“I have done three seminars now, and they were absolutely fantastic. They always are the highlight of my year. Going to La Fabrique is something I look forward to each time. The entire place is magical and the people that run it are great. The beauty of the seminars themselves is that the participants are all professionals. They may not all have the years of experience, but they have all been through the same challenges and dilemmas as I. It’s great to be able to talk about these things and offer them some other ways to approach situations and tell them, ‘It’s OK, just hang in there and keep doing it.’”
Joe Chiccarelli is one of the world’s leading engineers, mixers and producers. Originally from Boston, he set his first steps in the music world playing bass in local bands and working at a small studio. Chiccarelli moved to LA in the late 1970s, where he started work as an assistant engineer at Cherokee Studios. One day, when Frank Zappa’s regular engineer didn’t show. He unexpectedly found himself engineering Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti (1979).
Zappa liked what he heard, and invited the young Chiccarelli to engineer several more of his albums. The experience turned out to be his breakthrough, from which he went on to work with many more great artists and bands, such as The White Stripes, The Strokes, U2, Boy & Bear, Jason Mraz, My Morning Jacket, Morrissey, Elton John, Rufus Wainwright, U2, Beck, Etta James, Jamie Cullum, Tori Amos, and Alanis Morissette. To date his impressive achievements have been recognized with ten Grammy Awards.
Chiccarelli is still based in Los Angeles, but works in studios across the US using a hybrid analogue-digital approach. Having been deeply steeped in the analogue multi-track and large format console recording techniques of the 1970s, Chiccarelli has adapted to and incorporated every new technological and musical development that has come out since. While he still adores working with analogue desks and outboard, the enormous flexibility offered by today’s DAWs and the fast-paced demands of the modern music world mean that a lot of his work is now done in the box.
During his previous MWTM seminars, in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016, he elaborated at great length on the enormous amount of know-how and experience that he has gathered over a stellar career, and that inform the choices that he makes today. “I found that I tailored my classes to the group of participants. One group was more active and hands-on and this meant a lot of very detailed technical explanations, while another group was much more analytical and conceptual, and they predominantly wanted me to elaborate on my mindset and methodology.”
“In all cases I also spoke a lot about the business part, ie how to conduct a career, and how to handle artists, their managements, and record companies. The music industry is in a state of constant flux at the moment, and the course participants clearly found it very helpful to hear about how I’ve negotiated the waves, how I overcome the downtimes and also how I stayed sane during the high times. You do these things because you love what you do and it is who you are. I was not going to do something else, so as a result I had to figure out how to deal with the lows as well as the highs.”
There were no rough spots during Chiccarelli’s MWTM seminars—apart from, perhaps, the very long hours exacted by enthusiastic participants—but the highlights were legion. “One thing that really impressed me each time was the amount of talent in the room,” recalls Chiccarelli. “Sometimes I felt like I was not worthy to sit in that chair opposite them! I always learn tricks from the participants. They’d play me their work, and I’d ask: ‘how did you come up with that?’ and the response could be humbling!” (laughs)
“The success of the seminars is also due to the exotic location, and the fact that everyone is far away from all their normal distractions. It’s a bit like going to a yoga retreat or something like that. It’s definitely a very healthy and inspiring environment. Something that was particularly inspiring for me was to bump into other producers and mixers who were giving a seminar before or after me, and being able to share knowledge and issues. The days of walking down the hallways of big studios and running into my peers are gone because so many people work from home now. All in all it is fantastic to be in that kind of setting and have a whole week with nothing else to other than share information, and enjoy good food and wine!” (laughs again).