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Ann Mincieli On 'She Is The Music,' Jungle City, Drake, Alicia Keys & More
From fostering female advancement to owning and operating one of New York's top studios to working side-by-side with the stars, see how one woman does it all
When Ann Mincieli began building Jungle City Studios, everything, and everyone, around her tried to convince her that she was making a mistake. The music industry was still combating music piracy and struggling to turn a profit. The combination of budget cuts and technology advancement meant that state-of-the-art recording facilities were now viewed by some as unnecessary luxuries compared to the cheaper option of home studios.
But Mincieli knew the needs of her clientele. Since its doors opened in 2011, Jungle City has become a premiere recording destination, welcoming superstars such as Drake, Jay Z and Alicia Keys inside its intimate quarters. Located in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, the $5 million structure is complete with four recording studios, vintage microphones, a Steinway grand piano, rare mixing consoles and a rooftop lounge overlooking the Manhattan skyline.
“I had the Warren Buffett approach – when everyone is going home, you go big,” Mincieli says, proudly.
Making the most out of limited resources and support is something Mincieli has mastered throughout her career. In 1998, she began working with a then fledgling singer and pianist named Alicia Keys. The duo diligently worked together until Keys’ debut Songs in A Minor was released in 2001. The album received five GRAMMYs at the 44th GRAMMY Awards, including Best R&B Album.
“I waited until I found the right artist that complimented the type of engineer I wanted to be,” Michieli says.
Keys and Mincieli have cultivated an indelible creative synergy that has permeated beyond the studio, too. In June, Keys announced the formation of her latest effort for female advancement in the music industry, She Is The Music. Once it’s launched, the initiative will serve as a mentorship program, complete with a database and exclusive songwriting sessions.
“Of almost 3,000 pop songwriters credited last year only 12 percent were female, only three percent of the engineers were female, and one of them is Ann,” Keys said in her acceptance speech for the Icon Songwriter honor at the National Music Publishers Association’s annual meeting. “Only two percent of producers are female and one of them is me. Our world is 50-50, and it’s time for our industry to reflect that.”
Though fighting for leveled representation will not be won overnight, Mincieli believes that it’s easier for her to navigate the music industry as an engineer and entrepreneur now than ever before.
“I have a positive outlook. I’ve never really been prohibited from being an engineer. I’ve always focused on just being great at what [I] do, says Mincieli. "If you put in the work, you’ll earn the respect.”
The quickest way to earn her respect is showcasing pure talent. Such was the case during a session in 2009 with a then-up-and-coming rapping/singing hybrid under the moniker Drake. At the time, the Toronto native’s buzz was incessantly growing, aided by his affiliation with Lil Wayne and the street savvy Cash Money/Young Money Records crew.
But Mincieli was exposed to a new layer of Drake when he collaborated with Keys to create the melodic audio romance, “Un-thinkable (I’m Ready).” That night, Drake’s lyrical prowess, Keys’ sultry vocals, Noah “40” Shebib’s bed of production and Carlos Alomar’s guitar riffs created a song “you feel more than you hear,” according to Mincieli.
“Un-thinkable” topped Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts and was labeled as the “standout track” from Keys’ The Element of Freedom album. “The singer/pianist goes from entertaining puppy love to confessing deeper emotions,” Billboard wrote. “For an artist who has built her career on songs about love, lust and heartache, Keys has never sounded quite as vulnerable and exposed as she does here."
“The one thing people don’t realize is Drake is such an incredible musician,” Mincieli adds. “There’s nobody sicker than him with a pen. No one can touch him as an artist.”
The latest talent Mincieli and Keys are grooming for superstardom is The Voice runner-up Britton Buchanan. Though it’s unclear what will come of their alliance, the 18-year-old has already taken in a great deal of wisdom from the illustrious pianist.
“A big thing I learned from [Keys]...is that your authenticity should never be rivaled by compromise,” Buchanana told Rolling Stone. “[S]he did what she wanted to do, and she blew up because of it.”
Keys currently holds 15 GRAMMYs, tours in amphitheaters and arenas domestically and internationally, and supports dozens of charitable organizations. Her success is something that Mincieli, a two-time GRAMMY winner herself, foresaw when both were still relatively new talents yearning for the opportunity to make their dreams come true.
“We’ve been able to grow together from basements to baseball fields,” she boasts.
In 2009, Alicia Keys joined Jay Z on stage during Game 2 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. As the two passionately performed their chart-topping hit “Empire State of Mind” in the brisk October air, Mincieli was there running sound, taking it all in.
Now, Yankee Stadium serves as more than a place of business. When she isn’t balancing her responsibilities as an engineer, entrepreneur, album coordinator and studio owner, she finds solace in watching The Pinstripes bat around with her family and staff members.
Despite her relaxing outings, there was once a time when Mincieli was so dedicated to her work that she put herself, and her health, second. 14 months ago, she changed that. Even while running Sanctuary Studios in the Bahamas, she incorporates a physical fitness routine into her work schedule, peacefully strolling the New Providence Island beach for miles at a time.
For nearly 30 years, Ann Mincieli has been a talented technical force to be reckoned with behind, and beyond, the board. When asked what she believes has been the key to her longevity, she humbly claims it’s her ability to “always try to be a student of the game.”
Perhaps it’s time we learn something from her.
Ann Mincieli is a member of the Recording Academy, and she can be seen in the Academy's We Are Music campaign.
Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More
The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'
In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.
"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.
Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.
"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."
Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American.
"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."
Allen Hughes' "The Defiant Ones" Wins Best Music Film | 2018 GRAMMY
Director Allen Hughes' four-part documentary takes home Best Music Film honors for its portrayal of the unlikely partnership that changed the music business
The team behind The Defiant Ones celebrated a big win for Best Music Film at the 60th GRAMMY Awards. The crew awarded include director Allen Hughes and producers Sarah Anthony, Fritzi Horstman, Broderick Johnson, Gene Kirkwood, Andrew Kosove, Laura Lancaster, Michael Lombardo, Jerry Longarzo, Doug Pray & Steven Williams.
In a year rife with quality music documentaries and series, the bar has been set high for this dynamic category. The Defiant Ones is a four-part HBO documentary telling the story of an unlikely duo taking the music business by storm seems better suited for fantastical pages of a comic book, but for engineer-turned-mogul Jimmy Iovine and super-producer Dr. Dre, it's all truth.The Defiant Ones recounts their histories, their tribulations and their wild success. These include first-hand accounts from those who were there in Iovine's early days, such as Bruce Springsteen and U2's Bono, as well as those on board when Dre and Iovine joined forces, such as Snoop Dogg and Eminem.
The competition was stiff as the category was filled with compelling films such as One More Time With Feeling, Two Trains Runnin', Soundbreaking, and Long Strange Trip.
Portugal. The Man To Aida Cuevas: Backstage At The 2018 GRAMMYs
Also see James Fauntleroy, Reba McIntire, Latroit, and more after they stepped off the GRAMMY stage
What do artists do the moment they walk off the GRAMMY stage from presenting, accepting an award or performing? Now, you can find out.
Also see Best Pop Duo/Group Performance GRAMMY winners Portugal. The Man posing with their first career GRAMMY Award, Best Roots Gospel Album GRAMMY winner Reba McIntire right after she walked offstage, Best R&B Song GRAMMY winner James Fauntleroy, Best Remixed Recording GRAMMY winner Latroit, and many more, with these photos from backstage during the 60th GRAMMY Awards.
Bruno Mars Wins Song Of The Year | 2018 GRAMMYs
The Hawaiian native takes home Song Of The Year for "That's What I Like" at the 60th GRAMMY Awards
Feeling the 24K Magic, Bruno Mars' successful progress through the categories he's been nominated in at the 60th GRAMMY Awards picked up another one at Song Of The Year for "That's What I Like."
Christopher Brody Brown and Philip Lawrence co-write with Mars under the name Shampoo Press & Curl. The other winning songwriters for Mars' hit tonight in this category are James Fauntleroy and production team "The Sterotypes" — Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus and Jonathan Yip.
The Album Of The Year GRAMMY Award wrapped up the night and wrapped up Bruno Mars' complete rampage through his six nominated categories — now six wins.