How Grammy & Latin Grammy award-winning Engineer created two Elvis Costello albums completely remotely

Berklee graduate and Grammy & Latin Grammy award-winning Engineer Vago Galindo takes us into the entire remote creation process for Elvis Costello’s albums ‘The Boy Named If’ and ‘The Resurrection of Rust’, touching upon the importance of education for aspiring producers and his time in the film and voiceover industries.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your past projects?

Well, I’m a music producer and engineer. My name is Daniel, but I go by my nickname Vago, which is ‘vagabond’ in Spanish. I’m based in LA and I work with a lot of Latin acts. But I also work with Elvis Costello and have got two Grammy’s working with Juanes. 

For me, it’s surreal because I’m working with bands and artists I’ve listened to since I was really young. Now I’m sending them memes and stuff which is crazy.

I started as a recording engineer and then kind of turned into a mixer. In the past, four or five years, I’ve started working with this amazing producer, who is now my manager called Sebastian Krys. I started working with him and he guided me towards producing as well as mixing, “if he’s telling me to produce, I guess he must have a point.”

You’re a graduate from Berklee College of Music and have mentioned the relationship you’ve built with Sebastian Krys. How important would you say education and building those relationships are to your career? 

It’s definitely been an absolute game changer. With music, you don’t really need a background in education. But what you really do need is the friendships and relationships that you get to make somewhere like Berklee. One of my old teachers is now the co-president of The Recording Academy. Before it was my teacher and I could be like “Hey, I have this question.” Now, I’m texting the co-president of The Recording Academy.

I did this five-week summer programme at Berklee. Once that finished I just knew I needed to be there. Even looking back now, I did that Summer programme in 2010, my dearest and best friends are from that summer programme. It’s surreal.

You built connections that lasted the test of time.

Exactly! And if you’re in a place like London, Boston or LA, you get to meet people from all around the world. You get to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures.   

You worked on the last two Elvis Costello albums ‘The Boy Named If’ and ‘The Resurrection of Rust’ completely remotely across 2020 and 2021. Can you tell us more about that?

Of course! I also worked on ‘Hey Clockface’ before that too. This was at the beginning of the pandemic so it’s all a bit of a blur. The thing with working with Elvis is that he’s always writing music. We just had a session, maybe a few months ago and he’ll be like “I wrote two songs this morning” and it’ll be 9am and I’ll have spent the morning watching TikTok videos. The guy doesn’t stop!

With ‘Hey Clockface’, he recorded in Paris, but we finished it up through Zoom and Audiomovers. I’ve known Igor (co-founder of Audiomovers) since about 2018 and he told me about it. The funny thing is initially I was like “I don’t see this working” and then he totally proved me wrong!

But yeah, Sebastian Krys, he’d been working with Elvis Costello for a while, so we started working very closely together in 2020. Then the pandemic hit and Elvis was like “how do we finish this album? We need to figure this out.” So we thought “we’re in lockdown, there’s nothing else we can be doing, may as well finish the album.” 

“Elvis Costello was in Vancouver, then Steve (keys) was in France and Pete (drummer) and Davey (bass) were in LA. It would’ve been impossible without Audiomovers”

I don’t think Elvis had a recording rig before this process. We had to start from the beginning and set him and the drummer, Pete, up with everything. We had to start with the fundamentals of how to plug the microphone in and which cable to use. Then there was the process of installing Pro Tools and talking about Zoom. 

The funny thing is that I sometimes do voiceover recordings and dubs, which can be really cool. I got to work on Pokemon, but they all use a different type of software. I could see how much people were struggling to make it work and immediately knew it wasn’t the solution for the Elvis album. With Audiomovers, you just put the plugin on the master bus and you’re good to go. 

How much of the process was done with LISTENTO?

I believe it was all of it, except the mastering process. The way we did it is that we used Teamviewer to control the guys’ computers. For the ‘The Boy Named If’ that was all Zoom, Teamviewer and LISTENTO. I would be in my house, Sebastian would be listening in from his studio and Elvis or one of the Imposters would be playing. I’d also be controlling his computer from my house, monitoring the session through LISTENTO. That was the process throughout most of the recording process. 

Even now when we’re doing mix revisions for projects, we’ll hop on Zoom and I’ll send a LISTENTO streaming link. Anyone can listen to it in their preferred space, on their preferred speakers. It just makes things so much easier. Even now with Sebastian, we’re both in LA, but we’re both listening in our own studios, it saves so much time. 

It has definitely accelerated our process for mixing and even recording and producing. We can throw ideas around and get an immediate reaction. It makes decision-making so much easier.  

What was your setup for these sessions? Did you use the LISTENTO plugins or the standalone application?

I usually just add the plugin to the master track on Pro Tools. On every mix I do, the last plugin is always LISTENTO. Even if I’m working on my own, I have friends that I send a link to for feedback. Like one of my friends is a producer in Argentina. So we’re always checking each other’s mixes and giving each other feedback through LISTENTO. It’s just great because you don’t have to bounce out the track and send it. 

Even for songwriting sessions that I’ve done, we’ve used it and it’s very convenient. If you want to take a second to work on an idea alone and flesh it out, you can just press mute and keep working on it without wearing headphones. You can be working on the arrangement, whilst the other person is working on the lyrics and melody. Then you just jump back on and share your ideas.

There’s another band that I work with from Mexico called Wiplash that I’ve been working with quite a lot. They’re between like 18 and 20 years old. But because they started in the pandemic, so we’ve always done everything through LISTENTO. So for them, it’s normal, but it still completely blows my mind!

How did your experience working remotely compare to working in person?

I love working in person, I don’t think I have any cons with that. But I’ve got to say the magic of working remotely is that I can work on so many things on the same day with different people, which is insane. I can go from recording vocals, then hopping on another call for a mixing session and then hopping on another call for a songwriting session. Obviously, this isn’t possible when you’re working in person.

At one point, me and another producer were working on an album whilst I was in Mexico. We were brainstorming and tracking ideas and I was sending ideas through the LISTENTO plugin and he was receiving them through the LISTENTO receiver and recording them into his DAW. Some of the parts we recorded in those sessions stayed in the final recording. There was one part where we want a super lo-fi guitar, so we put the stream on the lowest quality possible and streamed it this way to create that effect. 

That’s awesome! So you’ve also worked in the film industry as an engineer for movie soundtracks. How would you compare working in the film industry and the music industry?

They’re definitely different. In the film industry, there are way more people involved in the process. For example, in music, you do an album and it’s like, maybe just the artist and producer and sometimes the label will have their A&R or management listening in. That’s it. 

In a movie. There’s like, five producers, there’s the director, I’ve had dancers giving me edits to make. I also feel in music there’s still a very artistic side to it. Like I was saying earlier with us creating that lo-fi guitar, there’s still this very esoteric, artsy element to it. And I feel like, with films, it’s more like, “we’ve got to make this work”. 

With having to get approval from so many people, do you ever get conflicting feedback on your work?

Yeah, there’s definitely that side of it! But it’s also really cool because you’re working with a way bigger team of literally hundreds of people. You know, you start this song on your own in your room and then you see 50 dancers dancing to it and it blows your mind! Like you’ve added a stab that influenced a particular turn or move.

The next level to that is you see the scene with your music in the final film and it’s like “Oh my god! It all comes from the music.

It must be a really cool feeling? 

Yeah, it’s surreal. I was working on a movie and moved to Mexico for like six months to record vocals and work with the other departments. That was the other thing about working with the other departments is that I had to talk about music in a way they understood. Like I could be talking about particular drum stabs and they’d be like “what are you talking about?” They’d call them ‘cues’ instead.

Even the way they counted music was different. The way dancers count music freaked me out. It made no sense to me.

It’s like you have to learn a whole new way to communicate 

Yeah, there was one song that was in 12/8 and I was counting it in counts of 3 because it was like a waltz. But they were counting it in 4’s. Because of this, we couldn’t communicate in terms of bars because our bar counts were different. 

Finally, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring engineers?

I think the one thing that has helped me a lot is being able to commit to things and finish them. We’ve all done that thing where we’ve written a song and never finished it and it stays in your demos. The other day I was going for a walk and was listening through to voice notes I’d done maybe 10 years ago. But yeah, there’s a lot to be said for just being able to get things done. It’s such a game changer.

It’s that whole thing: It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it just has to be finished. Right?

You’re totally right. Like there are a million ways of doing one song. But it has to come out eventually and I’m not saying it’s easy. Like you’ve worked on something and you have no idea how it sounds. This is where LISTENTO really comes in handy, because I can literally send something to somebody right on the spot and get immediate feedback. I never really think about how much I use it, but I use it every day.    

The other advice would be not to be afraid to show things to friends that you trust with their ears to get feedback. Even for recording or demoing, having someone else’s ears that you can test things on is invaluable. 

You can listen to ‘The Resurrection of Rust’ and ‘The Boy Named If’ on Spotify now.

Neil Dowd
Author: Neil Dowd