came out in June 2021 and it's great to make music with these great people!
5. Various Artists "SteppenDoom"
10+ years in the making, I produced this album to bring together throat singers from Tuva, Mongolia and Siberia with doom metal players from bands like Neurosis, Sleep, High On Fire, Mr. Bungle, Paradise Lost and others.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

I am usually the recording & mixing engineer, sometimes also the producer, and most of time the guy that makes sure that everything goes smooth and that musicians sound good ;-)
I love my role but I also love wearing multiple hats, it keeps things interesting and dynamic, that's part of why I enjoy doing FOH live sound as well as studio recording & mixing.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

Music was always in my household but nobody was a professional musician. My mom played the flute and would listen to classical music and my dad listened to country-western music because he loved those movies. At age 8, in Switzerland, I remember my first elementary class teacher taught us how to make instruments with found objects but it wasn't until I was 12 in Italy that I started studying music. I wanted to learn the drums and the teachers wanted me to learn violin because I had good pitch they said, so we settled for piano. My grandfather bought me an upright piano and I studying classical and jazz for a few years. Then at age 16, I was in bands and at 17 I wanted to record my band's rehearsals so I started buying equipment and I built a recording studio in my parent's basement and started recording other bands too, until it turned into a viable career path and into my life!

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Absolutely. One needs to ALWAYS remember one's mentors and inspirational roles and pay credit where credit is due. There were many, but if I have to narrow it down to music, it would be Nanni Surace in Italy, who gave me my first internship in a studio, then Lou Holtzman in New York who gave me my first internship in a pro studio in the US. Then John Zorn for his work ethics, passion, and unwavering dedication to music. Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson for similar reasons. And last but not least Hal Willner who was a dear friend and mentor who taught me so much about my favorite way of making records.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

I try to stay calm and not get frustrated and if I do get worked up I usually just take a break from what I am doing and get back to it later. A good night's sleep or a walk or a bike ride takes your mind off, re-focuses you, and inspires you. Walking around NYC is one of the most inspiring things in my opinion, just like going to concerts. it might not be the way to overcome every obstacle but it's important to stay sane and calm, the other way around doesn't help anyone!

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I have my favorite plugins (by McDSP, SoundToys, Melda Productions, iZotope, IK Multimedia, HOFA) who I use on almost every project. I also have a collection of about 80 microphones (HUM Audio Devices, JZ Mics, Ehrlund, BrainGasm, Aston, ReMic etc). Then of course I need to listen to what I am doing and be able to trust what I am hearing: for that, I trust Adam Audio speakers and... Audeze headphones. I recently also bought a Neve console so I am very excited about using that for my future tracking and mixing.

Marc Urselli's LCD-4z headphones
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

This is a hard question I am asked all the time and the answer is not easy. One needs to be realistic and ambitious and most important one needs to work really really hard. My advice is to start very early, be focused, passionate and relentless, know what you want, and work towards that goal. Decide where is the best place and surround yourself with the right people. The more you are around your colleagues and you form a community, the more that community will embrace you.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

I've been a headphone fanatic for some time and I narrowed it down to about half a dozen now. I use headphones mostly when traveling or when working in my London apartment late at night (New York never sleeps, but London definitely does ;-)) I also use headphones when traveling. I travel a lot and often times I have deadlines and need to finish mixes on a plane or on a train. Headphones save the day!

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?

Getting my Audeze headphones and putting them on in the studio during a session was a soothing experience of relief and satisfaction. I am so used to record and mix on very expensive and very high end studio monitors, that when I try a new set of headphones I am always on edge, worried about what I will be missing, looking to find what is "wrong" with them, what sounds unbalanced and what sounds different than mixing on speakers... Instead, in the case of the Audeze, I felt like all the precision in the details and the balance of the whole spectrum was absolutely respected and very much present. I was able to switch from my large studio monitors (Adam S5H) to the Audeze (LCD-4z) and feel at ease knowing I was hearing everything just as clearly and, in fact, in a way, even closer to me. The sound is full, all encompassing and enveloping!

Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

I received the Audeze headphones as I was in the studio working with Latin Grammy Award nominated Chilean jazz singer Claudia Acuna and her producer Juancho Herrera on her new album of duets. We were doing a session with the acclaimed upright bass player Christian McBride and I plugged the headphones into my Neve console as we were tracking a bass + vocal duet. It was astounding to hear how well these complex sounds (the human voice and the full range of the upright bass) translated in the headphones. Everything was there, I didn't feel like the bass was missing... in fact at first I reached for the speaker volume knob thinking I was still "feeling" the bass in the room from the subwoofer, but when I lowered the speaker I was pleasantly surprised by how the bass felt. My next project this week will be recording the Chicago rocker Blake Red so I will have the opportunity to use the Audeze in a rock session with a loud drummer and lots of guitars and I look forward to hearing all the details!