Marcella Araica: Hit Engineer Ascent

  January 17, 2015

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.

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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.

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15 Responses to “Marcella Araica: Hit Engineer Ascent”

  1. VJ Oz on September 28th, 2009 2:48 am

    Amazing article! I am definitely going to try to step up my speed on pro-tools…..any advice for someone without a mentor that would like to increase his speed? Obviously you get faster over time with normal session work, but I wonder if there are other methods besides reading the manual.

  2. Pablo on September 28th, 2009 3:23 am

    I’m currently trying to use the MPC4000 with Logic 8. I’m having problems with sync. Any answers?

  3. John on September 28th, 2009 8:36 am

    Hi VJ Oz,

    Apart from learning the program and finding your own workflow you can also learn and set up quick keys for specific functions. You can also save patches that you’ll know you will use again, this will save you the time and effort that it takes to remake them…

  4. Lexi on September 28th, 2009 8:38 am

    What are the best spots to intern at for production? And what are the best schools to get started at?

  5. Hit Talk Staff on September 28th, 2009 10:39 am

    are you using midi timecode or SMPTE to sync?

  6. Pablo on September 28th, 2009 2:40 pm

    Thank you for your return comments Hit Talk. I’ve got both midi clock & midi timecode available-not sure which one is best, more accurate and which machine should be MASTER or SLAVE? At the moment syncing MPC to Logic results in audio ahead of cut points in Logic. SMPTE is another dimension for me-is that the way to do it?-someone also suggested Word Clock. How do the experts that use MPCs do it-why is it all so complicated? The problem I’ve got is all of my keyboard sound at the moment is via Logic, but we all know the thump from the MPC is heavy.
    Any answers. Thanks

  7. Hit Talk Staff on September 28th, 2009 5:22 pm

    A quality word clock is the more precise and more expensive option. The first thing we’d try is setting up midi timecode with Logic as the master. If you do that, you’ll need midi out from logic into the MPC. Or into your controller, then into your MPC.

  8. Pablo on September 28th, 2009 7:38 pm

    OK cheers-I’ll try that. By the way, please could you recommend a reputable word clock device. Thanks.

  9. John on September 28th, 2009 8:53 pm

    Hi Pablo

    The Apogee Big Ben a good word clock, also the Lynx Aurora 16.

  10. GHOSTMAN on September 28th, 2009 11:00 pm

    first off i’d like to thank and Marcella Araica for that great interview… i attented Omni Tech Institute in Decatur, GA for Audio Enigeering… i graduated in 08′ with a 3.2 GPA and recevied the Altitude Award of my class. it was very hard at first because i didn’t have much money and sometimes i would have to walk a hour to make to my 9am class sometimes even walk back. through all of that i still had the will power to learn. i was already a music producer but i wanted to learn more and i’m still learning now. Im recording and engineering now on Pro Tools 8 LE, but soon i hope to be like Ms. Lago and her great story… also to Ms. Lago your words where truely inspiring…”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. “

  11. ggo on September 29th, 2009 1:11 pm

    can he (me) that does not have a master be a master. i have to put DIY aside and seek for help, simply because of the above interview. i need help, pls.

    i just bought delta 1010 audio card and xenyx 1222fx. how do i connect it. i fruity loops. i also have i yamaha PSR 175 for midi controller.

  12. Hit Talk Staff on September 29th, 2009 1:59 pm

    hi ggo. Does the xenyx1222fx have direct outs? If so, you’ll route the direct output of each channel to the inputs of the delta 1010 You need mic preamps. This allows you to use the 1222’s mic preamps since the 1010 doesn’t have any. If the 1222fx doesn’t have direct outs, use the main L+R outputs and route them to the first and second inputs of the 1010. You’ll need to connect the PSR 175 to a midi interface like the Edirol UM-1ex. Then you’ll just have to sift through options/preferences on FL and connect the appropriate drivers.

  13. ggo on October 1st, 2009 12:17 am

    man, thanks a lot am gonna try out your instruction and get back to you. network is not stable here that why my reply is coming late.

  14. Hit Talk Staff on October 15th, 2009 10:42 pm

    do let us know how you fare, ggo.

  15. Isaac on October 16th, 2009 6:22 am

    …how do i get to master fl studio?

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