Although most devote their week in South Beach to mojitos and sangria, producers do occasionally work during the Winter Music Conference — even if it is the middle of the night. You might have noticed Carmen Rizzo sitting in a hotel lobby earlier this year in Miami, focused on his laptop and absorbed in the sound emanating from his headphones. What you didn't know was that he was working on Coldplay's dime.
Rizzo spent the week before WMC 2005 in his Los Angeles studio with Chris Martin working on “Speed of Sound” and left for Miami believing they had finished the song. “I got a call at midnight in South Beach saying Chris wanted to change something, and they had booked me a flight back to L.A. at 7 a.m.,” Rizzo explains. “I panicked and convinced them I could do the fix in Miami. I had some of the files sent to me via the Web, and I sat in a hotel lobby with my laptop and a [Digidesign] Mbox editing until early in the morning. After I knew it was approved, I power-walked across the street and went for a swim in the ocean.”
Rizzo's schedule doesn't usually allow for relaxing ocean moments. He lives in perpetual high demand, tapped by artists — some legendary, some aspiring — to join them in the studio and work his magic on their music. A two-time nominee himself, Rizzo also played an instrumental role in adding the Best Electronic Album category to the Grammy Awards. But, ironically, it was the constant speed of his life that inspired the slowed-down atmospherics on his artist debut, The Lost Art of the Idle Moment (The Lab/Universal, 2005).
“I traveled all over the world to collaborate — NYC, London, Bristol, Paris and Munich,” says Rizzo, who worked with Esthero, Jem, Ladybug Mecca (Digable Planets) and others for the album. “Many of the people had little bedroom setups. I had my laptop, a hard drive and an Mbox. Every song had its challenge, but I would never trade that in. I've recorded all over the world for years and really enjoy it. Why use a studio unless you absolutely have to? Often, for what you pay in a day or two, you can record in an Italian villa overlooking the sea for a few weeks, which I have done!”
Rizzo's home base does have its perks, however. Nestled into downtown Hollywood, his studio, Suite 775, is an early-1920s loft packed with Indian furniture, roadcases filled with outboard gear and tons of computer equipment. “My main tool is Pro Tools,” he says. “I have a TDM HD rig with a Mac G5, which I use for MIDI and audio. I also use Ableton Live 5, which I also use in a live setup. I used to be very high-tech and am still very on top of what's cutting edge, at times too much. But I'm not a purist at all and love lo-fi. I have had many hard-to-find instruments and bizarre boxes, but to be honest, I sold a lot of stuff I never used. I hated having a museum of cool stuff that you just don't use or barely works. It impresses your friends but takes up way too much space!”
Some classic equipment did survive Rizzo's yard sale: the Roland RE-201 Space Echo tape delay and reverb unit and the Musitronics Mu-Tron Bi-Phase phaser, both made during the '70s. The Lost Art sees Rizzo applying the Space Echo alongside current Native Instruments soft synths. “I had a great sample from a gramophone I recorded in the lobby of Studio 301 in Sydney, Australia, years ago,” he says. “On the end of ‘Too Rude,’ I tweaked the Space Echo running through it, slowing it down and then speeding it up. It was magic to my ears!”
Rizzo correctly asserts that even with today's user-friendly studio equipment, quality production still requires actual human input. “With most gear today, they make it so easy to just press a button and say, ‘Wow!’” Rizzo says. “You don't just buy Photoshop and call yourself a graphic designer or buy GarageBand and you're a songwriter. A piece of gear is what it is. Your personal taste, style and talent must kick in.” Especially in the hotel lobby at 4 a.m.