Pedro Calloni is standing behind a studio mixing console, the rows of switches and sliders looking like the control panel of a spaceship with their blinking lights and air of professionalism and purpose. One thing it doesn’t look like is a toy, and that’s just fine because Pedro Calloni isn’t playing around. He’s an expert, making gentle fader moves like he was born to do this, every once in a while closing his eyes, putting his head down, and focusing only on the studio monitors.
Calloni is a producer, a studio engineer, and a multi-instrumentalist studio musician. Unfortunately, every one of those roles tend to get overlooked by mainstream music fans. But studio technicians are crucial to executing an artist’s musical vision, in the same way that a film needs an expert editor to make the footage exciting and attract the audience’s emotional investment. And like editing, producing involves looking at art in extreme close-up, paying attention to the smallest possible details.
A simplifying image for me that now comes to mind when I think of these fine-tuners of creative expression is the toy repairman from the 1999 classic, ‘Toy Story 2.’ He’s the gentleman Al the toy collector hires to get Woody looking fresh-out-the-box new. The repairman, Geri (a reference to Pixar’s short film ‘Geri’s Game,” which preceded “A Bug’s Life’), unloads his kit full of hyper-specific tools and through careful attention and hard-won skill, gets Woody looking like himself again.
Producers and studio engineers have their own set of tools to get songs to do exactly what they want. To name just a few of these tools, we’ve got digital audio workstations, those enormous counter-style mixing consoles you’ve seen in any number of musician biopics and episodes of ‘Behind the Music,’ as well as a highly personalized musical aesthetic. But perhaps most important is the ability to listen for those small details that most people tend not to notice.
During our discussion on his personal history with music and the details of what a producer really does, Calloni was happy to open up about his personal approach when it comes to mixing in particular.
“I’d say my approach to mixing is focused mainly on making a record feel compelling, something you’d want to stop and listen to. My goal as a mixer is to bring out the essence of a record, highlight what makes it unique and make sure it tells a musically coherent story. It is a very dynamic process, I tend to move fast and make bold moves, and scale them back if need be. Thinking as an arranger helps me understand the different parts and how they can better work together, finding the best fit for all elements in a sonic space in a way that it feels exciting for the listener.”
One of Calloni’s biggest assets is his own personal history as a multi-instrumentalist.
“I started learning piano at 4 years old. At this age it was obviously very unpretentious, I just remember having a good time taking lessons and I guess that solidified music as something that gave me joy.”
Encountering real instruments while young has a way of romanticizing a personal connection with music, and even to this day Calloni still has a special place in his heart for what a new instrument can offer.
“No piece of gear inspires me more than a cool instrument. Whatever it is, expensive or cheap, new or old, some instruments you just come across and they feel a certain way that inspires you to create music.”
As with language, experts recommend learning music at an early age for the highest chance of becoming a ‘native speaker.’ It can have huge benefits when it comes to recognizing rhythms and melodies and matching pitch on an instrument or while singing. And just listening to music was another major element of Calloni’s early musical education.
“I grew up listening to a lot of Brazilian music, which is, in itself, so broad. Bossa Nova greats such as João Gilberto and Tom Jobim, the later MPB and Tropicália artists such as Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Mutantes.”
Calloni was able to take all the bits and pieces of his musical upbringing and forge his own artistic voice. Working the industry from so many different angles has helped Pedro Calloni become a heavy-hitter in the music world, especially since his move to L.A., the entertainment capital of the world. He’s worked with the Dave Matthews Band, indie band Wake Child, and star producer John Alagia, who has helped shape iconic albums for DMB and chillwave artist Jason Mraz.
“Living in LA I have been lucky to meet and work with some very talented and generous people. I do believe that music can benefit a lot from collaboration and being able to bring people together to create music is yet another great part of my job.”
And that’s where the stone soup bit comes in.
Pretty much everyone who ever took 2nd-grade language arts here in the States were made to read ‘Stone Soup,’ or some version of it anyway. It’s an old folk story about a village that doesn’t have enough food. They then convince each other to share what little food they do have for a big collective stew. Some of it’s real food and some is other elements they pretend are luxurious ingredients (hence the titular stones).
This is the work of producers and studio engineers: combining an untold number of different elements to make something greater than anyone had imagined was possible. Many of the ingredients are tangible, i.e. the technical skills required to perform, to record, to mix, and many more are the intangible elements, like creative inspiration, a style of listening, and the incorporation of a wide range of musical styles and other influences.
by Giorgio Chang