Marc Urselli

5-time nominated 3-time Grammy Award winning engineer, producer, mixer, sound designer Marc Urselli writes, produces and records artists from all over the world. He also composes music for TV and film and does sound design for commercials and mixing for film and TV. In 2008 alone he recorded and mixed more than half a dozen movie soundtracks. Marc Urselli was born in Switzerland and raised in Italy but is based in New York City. His musical education began at age 12. At age 17 he opened his first commercial recording facility in Italy. He later moved to New York City where he began and continues to work at the legendary recording studio EastSide Sound as the resident Chief House Engineer. Between 2005 and 2006 Marc Urselli won 3 Grammy Awards for his engineering and mixing work. Clients include: U2, Nick Cave, Lou Reed, John Zorn, Les Paul, Laurie Anderson, Gotye, Børns, Sting, Joss Stone, Macy Gray, Courtney Love, Michael Franti, Jack DeJohnette (Miles Davis), Esperanza Spalding, John Patitucci, Ornette Coleman, Joan Jett, Blixa Bargeld (Einsturzende Neubauten), Lucinda Williams, Beth Orton, Todd Rundgren, Donald Fagen (Steely Dan), Charlotte Gainsbourg, King Khan, David Johansen (New York Dolls), Paola Prestini, DuYun, The Orwells, Devendra Banhart, The Beach Boys, Lila Downs, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Faith No More's Mike Patton, Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, Rufus Reid, Lionel Loueke, Buddy Guy, Bon Jovi's Richie Sambora, Bill Frisell, Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznick, ZZ Top, Sam Cooke, The Black Crowes, Aerosmith's Joe Perry, Simply Red's Mick Hucknall, Luther Vandross and many many more. For a longer list of clients and credits please check out his discography. Marc Urselli is an entrepreneur who wears many hats and besides music he is into traveling, kitesurfing, guitars, art, web design, the internet, writing and more...

Oct 052015
 

The super nice and super cool guys from the Chilean webzine The Holy Filament have interviewed me on the occasion of the John Zorn Masada Marathon in Bogota, Colombia, an epic 4 hour long concert event where I mixed 12 of John Zorn’s best bands playing his music, from classical, to jazz, to experimental avantgarde to metal. People from all over South America (Peru, Chile, San Salvador etc) flew in to Colombia to see John Zorn’s first ever Masada Marathon in South America. The whole staff of The Holy Filament flew in as well!

Here is the interview: http://www.theholyfilament.cl/destacados/entrevista-a-marc-urselli/

And since the interview is in Spanish, here is the English version of it:

  • How did your love and career in sound engineering begin? Where did that happen?

I started in Italy where I grew up. I had a band at the time and I wanted to record the rehearsals so I started to buy some recording equipment. First a 4 track cassette recorder, then a mixer, then some microphones etc etc. I started making demo tapes. Eventually a friend of mine who had a studio decided to upgrade his studio console and that is when the light when off in my head and I decided to become a sound engineer. I bought his used console and opened a recording studio in Italy, where I lived, and I was recording lots of punk/hard core bands. Then after a few years of doing that I decided I wanted to extend my horizons and experience and that is when I moved to NYC.

  • What was your vocational training in the art of capturing sounds? Formally and informally.

I didnt really have any formal training. I was considering going to an audio school before moving to NYC but then I decided to do some internships and learn by watching other people. I practiced a lot in my spare time and got better and better at it. It took a lot of experimenting and a lot of work but I kept getting better at it and was really loving it.

  • How would you describe the art of mix and capturing sound?

They are different arts, but both intrinsically connected as they closely depend on each other. Both are a mixture of science and art. Experience and knowledge are key parts but experimentation is also very important. To me both are incredibly interesting and I take great enjoyment out of both. Mixing is especially creative for me so I love mixing records because in a mix everything is just as important as everything else and you have to make sure everything is heard in the mix and that the mix carries you. Its an art form that I have been practicing to get better at every day.

  • Tell me about Eastside Studio. How did you begin in the studio? I presume that your professional career there was a long time investment.

Yes, very long. I started there as an intern under the owner and founder Lou Holtzman who gave me a chance. I was supposed to only stay for 3 months but kept staying longer and longer. I was cleaning toilets, vacuuming the floors and making coffeeThats before I even got to wrap up cables! It took a long time until I could prove my worth in the control room. It took over two years of commitment to get to where I was allowed to do a session, I went from being a runner/cleaner/intern to an assistant. Then I became an engineer and now I am the chief engineer and manager. I am very grateful for the chance I got to make coffee and cleaning toilets!

  • Were there other jobs before you became a sound engineer? Tell me about your beginnings.

I never really did much else actually. I had and still have an interest in web design and before engineering completely took over my life I was trying my hand at making a living with web design. Its a skill that came in handy and that I still use and enjoy today. I designed my own website (www.marcurselli.com), the one for the studio (www.eastsidesound.com), the one for my record label (www.stridulationrecords.com) and other websites like my music magazine Chain D.L.K. (www.chaindlk.com).

  • How do you do it with the equipment to mix and record an album? I imagine that depends on what the musicians want. Do you have to purchase or upgrade equipment/material for that?

I have some equipment my own but luckily I am not a studio owner anymore and so I am not responsible for buying equipment. EastSide Sound is one of the best studios in the world and they have an amazing collection of vintage analog and modern digital equipment so I get to use a mixture of both to make records and I choose the different pieces of equipment according to the sound I want to achieve. I am very fortunate to be able to work in such an amazing studio!

  • In terms of the “needs” and requirements of the different musicians, how do you adapt to the requirements of the musicians, especially to capture the essence of an album as a rough diamond?

Every musician is different so I try to cater to the needs of all the musicians on a session and make sure they are comfortable and get what they want and what they need and that they are relaxed so that they can focus uniquely on the music and give their best performance. The more relaxed, happy and focused they are the better will be the performance and so it is in everyones best interest that the musicians are happy in the studio!

  • This question will be a little long… Lately you’ve been mixing albums of John Zorn, Dave Lombardo, recently mixed up a live album of Steven O’Malley and so on… The thing is, I imagine that you have a huge responsibility to not “screw up” the music that you tape. How do you deal professionally with the responsibility of that?

I dont think about the responsibility so much, I just think about how to do it best without making mistakes. Of course its a great responsibility to track a take that will never be played the same way again and it is my job to make a mix sound as good as it can be, but the people I work with trust me with their sound and I have never let anyone down! I am a reliable person and a consumate professional. I cross the ts and dot the is, I double check everything and I am very organized. I never lost a file for example, but this means that I have to be methodical about file organization, naming, dating and backing up. For example I back up every single thing I do to two hard drives while I am working, so even if one hard drive dies I always have a mirror backup copy of everything I am doing. And I save multiple times every minute. Ive been doing this for 20 years and I am half swiss, so I am very organized ;-)

  • So far, including your awards and nominations, what has been your favorite /job on a record?

Too many to remember! Just this week I did one record with John Zorn, one with Jack DeJohnette, Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese, one with Don Friedman and one with Ben Allison. That is 4 records this week alone! I am very busy and I never stop working. I love working with John Zorn and I have great memories of working with Lou Reed, Les Paul, Mike Patton and many many others.

  • Now you will be in Colombia with the Zorn Marathon. There are many aspects to ask about in your job, for example how do you make a theater “sounds good”. How do you adapt the acoustic when you enter in a theater and tailor the sound live?

Live sound is a whole other animal and I love it dividing my time between studio and concerts. Every venue you go to is different and has different acoustics and you have to tune the PA to make sure it reacts as youd expect it to when you mix. Obviously there is only so much you can do with a good PA or with certain venues which might be too reflective or too boomy. When I walk into a new venue the first thing I do is play some music I know well (music I recorded usually) over the PA to hear what it sounds like in different places of the theater. Then I EQ the PA so that it sounds the way I know that music should sound like. Once I have done that I am more comfortable mixing because I know how my actions will translate.

  • Can it become stressful to be in charge of the sound in theaters or venues with bad acoustics?

Absolutely! It is not only stressful but its also depressing from my point of view. I want every concert to sound perfect and if I am working in a room with bad acoustics or a terrible PA there is only so much I can do to make that happen.

  • What has been your biggest challenge in terms of being in charge of sound live?

Well the challenge is always making it sound good everywhere you go with limited amount of time and sometimes limited resources. Ive done sound in 100 people clubs and at festivals with 40000 people in the audience. Ive mixed everything from classical music to loud rock shows. I toured with Lou Reed for 7 years and he was one of the most demanding people Ive worked for, but it was great working for him! Ive toured with the Black Crowes and the Beach Boys and Mike PattonSome of the most challenging shows where those where you have a loud band with a string orchestra. The Mike Patton Mondo Cane project has 25 players on stage, 12 of which are strings, and the band can get loud, but those shows are amazing. I did a show where the Beach Boys played together with a Symphony Orchestra: you have a rock band with a loud drummer and a quiet singer standing in front of the PA and on orchestra behind all of that, now thats a challenge! All of those are challenges and you do what you can do make it all work out!

  • I know, at least I have the feeling that you’re a very enthusiastic person and you like challenges. JOHN ZORN, especially in a Marathon or in the tour for his 60… How is the challenge of making a Zorn show sound good?

Well every John Zorn show is certainly a huge challenge. I dont mind challenges as long as I am put in the right conditions to work. With Zorn I am alone doing everything and Zorn likes to do these Marathon shows with 10 of his bands in a row, playing 15-20 minutes each. The stage has to change over quickly between these bands and you can go from a metal trio to a string quartet to a jazz ensemble to an a cappella vocal group to an experimental noise project, all within the same night, on the same stage. There are almost 100 channels of audio and they all have to work. Beyond that the challenge is not only to make it all sound good but also to make it flow effortlessly and quickly.

  • And how has it been in the studio mixing for Zorn in different formats and projects?

Thats always great, but even there, especially with Zorn, you have to move super fast to keep up with his expectations. I have recorded and mixed more than 50 albums by John Zorn and have been working with him for years. Hes an unstoppable force of nature, he knows exactly what he wants and hes good at getting it out of people. I always look forward to the sessions with Zorn because he writes such great unique music and he always picks the best musicians in the world and it is a true pleasure and honor to be a witness of how the music is created in the studio by Zorn and those cats.

  • In recent years you’ve been to South America with projects of Mike Patton and John Zorn, in Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil… How was your experience in this continent? Now in Colombia, what do you expect from this new experience with the Marathon?

One never knows what to expect in South America, thats why I come a day before Zorn to make sure it all is right and to have time to setup everything for the day of the show! Unfortunately the South Americans are not the most organized people you will meet when it comes to concert production and you never quite know what to expect when you get there, but the people are great and the places are great. Ive been to Colombia 3 times and I love coming to South America. As long as I dont get robbed (which has happened!) and I have a safe stay I always enjoy coming back.

  • I have many more questions in mind because ultimately you get to hear all kinds of new music and definitely YOU HAVE all the new music… when you mix, and you have an album or a song done, in your point of view of a fan, not only as an engineer, how does it feel to have and listen to a new golden record in your hands before anyone else can? (Can you tell me an experience that excited you?)

You are right, I get to hear a lot of amazing music before anyone else does. Its a blessing and a privilege and its an honor for me to be in this position. However, people will get to hear it eventually so I dont really pride myself or get excited about the fact that I can hear it a few months before anyone else. What is much more exciting is being there when it is created in front of your eyes and seeing and being part of this process of creation. That is the true privilege that I enjoy as a fan of music in general. What also happens is that some time some amazing great music is made in the studio and then for whatever reason it does not get releasedThat is when it really becomes special to have been part of something because not only you hear it first but you might be the only one to hear itI just did a record with Miles Davisdrummer Jack DeJohnette playing the piano. The record is going to be on vinyl only (on Newvelle records) and Jack recorded more songs than can fit on one vinyl so nobody will get to hear all the other songs he recorded, at least not for a long time. The same has happened many other times. The Les Paul tribute album I did in 2005 (which won 2 Grammy Awards) had a lot of cuts that did not make it to the final album track list so I have some unreleased gems in my files that nobody else has heard! Thats a true special privilege.

  • Finally. a brief brief question about Stridulation Records. Why the decision to start a label? How are you doing with that? What comes in the future of Stridulation? Is it difficult to enter the labels market? That’s a major challenge, isn’t it?

Actually nowadays everyone can start a label because the tools are out there for everyone. The hardest thing is getting people to buy the records. Ive always wanted to start a record label honestly. It stems from my desire to support the music that I love. I would love to release 50 records a year like Zorn does on his label Tzadik but unfortunately I am too busy and the economic reality is a big factor of course. Stridulation records (www.stridulationrecords.com) is an attempt to make a small contribution to the world of music that I want to support. The first two releases were my experimental noise project Craesher and my label mates electronic-black-metal band Aborym. However I would like to release other music as well, when I find some that me and my label mates all like and believe in. In the future we might possibly release a very interesting release by an established musician I have worked with who has a very cool side project, but I wont say anything more until it is confirmed.

  • Another final question… New projects and records for this 2015/2016?

I have a ton of ideas and projects but very little time for my own music. I am working on a doom metal record with members of Japanese taiko super group Kodo and members of Khanate and Blind Idiot God and I have ideas for a whole other doom metal solo record and an electronic/dark record and other things. All of my own personal projects always get put on the backseat because I spend my time making records for other people. This year, besides doing many records with John Zorn, I started working with this new vinyl only record label called Newvelle records who is putting out some really cool jazz records. Ive been mixing a bunch of jazz and blues records as well and some records for the Japanese market and even the new Curupira record, this great Colombian world music band that came to New York to record with me. On top of that I am constantly mixing other records by artists from all over the world so check out my website to see what other releases that I am involved with are coming out: www.marcurselli.com

Thanks for all your patience and care Marc!

Thank you for the interview! Your magazine rocks!

Sep 142015
 

I just did an interview for the italian rock magazine “Tutto Rock”. The questions were by journalist Maurizio Donini. The interview is in italian but if any of you would like to read it or attempt a definitely-incorrect google translation of it, here is the link:

www.tuttorock.net/interviste/marc-urselli-intervista-ad-uno-dei-maggiori-sound-engineer-nel-mondo-3-grammy-awards

Nov 012014
 

SymProceedSPMP4I want to briefly speak about the latest piece of studio equipment I’ve acquired.

It is a brand new pre-amp built without compromise in Japan and meant to be an ultra-transparent high fidelity pre-amp for when instead of a colored sound with extra sonic characteristics (something you often might want) you just want to hear EXACTLY what is being picked up by your microphones (which is something you also often want!).
I’m endorsing this product because it delivers sound impeccably, it offers loads of gain (great for ribbon mics for example!) and it is built like a tank (and weighs as much as a tank too – which for a pre-amp is always a good indication of high quality construction and no compromise in choice of components on the part of the manufacturer!).

You can check out the pre-amp on the Sym Proceed website or you can come to EastSide Sound and do some recording with me, I’ll be happy to show you the pre-amp and use it on your session!
Here’s a picture of it before I permanently rack-mounted it:

DSC01812

 

Apr 162013
 

John Zorn is unquestionably the most interesting and advanced composer of our times. Although he looks 45ish this year he actually turns 60 and to celebrate he is doing a number of concerts all around the world, in different countries every month, all year long.

I am lucky enough to be the one doing sound for these complicated multi-band shows (think 9 bands in 3-4 hours with 5 min stage changes). As challenging as these marathons are to mix and advance, they are absolutely AMAZING to watch and if it is the one thing you travel for this year I would highly recommend catching one of them in Europe this summer.

The first one of the series of 2013 Zorn at 60 marathons took place last week at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN.

I don’t usually repost other people’s reviews, but this enthusiastic concert goer has some good videos and since I was too busy doing sound to be documenting the show I thought I’d post his reviews with videos so you can see what you missed:

Concert Review: John Zorn Marathon at the Walker Art Center 4/6/13 – Part 1: Book of Heads, Hockey, Cobra, Composer Q&A – Concert Manic!

Concert Review: John Zorn Marathon at the Walker Art Center (4/6/2013) – Part 2: Masada – Concert Manic!

Concert Review: John Zorn Marathon at the Walker Art Center (4/6/2013) – Part 3: The Concealed, Nova Express, Aleph Trio and The Hermetic Organ – Concert Manic!

Aug 232012
 

I’ve just returned from the second and last leg of the Summer 2012 tour of Lou Reed and his band. The tour was called “From VU to Lulu” because they played all sorts of material from the Velvet Underground days to the latest Lou Reed & Metallica record “Lulu”. As always I have mixed the FOH sound and enjoyed doing so and working along one of the best crews I ever worked with (thank you Stewart, Matt, Joey, Gary, Jesse, John, Jacob, Bungie, Peter, Rod, Des, Liam, Stuart!!!).

The whole tour was a blast and we made sure to make the best of every minute, whether it’d be a concert on a hot sunny day, a load in or load out in the middle of pouring rain (we had a lot of those) or a day off in some beautiful European city where I’d venture out on some exploratory tour!

There are a million videos of these concerts on YouTube but I want to post one that is special to me. “Junior Dad” is one of my favorite songs of the set and one of my favorite songs from “Lulu” (if not from Lou’s entire discography!). On this particular day in Dresden, Germany, this song got particularly intense because without our knowledge somewhere across town fireworks started in the sky in the middle of the intro to the song and continued for the entire duration of the song. Lou, the band, the techs and probably the crowd were all confused at first but Lou quickly showed the genius he is and started ad libbing and incorporating these fireworks in his lyrics effectively changing the lyrics to match the environment and showing true artistry and creativity to thousands present.

My own approach was to actually make the whole concert way louder (by at least 10dB!!!) because initially the fireworks were so close and loud that they were ruining the intimacy of the intro to the song. By making everything louder at the mixing desk the concert was still louder than the fireworks and when the drums kick in the whole concert is really loud and grandiose, which is just fine considering it’s the last song of the set too!

The audio of this YouTube clip is not great and at times distorted too because it’s from some unauthorized camera in the crowd recording with the on board mic, but in spite of all of that, it’s one of those cases where the beauty and uniqueness of this moment is more important than the actual quality of the audio or the video.

Enjoy!

 

Hopefully see you in November/December in the far east…

Jul 292012
 
Japanese mastering engineer and writer Seigen Ono has interviewed me a month ago or so for the leading Japanese pro-audio magazine PROSOUND.

The interview is mostly about the making of the latest album by Hikashu (the famous avantgarde prog rock band from Tokyo fronted by the great Makigami Koichi), which I recorded and mixed.
Unfortunately I can’t read Japanese but the interview looks great and has a lot of pictures of myself in EastSide Sound, my studio in NY where I recorded and mixed Hikashu’s album.
Enjoy!