Engineer Juan Carlos Sotelo on working smarter with Leapwing

Mix and mastering engineer Juan Carlos Sotelo recently joined Headliner for a chat about his work with independent artists in his native Mexico City, and why Leapwing Audio plugins have been with him every step of the way…

Tell us about the kind of work you do, and a bit about your musical background and early influences.

I'm an educator, professor and producer, with my main gigs being mixing and mastering. I'm mostly working with independent artists in Mexico City as an engineer or co-producing songs for rising producers. I'm also a Member of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee of the AES, trying to provide a platform for people that are under-represented as well as improving accessibility, embracing emergent audio fields and research and radiating inclusiveness to all races, genders, physical abilities, ages and nationalities.

All of my social media channels are dedicated to audio education in the context of music production. Recently I started an English speaking YouTube channel to share my perspective, and to highlight some of what’s going on in the Mexico City music scene.

It was a serendipitous encounter that really got the ball rolling for me. I learned Audio Engineering at the SAE Institute here in Mexico City in 2014, as I don’t come from an artistic family as such. I was into DJing, and eventually found myself working at a club with another DJ who happened to be a really big front of house engineer in Mexico. Then we started doing alternate nights with a live band that did covers, and that was the way that I really started getting into it.

When I was younger I was listening to the likes of Plastilina Mosh, Control Machete, Babasonicos, Amigos Invisibles, Cradle of Filth, Moby, Foo Fighters, The Strokes, Spanish hip-hop and everything in between, so I had quite a broad, and slightly strange repertoire!

Can you tell us about your studio space and some of your recent projects?

Most people with a background in the Top40 community build their studio around music making; my studio was built with monitoring in mind first, and I wanted to make it a comfortable space for songwriting, studio hangouts and client reviews. One of the main aspects that sets my not-so home studio apart is that all the acoustic design is mine, with a modular mentality and flexibility in mind. I have developed great relationships with some brands that I really believe in what they are doing and the way they are doing it, like Genelec, Focusrite, Focusrite Pro, Arturia, Novation and Ableton.

Experimenting with algorithms can get you to some really interesting places if you know what you’re looking for.

Just like my personal taste, the roster of clients I have is also extremely broad. For example, I’m currently working with a Romanian artist that does old school metal. Around four years ago I recorded an album for one of the big, next generation jazz artists in Mexico, and I’ve also mastered an album of generative, dark techno music. Simply put, I like sound, and music is just one of the forms that sound takes as it’s presented to us. I’m not fussy about the genre, the era, or whether it’s mainstream or not.

I’m working with a great project called Black Hippo, a band that combines jazz and hip-hop, along with another much larger band called Soultik, who have this big brass section and a psychedelic 70s rock vibe. They’re so developed on the lyrical and harmony side with these big structures, and are just a bunch of really skilled musicians.

I’m also working with an artist called F-Mack – he comes from Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, so has this amazing backstory. He recently played at a couple of big jazz festivals and is making all the right choices at the moment, so I think we’ll see some interesting stuff from him in the near future.

What kind of advantages do Leapwing Audio plugins bring to your workflow?

Leapwing really changed my game every time I got a plugin from them. In 2018 I was lucky enough to win a big bundle of plugins that Pensado’s Place was giving away, and in that bundle was Leapwing’s DynOne. The precision of the filters on that plugin are second to none, and it’s a tool I find myself using a lot. It’s helpful for doing some parallel mix buss heavy lifting if you have something that’s not pumping up, and sometimes I simply use it as a tone controller. The centre-side function is really useful for preserving depth, and for making things sound wide when it’s necessary. In conjunction with StageOne, you can really do some amazing tricks with these two plugins alone.

Their Signature series plugins especially are so unique, and they polish everything you’ve done in such a classy way. I’m using the Joe Chiccarelli Signature plugin on a fresh album that I’m mixing, along with UltraVox which is an entirely different way of treating lead vocal stuff. I’ve found that experimenting with algorithms which aren’t purposely made for certain instruments can get you to some really interesting places, if you know what you’re looking for.

Some of their plugins are so well thought out; RootOne for example can easily be overdone if you don't have the best low end reference. Their solutions represent great combinations of processing with amazing filters that really stand out, and have a really unique kind of finesse to them.