It hasn’t taken long for Marcella “Ms. Lago” Araica to become one of the hottest mixing engineers in the music business today. Though only 28 years old, Marcella has already recorded and mixed songs for hit-makers like Britney Spears, Madonna, Nelly Furtado, Keri Hilson and Missy Elliot, and super-producers Timbaland and Danja.
Marcella started her professional career as an assistant at the Hit Factory in March 2002. After graduating with honors from the Full Sail Production and Recording Program in Orlando, Florida, she was identified as a person with tremendous potential. After only two months, she was working as an assistant engineer in sessions for Timbaland and Missy Elliot. Tim and Missy soon noticed Marcella’s talent and, subsequently, she became a fulltime engineer at the studio, working closely with Timbaland. In 2003, she met Danja who recognized that her potential would take her far. Danja soon involved Marcella in the recording and mixing of all of his records, helping him to achieve “his sound.” Marcella continued to work with Timbaland as well, and has mixed some of his biggest hits in recent memory.
Marcella’s mixing and recording credits include “Gimme More” by Britney Spears, “They Way I Are” by Timbaland, “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado, “4 Minutes” by Madonna, “Migrate” by Mariah Carey, “We Takin’ Over” by DJ Khaled, and “When I’m Gone” by Simple Plan. iStandardProducers.com recently had the opportunity to chat with Ms. Lago, and here’s how it went:
iNterview conducted via email by Aaron “AO” Baker, proprietor of www.PardonMyFresh.com
Edited by Don Di Napoli
1. Good day Marcella, thank you for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to do this interview. First off, I have a question that I’ve wondered since I heard your name, how did you get the nickname “Ms Lago”?
Well my nickname was given to me when Missy Elliot saw me in the studio and recognized how fast I was working. People started calling me Murciélago after the Lamborghini car, which is known for its speed. Marcy is short for my name Marcella so it was Marci-a-LAGO and later shortened to Ms. LAGO
2. Interesting story, a Lamborghini is not a bad vehicle to be compared to. So how did you get started in music, was it always something you wanted to do?
Music was definitely something I wanted to do I just wasn’t sure what exactly. I never aspired to become an audio engineer as a kid, but I was introduced to it later on in my life. The day I was introduced to it, I definitely knew that it was I what I wanted to do. As a kid I used to sing in the choir at church but in all reality I was never really good! I was also into theatre so I guess I always wanted to be involved in music.
3. Back to the early days, before you were Ms. Lago. Who were some of your favorite artists to listen to while growing up?
I’ve always been an old soul, even as a kid. My father was always playing music around the house so I grew up listening to The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, The Beach Boys, etc. When I started buying my own music I was listening to everything from Whitney Houston, Paula Abdul, Michael Bolton, Bryan Adams to Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie, and Gang Starr to name a few. I listened to such a wide range of music growing up, and even today I’m into everything from classical to country. “The music is all around us…all you have to do is listen” -It’s a quote I heard in a movie that I love.
4. “August Rush” I believe it was, don’t quote me on that though lol. Why did you pick the engineering side of the music industry to work in? Do you think your Full Sail experience was necessary enhance your skill level?
I was so fascinated by engineering because I was intrigued at how I could bring something to a record through my interpretation of it. Full Sail gave me the proper background information I needed to become an audio engineer, but it was being an intern and studio assistant engineer that really gave me the skills I use today. I truly believe you really have to immerse yourself in the world and become as hands on as possible to really achieve the necessary level of skills to be THE BEST!
5. In your opinion, makes a good mix? What common mistakes do you hear in inexperienced engineer’s mixes?
A good mix is when you are able to achieve the best sound from the producer and the artist- every sound in a song has its place. A good mix gives you the ability to hear the many different sounds within their own space. You need to know how to space everything so that it is able to fit and it’s not just a mesh of sounds.
A common mistake you hear from inexperienced engineers is they will really try to concentrate on one thing as opposed to all of the components. Everything matters in a mix. From the kick to the bass, hi-hat, cowbell, synths, the little adlibs the artist does, to the main lead vocal. Everything should be treated equally. Sometimes I hear one thing is louder than the other, one thing processed more than the other and other parts suffer. They feel that once they have a kick thumpin’ and maybe the vocals are heard that they are winning. It never stops there. Every element of the song is equally important.
6. Amen to that. Nothing like a full-bodied kick to drive a record. What is one of your most memorable studio experiences?
Really there too many to tell…But one to remember was when I was working on the Nelly Furtado project in 2005- One night, Chris Martin of Coldplay came to the studio and I was so star struck! I love Coldplay so to see him in person was a great moment for me!
7. We at iStandard are HUGE Coldplay fans as well…Who has been your favorite producer to work with so far and why? What about artist?
It’s hard to call out one- I definitely have a favorite in every producer I have worked with. There is something special in every one of them. They all bring something to the table and bring something into my life that I truly appreciate and respect. They’re all very brilliant from their musical skills to their life experiences, and for them to be able to share and pass it on is priceless so it’s hard to say. I don’t have just one (Or maybe I do….Hahaha)
As far as my favorite artist that I’ve worked with, that would probably be Pink. I really appreciate her skills and her talent. She came into the studio and was all about focusing and giving us her ideas and once the ideas were there and the song was written she went right into the booth and did the song in like 45 minutes. She sung the song 7 or 8 times from top to bottom without any punching and every single take was a perfect take. The result ended up being “Sober”. I love Pink. She freakin’ ROCKS!
8. Wow. Chris Martin, Missy, Nelly Furtado, and now Pink! Ms. Lago you have definitely made your mark thus far in your still burgeoning career. Do you see the engineering field opening up to new engineers in the next 5 years or will it become more difficult to make as a career? Why?
Definitely going to be harder to make it as a career because technology is starting to beat the human race! Lol! Very soon we won’t even have a job. We’ll be sitting here with robots and they’ll be pushing the buttons. And if it’s not robots then there’ll be a screen going through the booth window and the artist will be able to control through a one-button mechanism (punch, record, play, stop – all the above). So definitely technology is on the rise. It’s always been on the rise so if you’re engineering now, definitely get your skills set-in before the takeover happens.
9. What did you use to make your very first mix, and what is your preferred gear of choice now?
YIKES! I don’t remember what I used in my first mix. It’s been almost 5 years now and I don’t know about any resisting recall notes for me to look back on. As far as my preferred choice of gear now, definitely anything from 1176s to a DCL200 to a CL1B to even some of my plug-ins that I need, URS everything EQ and Compressors- these are just a few of the items I like to use.
10. What equipment DON’T you have that you want or have your eyes on?
I want my own studio. That’s what I have my eyes on. That’s what I don’t have and I’m working towards as we speak.
11. Do you have any plans on branching out in other aspects of the industry?
Yeah definitely. Everyday is a learning experience and I’m carving my path…But in the meantime my next plan is to become the first NFL official on the field! Don’t see why I can’t do it!!
12. NFL Official! Let’s call up Bill Parcells and get you with the Dolphins, he’s from up here! So take us through an average day. Wake up to bed.
It depends of where I am at. If I’m in L.A. everyday is like Groundhog Day. If I’m in Miami I definitely move a little differently.
If I am in L.A. it’s a full day for me because it’s where I work mostly. Normally my wake up time is between 9-10am. The first thing I do is hit the gym. From the gym, if I have a little bit of time, I may go sit in the sauna or the jacuzzi to reflect on what my day is to become. Then I usually open a 3-4 hour window where I book meetings, phoners, and I meet with my team. From there I always schedule to be at the studio anywhere between the hours of 4-6pm. Once I’m in the studio that’s where you will find me until 2-4am. In Miami it’s about the same except I do my meetings and phoners on a hammock on the beach while sipping Mojitos hahahahaha!
13. What artists are you currently sipping mojtos with after sessions?
LOL! Some of the projects I’m working on currently include the artist on our label N.A.R.S. Records (New Age Rock Stars) Kevin Cossom (see exclusive iStandardProducers.com iNterview HERE), I’ve also been doing some stuff for DJ Tiesto, Usher, Leona Lewis, Perry Farrell, and Lil Jon just to name a few. Good times!
14. That’s a very diverse list of fellow Mojito sippers lol. Any last words or advice for up and coming engineers or music professionals in general?
For any of you, especially females that find the field of engineering or any field in the music business interesting, definitely don’t be discouraged. Go for what you truly want. You definitely want to make sure you get into it for all the right reasons. If your passion and heart is in it and you feel you have something to contribute to this business, then don’t steer away. There will definitely be hard times but never give up. Go for what you want.