London-based guitarist, Tony Calvo has composed, recorded and co-produced a new guitar library album for Alt-Life/BMG Production Music, called LATIN GUITAR UNDERWORLD to be released internationally for film and TV. It has been recorded entirely in his private home studio based around an Audient iD22 audio interface and 8-channel ASP800 mic pre. It is co-produced with Tony’s friend, Toby Baker (Michael Macdonald, Alexander O’Neal, Eric Clapton, BB King, Lulu and Sinead O’Connor) who also mixed and played keyboards on the album.
Audient asks Tony to tell us more about the album.
It’s a production fusing authentic nylon and flamenco style guitars with modern and vintage synth textures, sound design elements and beats.
Initially the album was aimed at Latin themed crime dramas, such as Narcos and other Cartel-type shows and films. However, as the compositions developed the album started to take on a broader personality, offering wider possibilities for usage and synch beyond a single genre.
The BMG Production Music catalogue is partnered with Netflix and other networks, which of course opens up many opportunities for the album.
Is this the first of many hybrid guitar style albums for Alt-Life/BMG Production Music?
Yes, we are in production on a new album for release later this year, and although the brief is similar, it will be fundamentally different and aimed at another genre of film and drama – that’s all we can say for now. This one has been mainly nylon/flamenco guitars plus some other stringed instruments such as 12 string acoustic, mandolin, mandola, ukulele, banjolele and bouzouki.
What else is going on now that this album is done and dusted?
I’m currently working on some records with major international artists, most recently Wiz Khalifa, 2 Chainz & Slava Marlow (see below for his latest release which clocked up over one million views in the first week) alongside Underdog Music and King Wizard.
I am co-producing music for some Candela Records artists. It is the first label that is a joint venture with Atlantic Records that champions Latino music coming out of London.
I’m also currently working with London based Spanish singer-songwriter Clara Hurtado on some new songs to be released this year. It’s a cutting-edge mix of modern heavy-hitting production fused with traditional Latin music.
And I am also writing and recording a catchy Spanish Guitar single remix with singer-songwriter Lili Caseley, that will be out via Graduation soon.
We have just finished recording the new full-length De Fuego album here too titled ‘Hyperfocus’ which is due for release in the first half of this year. I’ll be working on the compositions for my solo album, Distance, as well, and filming three solo flamenco guitar videos.
In addition, I’m running Tony Calvo Guitar Academy, where I mentor and teach up to 15 students internationally, both online and in person. There are quite a few other projects in the pipeline waiting to be confirmed, too.
Wow, that is a lot. Where does all this magic happen?
I am based in Loughton in an old cottage on the top of a hill with amazing views out to London and beyond. It’s right on the edge of Epping Forest and a very beautiful and inspiring place to study, practice and compose. This area and the setting have a major influence on my work and my mindset during projects. I can feel detached from noise and distractions.
“[iD22] is very well designed, sounds great and very reliable.”
I have a private recording studio here with a main studio room and separate live room for recording, practising and teaching. I run Pro Tools and Logic on a Mac Pro with a UAD Quad Card, a collection of around 20 instruments and a selection of preamps, mics, amps, pedals and other tools suited to my work.
We know you have had your iD22 since it came out, what do you love about it?
Many things! It is very well designed, sounds great, and very reliable. I am confident in having it at the heart of my studio.
The preamps are great for nylon and acoustic guitars and I use them all the time. I also like having the send/return feature on each channel to be able to use external pre’s too.
I use it in conjunction with the ASP800, another central piece in my studio, and they work flawlessly together. It’s a perfect all-rounder for me!
Congratulations on winning the LUKAS Latin Award (the biggest Latin Awards in UK/EU) for best Act of The Year 2019 – not so long before everything shut down. How did you find inspiration during lockdown? Does composing come easily to you?
Thank you! In a way, Covid changed my life for the better and enabled me to focus in and make composition and creativity the centre of my life.
Music is always in my head waiting to be explored and developed. Creativity is delicate, and to be productive working countless hours alone, things need to be thought out and aligned very carefully. I do manage to achieve that at times and it’s a magical feeling when it all flows naturally and comes together.
iD22: “a perfect all-rounder for me!”
From experience, high levels of hyper focus and productivity can only be achieved without distractions and disruptions, so I came up with a term called Red Zone Days with a friend recently. That means nothing gets booked, organised or arranged on those days except total focus on the guitar and studio work. I have managed to assign three/four Red Zone Days a week in my diary now.
In the past I found it hard maintaining consistency at times due to having to travel too much during projects and sometimes taking on too much at once. Applying this Red Zone Day concept has really helped me prioritise and especially learn how to say ‘no’.
Other things that enable me to be more creative and productive is minimal to no social media, no news, a good clean healthy diet and plenty of exercise.
Tell us more about your writing process.
The flamenco guitar is my main instrument for writing and composition, but it could also be acoustic or electric guitar, depending on the project or the session.
For LATIN GUITAR UNDERWORLD many of the tracks were just started with an idea I’d come up with playing the guitar away from the studio. I would record it to my phone or iPad, and when the moment was right, take it to the studio and develop it from there.
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During writing stages I do a lot of passive listening. The studio room is in the very centre of my house so if I’m stuck with a track, I’ll play it back on a loop whilst I’m around the house doing other things. This helps gain perspective and helps especially when I’m stuck with arrangement.
Another part of my writing process is going for late night walks around the forest where I listen to and analyse the tracks very closely. I can connect with the music on a deeper level in those moments and gain a fresher perspective. If new melodies and arrangements come to mind, I’ll hum them into my phone and do voice memos with thoughts and things to work on. Then I go straight back to the studio fired up and ready to implement those changes straight away.
“some parts get re-recorded many times until the take is right, others are one-takes”
Also, many tracks get recorded as demos first. Once the composition is complete, I then assess what guitar, mic and preamp setup suits each part best and re-record the whole thing. Some parts get re-recorded many times until the take is right, others are one-takes. Sometimes tracks continue to evolve and new parts are added up to the very last moment too.
With sessions, it can depend on the artist, label or producer, but it generally entails writing and recording guitars as many times as it takes until I get it right for the track/artist. Tracks need time to breathe and sometimes you cannot force it. There can be quite a lot of back-and-forth at times and good communication is key to achieving the best results possible.
It is also essential to be prepared with your instrument and be willing to endure excessive amounts of deep listening, analysing and repetition!
What motivates you?
Being a better guitarist, developing my sound further and creating music that is true to myself and that I can be proud of. Always keeping things fresh and continuing to learn is a primary motivator too.
It’s motivating when I am playing and recording well. That means less takes and more emotion and deeper connection with the guitar. I try to do 2-3 hours a day of guitar technique practice to make sure I am ready for demanding festival performances and extensive recording sessions.
“continuing to learn is a primary motivator”
I think motivation is something you have to work hard to achieve and maintain, the same as creativity and inspiration. It shouldn’t be left to chance. Time waiting for it is time lost, you have to actively want it and go and find it, however that may be.
A Vision Board, writing out clear goals/targets and using daily positive affirmations really helps too.
Other motivations are my family listening to my music, getting to use my studio and beautiful instruments as much as possible and getting paid to do something I love.
Have you got any live gigs coming up?
Yes, I’ve had quite a few – mainly festivals. It’s picking up again. I played at the Latino Life Festival in Finsbury Park, Henley Festival, Green Note in London twice (Sold Out), Arts for Hungerford (Sold Out), Rumpus Festival (Sold Out) and some private events around the UK.
Lots of bookings for ‘22 and ‘23 are coming in too but still not as many as there would usually be pre-Covid.
Audient wishes you all the best with ALL of your projects! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us.
Tony will also be creating some tutorials on recording and producing guitars for our Tutorial Hub in the near future. There will be lots to learn so make sure you check them out!