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Gearhead To GRAMMYs: How Audio Engineer Ann Mincieli's Love Of Tech & Collabs With Alicia Keys Have Influenced An Industry
(L-R) Michael Romanowski, Ann Mincieli and George Massenburg, winners of the GRAMMY for Best Immersive Audio Album for "Alicia"

PHOTO: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Gearhead To GRAMMYs: How Audio Engineer Ann Mincieli's Love Of Tech & Collabs With Alicia Keys Have Influenced An Industry

Ann Mincieli has become a major name in audio production and engineering, collaborating with Alicia Keys on a variety of projects. She recently won a GRAMMY for Best Immersive Audio Album — a feat that puts her in a rare category of audio professionals.

GRAMMYs/Apr 25, 2022 - 02:47 pm

GRAMMY-winning recording engineer Ann Mincieli first met a young, inquisitive Alicia Keys in the elevator of Quad Studios’ New York building. Keys had signed a publishing deal with Columbia Records when she was 15 years old, and was interested in learning more about the two-inch tapes Mincieli was carrying.

"The tapes were heavy and she was asking me all these questions. I didn’t even realize who she was. I was a little standoffish because I was like, 'Who’s asking me all these questions?’” Mincieli says. Twenty-plus years later, the two have formed an acclaimed creative partnership that has resulted in multiple GRAMMYs for both Keys and Mincieli. “Our relationship is more about collaborating and less about Oh, you're a producer and you're an engineer and you're a writer. We’re all artists,” Mincieli says over Zoom. 

After being Keys’ studio coordinator for a number of years, the two creatives partnered to open Jungle City Studios, a state-of-the-art recording facility that houses both vintage and modern technology.  “After working with Alicia in studios around the world, I took the best of what I saw from my experiences," Mincieli says, adding that her retro-futuristic engineering style pairs well with Keys'. "It's exciting because we became the hub for a lot of artists. We teach the technology of being retro and futuristic." 

At the 64th GRAMMY Awards, Mincieli won her third GRAMMY for Best Immersive Audio Album for Alicia. The album was recorded using Sony’s 360 Reality Audio technology, an audio format that mimics surround sound and brings a 3D experience to music.

Following  her most recent win, Mincieli is now one of a small collective that have won a GRAMMY for both engineering and producing. GRAMMY.com spoke with Mincieli over Zoom to discuss her musical partnership with Alicia Keys, what it takes to navigate the music industry as a woman, and the importance of emerging audio technology. 

Can you explain the difference between a mixing engineer and a recording engineer?

As a recording engineer, you're starting with a song, in a lot of instances, from scratch. You're getting rough mixes every night and your job is to keep evolving the song through the entire recording process. This includes the overdub process, the arrangement process, any lyric changes, or additional parts the producer, writer, or artist may want to add in. 

Then there's a phase where we mix the album. The recording engineer’s rough mix is basically the reference point where the mix engineer starts. It's your job as a recording engineer to make sure the mixing engineer has all of the proper files and arrangement versions that they need.  The mixing engineer takes the track and mixes it by combining all of the various audio elements. Some mixers may work on one or two songs. Some mixers work on whole albums. 

There are no rules at the end of the day: If I'm a recording engineer and I'm making the cake from scratch, the mixing engineer is putting a lot of the flavor and icing on. They are also responsible for that top finish. 

What was the inspiration behind opening Jungle City Studios? Did you foresee it being the premiere studio that it is today?

Definitely! When I choose to do something,  I put blinders on and I really focus on the end goal. f you start to look at all the negatives, then you really derail yourself from the initial end goal. I’ve learned this through my journey as an engineer. There are all these long hours and many negative aspects that come with the job, but I try to block that stuff out and focus on the goal. 

My sister was the person who really pushed me to open up my own studio, but I started building studios with Alicia at the end of 2003. She always was a person that had a studio in her house — she started working out of her bedroom studio in the early '90s. Once we started collaborating, she had a great setup in her Harlem apartment and in her house in Queens. The thing that I love is most artists had their version of a studio in their house. It's just evolved now, technology allows you to do more. 

Eventually, Alicia officially opened a studio just four miles from her house — she named it Oven Studios. That's where I really cut my teeth, and learned about designers and studio designs and acoustics. It was then that the concept was born for me. At the end of 2008, we found what's now one of the first buildings that were built for the Hudson Yards in Manhattan and it's in a really cool location. We’re right in the heart of the city but away from the hustle and bustle. Artists can walk around and not be in the middle of Times Square — it’s the perfect combination. 

When we moved in we took over two penthouse condos and two additional condos on the 10th floor. Fast forward to today, I moved Alicia's studio from Long Island. She has two floors in my building, so it's one great big community. We do photo and video shoots, and our studio is often featured on TV. It's such a multi-purpose facility, which is way beyond our goals, which is incredible.

Your most recent GRAMMY win is for Best Immersive Audio Album. Can you talk about Sony’s 360 Reality Audio technology?

 It's a technology that I’ve watched evolved [sic] over the years and it was really exciting to be able to re-mix all of Alicia’s catalog with 360 audio. Alicia is very much a tech-head. We went about mixing each album from scratch. In the end, it became a hybrid, which I think is the beauty of using 360 audio. It’s unique. You have all of these objects and space to create the mix and the mix has to be created differently. 

One of the reasons why we won this prestigious award with the Academy is myself as the producer, George Massenburg, and Eric Schilling as the mixers, and Michael Romanowski as the mastering engineer, we really dove into the depth of using 360 audio mixings.  We were able to evolve by not having to stay close to the stereo mix.  

How did your creative partnership with Alicia grow over the years? 

So it started very small and we incremented up. I got to record and work on the Diary of Alicia Keys album. After the album was released, we traveled the world. The end of 2003 is when she bought her own musical playground, Oven Studios. And the rest is history for us. We started in her basement studio; each year we evolved as the industry twisted and turned.

What I love most is I was a gearhead and she was a gearhead. Alicia loved technology.  I loved technology and fast-forward to today I'm heavily involved with our digital strategies. Like how do we convert social media followers to customers? How can we partner with companies like Native Instruments, iZotope, and SoundCloud? 

We have a piano plugin with Native Instruments. It's 12 years old, which demonstrates that we are very much ahead of the technology. There's nothing that we don't do together, whether it's a big ad by Amazon, or me suggesting to the GRAMMYs that Alicia hosts. We really work on music together in the studio and out. This allows us to consider how we make the music reach far and wide, and we always find ways to push each other and help each other grow. 

What does this most recent GRAMMY win for Alicia mean to you?

To be recognized by your peers in this way is pretty amazing. Especially because of this important technology… and the fact that I produced each song. It's much harder to keep the integrity of the mixes because there are 10 different mixers, mixing the stereo versions, and there are 10 different producers. So I was tasked with keeping the artist's vision of each song, and making sure we can evolve the mixes into the immersive format while maintaining the integrity of the mix, so it's a hybrid. 

I don’t think there are many people who won a GRAMMY for producing engineering, and I will go on to say that there are not many women who won a GRAMMY for producing and engineering. 

What would you say has been your biggest obstacle navigating the music industry as a woman?

I think the biggest obstacle overall in the music industry is women are placed under a microscope. In my experience, I haven’t been prohibited because I am a woman, but I had to really work hard. And not that I didn't want to. It’s just guys can be mediocre and get further in the business, but as a woman, you know you're really being judged.

What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to be an engineer?

I would say just focus on being good and you’ll gain the respect in the room. Studying and working hard is what's going to allow you to stand out. That's how I pushed through the industry. 

You have to know that you really want to do this. You have to know that it's not glamorous. A lot of times on social media, It's like, “look at me. I'm in a studio.” But when it comes down to it, do you know your stuff beyond Instagram? You have to be competitive and you have to study. I believe if the focus is on being great, the women will outshine the men. 

Meet Sherri Chung, The Score Composer Shaking Up The Television Academy

Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series

Alicia Keys

Photo by Isabel Infantes/PA Images via Getty Images

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Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series

The artist will take her upcoming 'More Myself: A Journey' biography on a four-city book tour

GRAMMYs/Mar 5, 2020 - 04:07 am

After performing her powerhouse piano medley at the 62nd Annual GRAMMYs, R&B superstar, GRAMMY-winning artist and former GRAMMY’s host Alicia Keys has revealed that she will set out on a four-stop book tour next month. The storytelling tour will support her forthcoming book More Myself: A Journey, which is slated for a March 31 release via Flatiron Books and is reported to feature stories and music from the book, told and performed by Alicia and her piano, according to a statement.

Part autobiography, part narrative documentary, Keys' title is dubbed in its description as an "intimate, revealing look at one artist’s journey from self-censorship to full expression."  You can pre-order the title here.

The book tour will kick off with a March 31 Brooklyn stop at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. From there, Keys will visit Atlanta’s Symphony Hall on April 5 and Chicago’s Thalia Hall with Chicago Ideas the following day, April 6. The short-run will culminate on April 7 in Los Angeles at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

Pre-sales for the tour are underway and public on-sale will begin on Friday, March 6 at 12 p.m. Eastern Time. Tickets for the intimate dates and full release dates and times are available here.

Keys won her first five career awards at the 44th Annual GRAMMYs in 2002. On the night, she received awards in the Best New Artists, Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance categories respectively. She has received a total of 29 nominations and 15 GRAMMYs in her career.

This year, Keys will also embark on a world tour in support of Alicia, the artist’s upcoming seventh studio album and the follow up of 2016’s Here, due out March 20 via RCA Records.

John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018

John Lennon

Photo: Ron Howard/Redferns

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John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018

With hits from Leonard Cohen, the Byrds, Nina Simone, and more, find the motivation for a brand-new you this New Year

GRAMMYs/Jan 4, 2018 - 11:12 pm

Each New Year offers the opportunity for a fresh new start, whether you're looking to wash away the sins of the previous year or reinvent a better future that follows your ultimate dreams. Starting over isn't an easy task, but we have one recommendation that will help motivate you: music.

Don't be a fuddy duddy. Kick-start 2018 with this playlist of seven songs all about starting over, including hits from John Lennon, the Byrds, Sting, and Alicia Keys, among others.

1. The Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

Starting with its lyrics, "To everything (turn, turn, turn)/There is a season," this GRAMMY Hall Of Fame classic is a great reminder that everything is always changing anyway, so now is as good a time as any to give something new a chance. The composition was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, but the lyrics come almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. The song didn't hit it big until the Byrds got their turn at it in 1965. Reportedly, it took Roger McGuinn & Co. 78 takes to perfect their folk-rock arrangement.

2. Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"

GRAMMY winner Leonard Cohen had a knack for poetry powerful enough to move mountains, and his "Anthem" is one such gem. This 1992 tune about embracing imperfection and marching forward in the face of adversity contains one of Cohen's most-quoted lines: "Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." And we'll leave you with one final line from the master that encapsulates starting over: "The birds they sing, at the break of day/Start again, I heard them say/Don't dwell on what has passed away/Or what is yet to be."

3. Gil Scott-Heron, "I'm New Here"

Taken from his 2010 album of the same name, "I'm New Here" came near the end of Gil Scott-Heron's storied life. The album saw Scott-Heron, according to Drowned In Sound's Robert Ferguson, "pick over the bones of his life, acknowledging the hard times and his own mistakes, but standing proud of all they have led him to become." Embodying this sentiment accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Scott-Heron's bluesy, semi-spoken "I'm New Here" brings out the poignancy of change. Its key lyric, "No matter how far wrong you've gone/You can always turn around," is something to keep in mind year-round, let alone January.

4. Alicia Keys, "Brand New Me"

Alicia Keys went full bore on the empowering messages of her 2012 album, Girl On Fire —  the Best R&B Album winner at the 56th GRAMMY Awards — including the track, "Brand New Me." Co-written with singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé, the soft pop/R&B ballad describes growing as a person and becoming a brand-new version of yourself. "Brand new me is about the journey it takes to get to a place where you are proud to be a new you," Keys wrote on her website at the time of the song's release.

5. John Lennon, "(Just Like) Starting Over"

A quintessential start-anew song, former Beatle John Lennon included "(Just Like) Starting Over" on his GRAMMY-winning 1980 album, Double Fantasy. "(Just Like) Starting Over" was the album's first single because Lennon felt it best represented his return following a five-year hiatus from music. It's also a love song, but the theme of starting over has a universal resonance "It's time to spread our wings and fly/Don't let another day go by my love/It'll be just like starting over." It became Lennon's second chart-topping single in the U.S., reaching No. 1 after his death on Dec. 8, 1980.

6. Nina Simone, "Feeling Good"

"It's a new dawn/It's a new day/It's a new life for me/I'm feelin' good." Could you ask for better lyrics for embarking on a new journey? Nina Simone recorded her version of "Feeling Good," which was originally written for the musical "The Roar Of The Greasepaint — The Smell Of The Crowd," on her 1965 album I Put A Spell On You. While artists such as Michael Bublé, John Coltrane, George Michael, and Muse subsequently covered it, no alternative is quite as powerful — or soulful — as Simone's.

7. Sting, "Brand New Day"

Sting's "Brand New Day" has a lesson for inspiring motivation to start the New Year with fresh eyes: "Turn the clock to zero, buddy/Don't wanna be no fuddy-duddy/We started up a brand new day." The bright, catchy pop tune and its namesake 1999 album resonated with fans, landing it at No. 9 on the Billboard 200. The track (and album) earned Sting GRAMMYs — Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Album — at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards.

What's Your New Year's Music Resolution?

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Stars Align On Capitol Hill

Music at presidential inaugurations provides entertainment and unifying moments of patriotism

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(On Jan. 21 President Barack Obama will be inaugurated into his second term as president of the United States with a celebration in Washington, D.C., featuring performances by GRAMMY winners Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Brad Paisley, Usher, and Stevie Wonder, among others. This feature is taken from the fall 2012 issue of GRAMMY magazine and offers a brief history of notable musical performances at past presidential inaugurations.) 

Being elected the leader of the free world is a pretty good reason to strike up the band. Ever since George Washington first danced a celebratory minuet after his inauguration in 1789, music has played an ever-increasing role in the gala events surrounding presidential inaugurations.

In 1801 Thomas Jefferson had the U.S. Marines band play him along as he made his way from the Capitol to the White House after taking the oath of office. James and Dolley Madison threw the first official inaugural ball in 1809. Jumping to the 20th century, in 1977 Jimmy Carter invited such music luminaries as John Lennon and Yoko Ono to his inaugural ball and allowed rock and roll — or at least the Southern rock variety — to become a part of his inauguration backdrop when he invited the Marshall Tucker Band and the Charlie Daniels Band to share a concert bill with Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians. (Lombardo's group was something of an inauguration ball house band, having played for seven presidents.) 

Today, inaugurations are presented as both massive public live events and televised productions, complete with a concert featuring a roster of star talent. The musical performances at inaugurations not only provide entertainment, they also help set the tone for a new presidency and bring the country together in a unifying moment of patriotism over partisanship.

"It wasn't about one side or the other. We just had this overwhelming feeling of being proud to be American," recalls Ronnie Dunn, formerly of the GRAMMY-winning duo Brooks & Dunn. He and then-partner Kix Brooks performed their hit "Only In America" at a concert as part of George W. Bush's first inauguration in 2001.

"Right away you could feel it was an emotionally charged crowd, and when you're standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking across to the Washington Monument, you can't help but tear up a little," says Brooks. "I remember there was this chaos during the big encore when all the musicians and all the presidential VIPs were onstage together. I turned around and there's Colin Powell shaking my hand. It turned into one of the wildest photo ops ever because all the music people and all the political people were pulling their cameras out to take pictures of each other."

One of the most memorable unions of political and musical star power at an inaugural gala occurred in 1993, when a reunited Fleetwood Mac performed "Don't Stop," a hit from their GRAMMY-winning album Rumours, for President-elect Bill Clinton. Clinton had used "Don't Stop" as the theme song to his presidential campaign, but the payoff live performance almost didn't happen.

"At that point we were as broken up as we'd ever been," says Stevie Nicks. "When our management received the request for us to play, they said, 'No.' I heard about that and thought to myself, 'I don't want to be 90, looking back and trying to remember why my group couldn't play the president's favorite song for him.' I told management to let me handle it." 

Nicks successfully coaxed her bandmates into a one-night, one-song reunion, a performance she remembers as truly exceptional.

"For one thing we'd never seen security like that," she says. "The Secret Service makes rock and roll security feel like a bunch of grade school hall monitors. But the performance felt really important. It felt like we were a part of history, and that the song itself was becoming a piece of American history. It was a fantastic night in all of our lives, and I'm really glad the band was able to come together for that one."

The Beach Boys played Ronald Reagan's second inauguration after a somewhat confused relationship with the White House. The band had headlined a series of Fourth of July concerts at the National Mall until 1983, when U.S. Secretary of the Interior James Watt accused the group of attracting "the wrong element" and booked Wayne Newton in their place. Watt later apologized, and the Beach Boys were reinstated and invited to play Reagan's inaugural gala in 1985.

"What I remember most about that night is that I got to meet Elizabeth Taylor," says Jerry Schilling, the band's then-manager. "But I also remember being extremely proud of the group. Things had been hard for Brian [Wilson], and the group wasn't always getting along. But they stood there together in front of the president and sang perfect five-part a capella harmony on 'Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring.' It was a big moment — we all felt that. It wasn't just another gig. The guys were truly honored to be there and they brought it when it mattered."

A new musical standard for inaugural events may have been established in 2009 when Barack Obama's presidency was kicked off with the "We Are One" concert. The patriotic spectacular featured a who's who of performers ranging from Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and U2 to Usher, Sheryl Crow and will.i.am. An all-star lineup usually adds an all-star production element, but this particular concert was unique.

"Dealing with top artists, there's usually a lot of negotiating," says Don Mischer, one of the concert's producers, whose list of credits also includes Super Bowl halftime shows and Olympics ceremonies. "Who needs a private jet? How much does their 'glam squad' cost? What kind of security do they need? Putting together 'We Are One,' we said to every artist, 'This is a historical moment we'd love for you to be a part of, but you have to pay your own way and take care of your own security.' Right away, people like Beyoncé and Bono and Springsteen and Stevie Wonder all said, 'Yes.' They wanted to be there. There was a true camaraderie right from the start, and it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences any of us have ever had."

While Washington's minuet may have simply been a matter of dancing, Mischer says music has become as powerful a symbol of America as any other part of Inauguration Day.

"When you bring the music and the significance of an event like this together, it really reflects the strength of our cultural diversity and the strength of our country," he says. "In fact, at times when we seem to be going through confrontational political campaigns, I wish we would listen to the music a little more."

(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)

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FYI/TMI: Stars Come Together For Hurricane Sandy, Justin Bieber Breaks The Law

Alicia Keys, Paul McCartney among performers for Sandy benefit; Bieber gets ticketed in L.A.

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(In an effort to keep you fully informed, and fully entertained, below we present today's FYI and TMI — news you need and news that's, well, sometimes needless….)

FYI …

More Stars Come Together For Hurricane Sandy
GRAMMY winners Jon Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Alicia Keys, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and Kanye West, and legendary rockers Roger Waters and the Who will perform at a benefit concert for Hurricane Sandy on Dec. 12 in New York. Proceeds from the concert will benefit the Robin Hood Relief Fund to aid hurricane victims.

SoundExchange Reports 3Q Royalty Payments
Performance rights organization SoundExchange distributed $122.5 million in royalty payments during the third quarter of 2012, marking the organization's largest quarterly payout since its founding in 2000, according to Billboard.biz. SoundExchange has distributed $326.9 million in performance royalties for the year to date, bringing the organization's grand payout total to $1.2 billion since 2000.

TMI …

Bieber Breaks The Law
As if Justin Bieber's recent trouble in love wasn't hard enough for the 18-year-old, the teen pop sensation has now run into some trouble with law enforcement. Bieber was ticketed by Los Angeles police on Nov. 13 after he was pulled over in his Ferrari in West Hollywood, Calif., for making an unsafe left turn. On top of that, cops found his registration was expired. Hopefully now there's one less unsafe driver on the road.