Q&A Session with Gustavo Celis - (Ricky Martin, Jewel, Mandy
Moore, J-Lo, Marc Anthony)
The Song Is King, So Crown It
Grammy-winning engineer, mixer, producer and studio owner Gustavo Celis
Born and raised in Venezuela and now a European citizen, Gustavo Celis’
music and studio career has come a long way in following its upwardly spiraling,
circled path. Come to think of it, Venezuela isn’t that far at all from
the world class Miami studio he owns today. Along the way he has worked extensively
with Ricky Martin, Jewel, Mandy Moore, J-Lo, Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan and
Skakira and won two Grammy Awards, a Latin Grammy (Best Engineering), and shared
an Academy Award for Best Sound (Chicago.)
Graduating atop his class in the mid-‘90s from Boston’s Berklee
College of Music, Celis had engineering stops along the way at the respected
studios Hit Factory Recording (New York City) and Studio Center (Miami) before
building in 2004 one of Miami’s most prestigious facilities today: Supersonic
“It’s like having an audio encyclopedia of consoles, microphones,
and preamps here,” says Gustavo. “From the Digidesign ICON to the
Neve to the SSL, then our large mic cabinet and all the Neve, Focusrite, Grace,
API, Earthworks and other mic pre’s—over 50 in all. Thanks to our
unique hybrid setup, we can get any sound imaginable.”
VINTAGEMICROPHONE.COM: Working on a wide variety of recordings and movies, does
your basic approach to using a microphone ever change from one project to the
GUSTAVO: The song is king but, that being said, I will do everything I can to
complement or enhance it with a microphone.
VINTAGEMICROPHONE.COM: Do your microphone signal paths change depending on whom
or what you're recording?
GUSTAVO: My setups evolve and change all the time. I am constantly
learning and experimenting. Perhaps that is one of the things that keeps it
fun. For instance, on a recent drum session at Supersonic Studios I used a cardioid
dynamic mic inside the kick and a fixed carioid FET mic two feet away from the
kick going through an API and UA610, respectively. On the snare top I used a
caridioid dynamic instrument mic through another API, and for the bottom another
fixed cardioid mic routed through another UA610. For the toms, I used my favorite
vintage large diaphragm condenser routed through a pair of Neve 1073s. The overhead
mics, for the main drum sound, was a pair of ribbon microphones straight into
a remote Grace 801R preamp that is located right in the mic panel at Supersonic.
For the drum mics, which we flew 7-10 feet in front of the set, I used a pair
of large diaphragm multi-pattern condenser mics in MS [mid-side] configuration
into another pair of Neve 1073s.
On that session I also did something very cool to spread the sound of the kit—I
used the studio doors as physical reverb sends by taping PZM mics to them! We
have a great live hallway here next to the main studio, and by opening or closing
these doors we get exactly the amount of reverb the drum sound needs. It works
great and people always flip out when they hear the results. Sometimes I run
the PZMs through a Chandler EMI compressor to dial in the amount of limiting
I desire, too. I also love the Alan Smart C2 compressor on the drums.
VINTAGEMICROPHONE.COM: Using a part you’ve recently recorded as an example,
describe briefly how you set up a mic to record it.
GUSTAVO: For the vocals on the new Ricky Martin album [Life] I used a large
diaphragm tube cardioid mic going through a Neve 1073. Depending on the song,
sometimes it would go to an LA2 or Neve 33609. I mounted this classic tube mic
hanging from a large Starbird mic stand—that is to say, the mic was upside
down. This ensures that the heat rising from the mic body won't reach the capsule
and cause temperature fluctuations that can potentially change the response
of the mic. On a separate stand, I set up a pop screen 3-4 inches from the mic.
For the horn recordings on Ricky’s album, I used a ribbon mic which sounded
fantastic, especially on the trumpets and bones [trombones] played by the great
VINTAGEMICROPHONE.COM: When have you tried a weird microphone, signal routing,
or other recording idea that seemed like it absolutely wouldn't work; yet then
GUSTAVO: During the production of Shakira's La Tortura: Remix, something very
strange happened. The session was quite large, over 140 tracks and it made the
system crash, but in a very musical way. Somehow a bunch of the tracks were
stuck in a loop in random places. This thing kept going and building for a while
until something very musical started to manifest in all the looping. I told
my assistant engineer [Juan Cammarano] to roll tape on the mixdown system in
order to capture the fascinating collage of sound going on. Quickly, inspiVintageMicrophone.com
by the exciting soundscape generated during the crash, I rebooted the main system
and started playing with Shakira's vocals. Ultimately that crash and random
loop made me create a new hook for the song that became a major theme in the
mix—it is possibly even the most memorable part of the whole album. That’s
a studio accident that turned into a major hook! You can hear it at the very
top of the song "La Tortura" Remix on her vocal track followed by
a filteVintageMicrophone.com vocal effect. That accident made that song work
as well as it did because it accentuated the sensuality of her vocal performance.
Once again, as I said earlier—the song is king, and I will do all I can
to crown it.
VINTAGEMICROPHONE.COM: What is your all-time most memorable gig?
GUSTAVO: If I have to pick one memory, it would have to be the recording sessions
I was a part of for the motion picture Chicago at AIR studios in London [Oscar
winner for Best Sound.] Sir George Martin himself made an unexpected appearance
on what turned out to be just one day before George Harrison passed away. It
was the most unexpected visit, as Sir Martin rarely goes to the studio these
days anymore. He is a very sweet gentleman who took the time to tell us the
whole story about the Neve console we were using that day for Chicago. It was
a completely unforgettable experience.