Marcella Araica: Hit Engineer Ascent
After 5 years in the business, Marcella Araica’s list of mixing credits is astounding: Timbaland, Madonna, Snoop Dogg, TI, Britney Spears, Keri Hilson, Nelly Furtado, DJ Khaled; it’s enough to leave any self-respecting sound engineer dumbstruck. Very few people in any profession, let alone the music industry, can claim to have risen as fast and as forcefully as Marcella Araica (pronounced “Ah-rye-ka”).
Graduating from Full Sail University in 2002 with top honors in Recording Arts, it took only a few months before Araica was mixing sessions with Timbaland, Nate ‘Danja’ Hills, and Missy Elliott. Missy Elliott coined the nickname ‘Ms. Lago’ after the Lamborghini Murcielago because of Araica’s speed at the Pro Tools console. Though, undoubtedly, it was her hard work and shrewd opportunism that brought Araica to where she is today, an internship at Hit Factory Criteria in Miami was the catalyst. At the Hit Factory - under the tutelage of adept mix engineer, Demacio “Demo” Castellon - Araica learned to adapt her knowledge to the real world. Her days are saturated with projects, yet she maintains an effusive positive outlook that is both charming and infectious. It was our good fortune to speak to Marcella Araica about how an education and an opportunity transformed into a career among the music industry elite.
Hit Talk: Immediately after Full Sail, you started at The Hit Factory. That’s a prestigious internship. Did it take hard work to get there, or was it a lucky break?
|Marcella Araica: I inquired about the internship about 4 months into school. I started to do a little research of where exactly I wanted to be when I did graduate. The program was a 12-month program, so I just wanted to be ahead of the game… It was important to me that I stay in my hometown, Miami, so when I did the research that’s when I came across Hit Factory Criteria. [There were] a few other studios, but nothing really grabbed me like the Hit Factory. What I did, I reached out to the studio manager [Trevor Fletcher]… not that he was really interested at that moment.|
Hit Talk: But, at least you made the connection.
Marcella Araica: Right, I made the connection, and he was like “well if you’re interested, when you have time, just come down and take a tour of the facility.” I had a little small break on the weekend, and that’s what I did. I drove down to Miami from Orlando. I took a tour, introduced myself, and let him know that when I finished the program in 6 months I would be back for an interview. And he was like “Yeah okay, whatever.” About a month before I graduated I reached out to him again, and said “I will be graduating in a month, do you have any openings? He said at the moment he didn’t, but of course, when I did graduate I reached out again, and he did say that there was an opening, and that’s when I got the interview… which I thought I failed actually.
HT: You thought you failed the interview?
MA: Yeah, because I was really nervous and sweating more than usual. I thought he was like “If she can’t handle the interview, she can’t handle the industry.” I walked away from it and I thought “I failed, I failed the interview.” He didn’t call me for… it was almost a week, I had to wait. But he called and said “definitely you were the best out of all the candidates. When can you start?” It was a Thursday, and I said “I can start tomorrow!” and he was like “well aren’t you like 3 hours away?” and I said “yeah, but I’ll pack my stuff right now and go!” then he said “well, how about I give you ’til the weekend to move down?” And… that’s how I began the journey.
HT: So, you graduated with honors from a recording arts degree, right?
MA: Yeah, it was recording engineering; I graduated with honors. I got the Advanced Recording/Engineering award, it’s only one student that gets it.
HT: Did that award do anything to help your case with the Hit Factory?
MA: I believe so … Trevor was definitely impressed… because the school is so vigorous and I did graduate with perfect attendance. I did not miss one day of school… if you’re tardy by more than 10 or 15 minutes, then they consider it an absence. So I was never late, and I was never absent. And that’s really hard because you’re going to school for 8 to 12 hours a day, with sometimes only four hours for sleep, but even in those 4 hours you still have to study for a test because the program was so intense that you had tests almost every day.
HT: Damn, that’s a challenge.
MA: Yeah. So … they give that perfect attendance award to honor those students that make it through without missing a day.
HT: Demacio “Demo” Castellon quickly became your mentor. Was it at the Hit Factory where you first met Demo?
MA: Yes, I met him at the Hit Factory, he was a ‘GA’ (General Assistant) 6 months into his internship when I got hired. He was what the Hit Factory called the ‘head GA’ which is when they make the transition to assistant…
HT: What are some of the crucial lessons you learned from Demo?
MA: When I first met him he wasn’t very nice to me. He felt like I was there for a quick break. I definitely had to show him “listen, I definitely don’t want no one to be nice with me just because I’m the only girl here,” and he gave me a hard time for a little bit… actually, for quite a while. [Eventually] I guess he saw that I wasn’t budging or I wasn’t breaking under his … mean ways with me.
He was really brilliant at operating Pro Tools. He basically said to me: “You know, if you want to excel in this fashion, you need to be really good at Pro Tools, because at any given moment it could be your chance. You have to be able to just be in [the studio], and work, and work quickly. So basically, we started doing these mock sessions in the studio, where we would bring in artists, neighborhood local acts. He’d be the producer and I would be the engineer and he would just drill me like: “Do this! Do it like that! No, you’re not doing it quickly! Let me show you the quicker way!” So he took it on himself to show me how to be more efficient in the studio, especially with Pro Tools. He was still a young engineer coming up but he was really brilliant in his way because he wasn’t, you know, textbook… He had his own ways… I looked up to him for that.
Learn to Produce
Submit to TV/Labels
It was Missy Elliott that nicknamed you “Ms. Lago” because you were so fast. Did you derive some of that speed from the lessons Demo gave you?
MA: Absolutely, yep.
You mentioned Demo gave you a hard time at first. What trials and tribulations did he put you through?
MA: *Laughs* … He was the head GA, but I was on the lower end of the totem pole. He’d literally - I know he’s gonna laugh when he reads this - he was basically telling me to do all his work, and would just sit back and have the receptionist file his nails [and say] “yeah you know, you need to do this, you need to do that…” and I’m just like “OK” and I did it all.
So you took care of business while keeping your composure?
MA: I didn’t even fight with him, I was like you know what? If you think I’m here for a fast break, then I’ll just show you… I came from a family of two brothers and I’m the only girl. I had a very strict upbringing… I was used to it.
HT: For five years now, you’ve been working with Timbaland and Danja. Based on your experience, what sets them apart from other production teams?
MA: To me what’s so amazing about them is that they don’t have to say a word to each other, but they’re on the same exact playing field… and it’s really surreal to experience. I was just in the studio with them. That [Timbaland’s new album] was the last session I did before I flew out to Japan, I was in the studio with Tim and Danja. It’s been a few months since we’ve been in the studio together… It’s almost like it’s always the same thing. They don’t say nothing to each other but they know exactly what they want, where they’re going, and the result is just amazing.
HT: Do you see that as a product of working together for a long time or is there a natural chemistry there?
MA: Completely natural chemistry. It’s been like that since Danja walked through the door - completely natural. You know, Tim definitely developed him along the way but even through that development process they just had that understanding with one another.
If you were starting out in music production, do you think there’s anything you’d do differently, considering the way the industry is has evolved?
MA: Well, the way has evolved *chuckles*… I would definitely be reading the trade magazines as much as I could, but more importantly the internet is such a big thing right now.. especially with Twitter, and Facebook and Myspace, you definitely have more [ways] to try to reach out to people. I think that’s [important]. It’s really hard unless you really make those connections… I always try to reach out to as many people as I can.
For someone starting out in production, would you recommend Full Sail as a good starting point?
MA: To be honest with you … I walked away from it knowing a great foundation of how to understand certain terminology, and certain basic methods of how to work in the studio. But what I learned in Full Sail, and when I got into the real world, it wasn’t the same at all. It was terrifying actually. If I were to go back, I probably would have tried to have gotten that internship before i went to school… but if I couldn’t have got the internship without going to school, then I would have definitely gone to school. But a lot of times, for these studios you don’t need a degree… I didn’t know that. I was always brought up [with the idea that] everything was based off schooling, that’s the way my parents brought me up.
HT: Lastly, you seem a happy, optimistic person. Some might say “Well, she’s mixing with Timbaland and Danja, poppin’ bottles on the plane - Of course she’s happy!” But is that happiness more intrinsic to who you really are?
MA: Well… I’m human, everybody goes through their ups and downs, but for me it’s always about positive energy. If you put out positive energy then that’s what gets returned to you, if you put out negative energy then bad things happen. You know, at the start and end of every day, I always give thanks for everything: for my family, for my friends, for being able to do what I love. It’s a big thing to wake up every day and do what you love: that’s a huge part of happiness… I’ve definitely gone through some struggles, but through those struggles you have to know that there’s going to be a better outcome.