Next Generation Spotlight: Alberto de Icaza

Audio Media International, in association with Genelec, presents the latest in our series of Next Generation Spotlight interviews. Today, we chat to mixing and mastering engineer, Alberto de Icaza.

What is your name and what do you do?
My name is Alberto de Icaza and I am a mixing and mastering engineer based in Austin, Texas.  

What inspired you to get into studio work?
When I was young the terrible question of ‘what are you going to do when you grow up?’ always followed me. I knew I loved playing music and I was good with computers. Originally I wanted to get a formal music education. One of my dad’s friends owned a production company, and my dad sent me off to get a summer internship with him. After talking with his friend about what I wanted to do he took me to a recording studio across the street that was working on all his projects. They were mostly doing post production and sound for indie films. A couple of the engineers had their bands record there. I fell in love with the studio work, it was the perfect combination of creativity and technical knowledge. It just made sense to me.

Tell us about your route into the industry?
I grew up in Mexico where there wasn’t much of an industry in the rock world. I moved to the US to go to college and I ended up moving to a small town in north New Jersey, right outside NYC. While looking for internships, I was going through my favourite records and researching the producers that I looked up to. I’m a huge Lamb Of God fan and I always thought Sacrament was such a good sounding record. Machine had done it, and his studio, The Machine Shop, was roughly 15 minutes away from where I was living. I immediately reached out to talk to him. I was able to get a hold of his engineer, who happened to be Will Putney. They invited me to do an interview and I jumped head first into the world of professional recording. 

Machine Shop was a breeding ground for talent – interns came and went but the people that have stuck are incredible. To name a few, Zakk Cervini, Will Putney, Randy Leboeuf, and Josh Wilbur all worked with Machine at some point. It was a wonderful place because it inspired you to put the time and work in. And both Machine and Will were always happy to guide me and bail me out when I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m truly lucky to have been able to learn so much from them. I engineered for them from 2010 to 2015 on a lot of records with huge bands. Machine’s production methods were so insightful and original that I was hooked. We worked with so many cool bands, like Clutch, Four Year Strong, Crobot, Miss May I, We Came As Romans, UABB, Crossfaith and others.

I moved to Texas and I started doing work for a label and was more interested in mixing and mastering than I was in engineering at the time, so I started my own studio where I could also work with the developing bands I was putting through the label. Working on my own clients was a completely different game and I had to learn the business side of having a studio. 

In 2019, a good friend and manager of a band I was working with asked me if I wanted to master a hip-hop soundtrack. I had worked on indie projects for her and this was a complete shot in the dark. Her client was the production house Lionsgate. I was eager to prove myself and jumped right in, she then dropped it on me that it was a Timbaland production and I had to master a song to match a track he had mastered that was going to be on the same record. Talk about feeling the pressure! I mastered a song by Ne-yo, they liked it, and I ended up doing the rest of the record. After that record, I got into mastering soundtracks for TV and movies.   

Tell us about some of the key projects you’ve worked on over the past 12 months?
Working with Lionsgate opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve done Love Life (Hbo Max), Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC), Dear White People (Netflix), P-Valley (Starz), Step Up: Highwater (Youtube Originals), Greenleaf (OWN), Manhunt: Deadly Games( Spectrum). I love working soundtracks because it is always something different and composers hear things with so much detail. I have to stay sharp on what the vibe of the song is and what the intent is behind every hit or quiet section. 

As far as bands are concerned, I am working with a band from Austin, TX that I love called Champagne. I did some indie pop projects that I’ve really enjoyed lately: Yoke Lore, Drinker, Cape Francis, Luna Luna. Every now and then I work with Machine. I went to assist him with the latest The Amity Affliction record, which had an insane track count. Also, Crobot just released a Christmas song I produced that was so much fun to do. Never in my life I didI think I would be doing doom riffs with sleigh bells!  

What is your approach to work in the studio?
I like to find what makes a band special and enhance that aspect of their music. I make sure their personality is coming through. I love translating what the artist is trying to say and making sure that the person listening to the song is feeling it too. I am all about the intention behind each recording and making sure it is sonically interesting and exciting. I like to add a touch of danger to it.

I’m not a fan of using presets. I think every record is an opportunity to find what that artist should sound like. Something I learned from Machine was always to always study artists during preproduction and figure out what their strengths are and use that to my advantage. For example, if I see the drummer is great at controlling his dynamics, I might make him play a song at different ‘volumes’ and make them hear their drums through compression so they learn to voice their snare for different parts of the song. Or work on their accents by listening to the notes of the cymbals they are hitting vs what the rest of the band is doing. I will sit with a singer and plan out when they need to push their vocals and when they need to be airy and sit back.

When I get a record to master, I listen to the whole thing before touching it and make a conscious plan of what it needs. I like to make the music surround you without changing the vibe of the mix.

Who/what have been some of your biggest influences in your career to date?
I think Machine and Will Putney have shaped a lot of how I view this career. I truly think of them as family and I’m a big fan of their work. I could write a book on Machine’s recording philosophy.

I got to see Vance Powell do a couple songs in his studio in Nashville and I was blown away. His recordings are so tasteful and the man is an audio engineering encyclopedia! 

Zakk Cervini always manages to surprise and inspire me. We engineered together a couple of records for Machine and he was insanely talented. 

And of course I will always admire the guys who did the records I grew up listening to, like Eric Valentine, Andrew Scheps, Andy Wallace, the Lord-Alge brothers, and Spike Stent to name a few. 

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the industry?
I believe this is a job that shifted and became an entrepreneurial gig – more than just a producer job. There is a lot that goes on behind the curtain to make it happen. From developing relationships with people that might take a chance on you, social media, keeping the books straight, marketing, etc. It is hard work to always stay top of mind with key people. It takes time, money and energy to get a solid network that provides constant work. 

What projects do you have coming up?
I have two movie soundtracks coming out, Run (Nov 20 on Hulu) and Chaos Walking (January 22).  Run, unfortunately, has had its release postponed since May due to COVID-19. Chaos Walking, I’m interested to see how they roll out the release. It’s been 10 years in the making. 

I also just wrapped up a couple of songs with Crobot, they are doing a special release of their record Motherbrain and we recorded songs with special guests Frank Bello from Anthrax and Howard Jones from Killswitch Engage.