Producer, sound engineer, teacher; Marco Lecci has traveled far and wide through music for over forty years. To validate his profile, his extraordinary list of collaborations would be enough: from Dionne Warwick to Steve Grossman, Chet Baker to B.B. King, expanding on through our own Riccardo Cocciante, Alex Britti, Gianna Nannini, Giorgia, Daniele Silvestri and so many others. His is an entire existence devoted to the cult of sound and song, always supported by a particular taste for novelty and experimentation. We reached him by phone to tell us about his experiences, anecdotes, and perspectives with respect to the current (complex) musical landscape, studio work (or the “sacredness” as he himself defines it), as well as the depth and possibilities of recent proposals.

I still believe in music and young people.

Marco Lecci

What makes a producer great?

Two factors: talent and experience. Experience plays a fundamental role if you ever have to inspire peace of mind and trust in an artist. Over the years we grow and mature, gradually coming to understand the true value of music, and everything that contributes to the overall quality of a production. But talent is also needed: being able to achieve results quickly, with a little luck, which never hurts.

What is your take on current recording production? Do you believe the approach has become lazy nowadays?

There are plug-ins and VSTs that already have bass lines, small loops, and other gadgets that make it easier, acting as shortcuts – there is little to debate here. However, one cannot ignore the knowledge of rhythm, melody, and harmony. There are many experts in the field, *but many don’t relinquish themselves to the service of the project they are managing. They do not grasp the specificities, or the peculiar aspects that might make it unique. Instead they tend to create standard arrangements time and again, rarely  ever innovating. It happens that very different artists end up having the same sound. And I’m talking about noble, overpaid teams, which I call the “lobbies” of the market. I fear that we are going through a period of cultural impoverishment. I assure you that in my studio there is everything you would find in an English or New York studio. I’m not being pretentious, but specific equipment is needed to produce certain sounds, and I want to have a wide range of possibilities when sitting in the chair.

In your opinion, in this new digital age, does an artist have everything he needs to “do it” alone?

Absolutely not, and history teaches us. Even the Beatles needed Brian Epstein. Without him, they probably would never have stood out from the myriad bands that circulated in England. The biggest studios were needed, the BBC, George Martin (not surprisingly called “the fifth Beatle”)… knowledge of the subject is an essential condition. You are an artist from morning to night, not in alternating phases or fleeting moments. To the students, to the musicians I follow, I always say that PCs and software are sufficient only to fix the basic ideas. For a real musical project to sprout and bloom, you have to rely on a trained production team. I don’t know any other way.

What do you say to those who persistently try to contact the majors or land in the talent pool?

The majors no longer exist. The days of the RCA (which later became BMG) in which a nucleus of talent scouts were always in search of new names, are long gone. There is no longer that cultural and intellectual purity that allows you to correctly evaluate the potential of a piece or a project. And it doesn’t matter if you manage – through acquaintances or otherwise – to have a direct exchange with the majors who, in essence, have been reduced to distributing international products and exploiting the popularity of characters and television programs. It is the artists who build their way, spend energy and money. The majors find the table already set, presenting themselves just when the meal is being served, and leave before dinner is over. I repeat: this is a lobbying barrier, and the only hunting ground remains the web, an ocean with its own rules, which must be managed well and which represents, after all, the last frontier of work.

Marco Lecci at Forward Studios
Marco Lecci at Forward Studios

In Italy, who is at fault: Are record companies choosing the wrong artists or are the Italian artists simply writing uninteresting music? There seems to be more support and exposure for foreign acts than our own nationals.

This is a two-fold discussion. I get a lot of demo albums, and most of the time they are full of songs based on two chords and little much else. I might find one of these tracks moderately stimulating. They’ll release a track, then after a month or so I’ll hear back from the anxious artist and they will frantically ask: Why didn’t I get famous? They don’t understand that their music lacks substance; it’s too hollow to penetrate the heart and soul of an international audience. In regards to the presence of foreign music in Italy, most labels aren’t spending their time scouring the Italian landscape to discover nuanced talent or profound songwriters – they’re compensated to push through the repertoire of landmark artists from their parent companies. Luckily the indie scene still exists and is more resourceful than ever. Independent artists are fruitfully utilizing alternative resources and avenues to affect and reach their audience. I spent 3 years managing the ‘Welcome Back Songwriters’ format, from which many interesting artists emerged.

If you were the head of a major label, what would you do?

It would be important to create greater interactivity: from live events, one could purchase and obtain products made instantly. This would establish a solid economic base. I would aim to facilitate the collective between musicians and professionals. Young people have always engaged, but everything happens in a scattered and uncoordinated way, without a criterion or a guide. I would like emerging artists to be able to meet other, more established ones, in order to understand what the world of music really has to offer.

You have been teaching sound engineering for years; what future do you imagine for Italian studies?

I think of the studio as a vehicle for the expansion of creativity. Current technology offers a lot, at every level. A sort of movement is being created, a community where many are able to work. Those who come to my studio are looking for a certain type of environment that guarantees competence and comfort. Feeling at ease inevitably leads to expressing oneself better in music. Artists don’t choose you because your studio has the 70 channel “mixerone”. Rather, they want there to be the right relationship; one of professionalism between the engineer and his team. It seems to be more philosophical concept than technical.

What has changed most in the industry since you started? Do you feel any form of nostalgia? In every respect, from the technical team to the trustworthy relationship that is established with the producer, do you think that, to improve, we must return to the mentality of the past?

I have been teaching for a while at the “Fonderie Sonore” school where courses are held for electronic music producers and sound engineers. In general, I spend the first two hours of class talking about the “sacredness” of this profession, a feeling that in our country – nowhere else – has been gradually waning. The approach must be what you would expect during a surgical operation. But I also want to break a lance in favor of the new generations: today’s twenties are re-evaluating the world of audio, rediscovering Hi-Fi, listening to quality and increasingly dedicated products on the market.

Marco Lecci Ortophonic 1975
Marco Lecci Ortophonic, 1975
Marco Lecci in Tour with Giorgia, 2009
Marco Lecci in Tour with Giorgia, 2009

We often hear about “studio magic”. What’s your take?

I confirm it to be true. The artist forms a bond with the studio right from the start. If the environment is complementing, without technical hitches, perhaps with drinks and the right lights on request, the ideal mood is created which is then infused into the recording phase. The studio is like a sacred temple towards which the artist must feel awe. He needs to adapt to the environment, and not vice versa. At least that’s how I see it.

What are the biggest mistakes/horrors committed by artists? How can they avoid them?

The great disease is non-being. Nowadays everyone prefers to appear, and this is clearly an effect of our digital age. You are not an artist just because you have stuck fifteen words on a harmonic loop, or you found the money from who-knows-where to record a song or album in the studio. Just take a look at the social networks to notice the plethora of VIPs and sex symbols there are around. A complete reset would be needed; or at least a ‘stop and think’ before publishing certain things on the internet. Self-criticism is a quality that I find increasingly difficult to find.

Were there any moments, or hard times, when you thought about giving up?

Yes, but not of a technical nature. I have lived through difficult times from an emotional point of view, such as when I was “betrayed” by trusted people to whom I had opened many doors. I have suffered – I must admit – and in some cases I have felt confused. However, I have a warrior spirit that makes me react immediately in the face of crises.

You’ve practically worked with everyone in the industry. It’s expected that you end up with a few pebbles in your shoe…

After an artist apprenticeship and the emotion of the first signed contracts, it happens that sometimes an artist becomes a cog in the machine. Even the expression on their face changes as if suddenly everything became artificial and the human being disappeared. But I don’t let it bother me; personally, I still believe in music and young people, hoping that that ideal of purity will resist and make its way. The important thing is to know I try.

Could you leave us with a memorable career moment, a highlight for our readers?

In 1988, Angelo Branduardi’s manager contacted me in view of the European tour of Pane e Rose. He wanted to organize a lunch: evidently he wanted to get a clear idea of ​​who he would be working with for about four months. In the end, I discovered that I was going to be the sound engineer for the whole tour. I still remember that first meeting where everyone was present. He said we were there because he thought we were the best around, that we should only think about making music, having fun and to “not miss the restaurants”.

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