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Ann Mincieli

Producer, Engineer & Studio Owner By Sam Inglis
Published September 2023

Ann Mincieli playing guitar at Sanctuary Studios in the Bahamas.Ann Mincieli playing guitar at Sanctuary Studios in the Bahamas.Photo: Cheryl Fleming Photography

After rising through the vibrant New York studio scene of the ’90s, Ann Mincieli developed a 25‑year partnership with the biggest R&B star of the 21st Century, and now has her own state‑of‑the‑art Manhattan studio.

“She’s the female version of Prince!” says Ann Mincieli of Alicia Keys. “If you listen to the production on her records, it’s cross‑genre. You might hear a distorted Wurli. You might hear a distorted Moog, and John Mayer comes up to her and goes, ‘Hey, how did you make that guitar tone? It sounds just like Prince on “Purple Rain”!’ and she goes: ‘It’s not a guitar. It’s my Moog going through a distortion pedal and an amp.’

“I realised that the type of engineer I wanted to be, where we’re painting a sonic picture on each record, was the type of producer Alicia was. So that’s why we started to work together, and grow together. I wanted to be constantly evolving, getting into the depths of engineering.”

No Formula

Keys and Mincieli have been growing together across more than two decades and an incredible amount of recorded music — far more than has ever seen the light of day, in fact. “We start with a blank piece of paper for each album, and for some albums we do 240 songs, 90 songs. Each album is a journey, and sometimes it evolves so that by the end it’s completely different than what her vision was, but that’s the beauty of her.

“You sell millions and millions of records and you’re the biggest‑selling R&B act of the millennium, but also you want to continue to grow musically. I feel like years ago, artists did that more, like your David Bowies and your Led Zeppelins. Now it’s just like this formula where you’re told: this won’t work on streaming, you got to do a radio edit, you can’t have a guitar solo any more, it won’t get played on radio. It takes away from what we really subconsciously love about music, which is musicians getting in a room and just playing and making magic.

“We had a good guitar player in recently and he’s like, ‘But I played the first hook. Can’t you just copy and paste it to the other hooks?’ and she’s like, ‘No, we want you to play it down, that way we get the human element and feel of how you play. It is not the same each time.’ Your eight‑bar loop might be an eight‑bar loop, but it drifts within the eight bars. Every bar might be a little bit of a different tempo and that’s fine. That’s how she works.

“She has no rules, which is the beauty of it. Ninety‑nine percent of the time, she’ll never take a track that’s pulled up on a hard drive that someone has brought in. it’s about making these songs from scratch and collaborating, and you got to be able to play with her and rock with her. So, a lot of times you do need musical chops. You can’t just be copying and pasting and fake your way through it because she loves to arrange, if you listen to her songs. On two songs we worked on with Emeli Sandé, called ‘Not Even The King’ and ‘101’, those are one take. What we captured — even the delay throws — is the take that’s going on the record. So I have to make sure I have these magnet mics by DPA in the piano and I can close the lid. And the bleed is controlled, I can have some control over my piano mics. My EQ on them is that the voice ain’t bleeding into them!”

Ann Mincieli has worked closely with Alicia Keys for more than two decades.Ann Mincieli has worked closely with Alicia Keys for more than two decades.Photo: Cheryl Fleming Photography


A part of Mincieli’s role with Keys is as an enabler, creating an environment that allows the artist to go wherever inspiration takes her. “She has 15 keyboards set up, no matter where we work around the world. We go to Peter Gabriel’s studio [Real World] in Bath and spend three weeks there. We ship all our gear, take a day to set up, we have two assistants that travel with us. She has her own Pro Tools rig that loads up all her sounds and all of her virtual synths, and I have my rig; this way, she can load all her sounds and I could be loading a song up. We don’t have to clash, we can be working independently. Then all her libraries aren’t on my rig, taking up all the space — because the sound library is huge. And that’s how we roll.

“And she has old keyboards from Mellotrons to Jupiter‑8s... We might not travel with those, but we definitely will travel with the newer version of a Mellotron. We might take our Juno‑106s, our Juno‑60s, all of our Dave Smith Prophet Six, Prophet 10, Prophet X, all of that stuff. We load everything up on a console. We route it into my Pro Tools. And then she sits and programs by herself. She uses the [Akai] MPC, she uses [Native Instruments] Battery, and she sits and she programs and sometimes she’s in a room by herself. We leave and she has the freedom to write in there, so she walks around and is playing and experimenting. And then when she needs us, she’ll say ‘Hey I want to record this!’

“She used to sequence a lot of her keyboards in her Pro Tools rig. But now she’s like, ‘I just play this one time and it’s recorded. Why do I even need a sequencer?’ There’s something about her swing even that these sequencers can’t mimic, even if she wants a quantise. So she just plays her stuff down.

“And then there are times where she starts off on a piano, and she plays to a click. And her tempo drifts even though you’re playing to a click, right? She’s a human. So I have to then go in and mark every bar and make the click track rise and fall. And her piano is really dictating the tempo. Then the drummer will come in and he’ll play to the same swing because the click will rise and fall. Every bar. When it becomes a problem is if I don’t make a tempo map. Then the Pro Tools click is just staying on one tempo, and the feel of the music is slightly off. So that’s why it’s important for me to make a tempo map.”

Life School

Keeping up with such a freewheeling, varied approach to production requires some pretty serious engineering chops, which Ann Mincieli gained the old‑fashioned way. “I started at a studio named Marathon, and then a studio named Skyline in New York, which was really a popular space in place in the early ’90s. I started as an intern, and I worked there for nine months, and I would work there on weekends because I was so young — I wasn’t even graduated at high school. When I did graduate I was what we call the general assistant at the time. I worked my way up from being an intern in 1993; I started there and then at Right Track Recording, which was an amazing facility. And I got my whole foundation at those studios in ’93 and ’94.

“I went on to go work with François Kevorkian at Axis Studios, which was a big turning point for me, because he was very on to what was coming next. I was learning Pro Tools, which was Sound Tools back then, and Logic Audio, which was a MIDI sequencer back then when no‑one knew what it was. I tried to pick all these stepping stones for myself.

“I went to Quad Studios in ’95, became a staff engineer, and I was there for seven years, working with some of the biggest artists there from Metallica to Bon Jovi to Blue Man Group to Mariah Carey. I learned a lot from her engineer, Dana Jon Chappelle, and Tony Maserati, and I really figured out what I wanted to do in the industry. And I learned about the art of engineering. Quad was an important place; they were the first studio to have the 9000 J‑Series console from SSL. So, I feel like I grew up on Solid State Logic. We went to England for four weeks and learned this new SSL because it was such a learning curve from the G and the G+. So yeah, that’s kind of my history — and Quad was where I met a young writer named Alicia Keys, in 1998.

“We had a producer named David Collins at Quad who was using Cubase and Logic and Pro Tools way before anyone else. And then I worked a lot with Luther Vandross and Courtney Love. I was with Michael Beinhorn on this nine‑month session where we were transferring vocals in and out of Pro Tools way before anyone knew what Pro Tools was. And I really learned about bit depth and bits and sample rates and clocking.”

Ann Mincieli: I always remembered a studio manager telling me: 'Be so good that they’re gonna request you when they come back'. So, that was my mentality: just be good and it won’t matter if you’re male, if you’re female, if you’re young, if you’re old.

Be Good

The young Ann Mincieli’s drive to succeed didn’t just push her to learn new tools and techniques. She also understood the value of going the extra mile for clients. “I really worked hard at just trying to be better than the rest. I played sports my whole life and I was very competitive and I always felt like if you can outwork and out‑compete and outperform, you’re not gonna have much competition. At Quad we had seven rooms. We had 13 assistants. But I always did the little things, and clients would request me. And every time a big artist would come in, everyone would fight for the gigs, but I would get the gig — because you have to be good at the little things.

“I would be able to pull up a whole recall from Tony Maserati, use my ears, and recall every channel. Sometimes there’s 40 or 50 pieces of gear, and there’s no plug‑ins, right? There’s a hundred‑input SSL you are recalling. So there’s lots of notes. I learned a lot from François Kevorkian and his studio, because a lot of mixing went on there, and he had really great assistants who documented that stuff — and documented, back in the day, was writing it down. Insert points? What was on the busses? What was on the sends? The SSL took your recall, but then it was up to you to write all the information. What are your calibrations on your DATs? What are your calibrations on your half‑inches? What are your calibrations on your 3348, right? And I would be able to pull those recalls up even from other studios when they rented gear. An LA‑2A at Quad and an LA‑2A from Right Track might be two different‑sounding units. Even if you have all the notes, you got to be able to use your ears, listen to the effects, the returns: is it loud enough? So I learned all that, and was able to use that to my advantage.

“I always remembered a studio manager telling me: 'Be so good that they’re gonna request you when they come back'. And Quad had a lot of repeated customers, and I would get requested, sometimes by two sessions at once. So, that was my mentality: just be good and it won’t matter if you’re male, if you’re female, if you’re young, if you’re old, whatever it is won’t matter.”

Jungle City Studios occupies both penthouses in a split Manhattan tower block. This is the Penthouse West live room.Jungle City Studios occupies both penthouses in a split Manhattan tower block. This is the Penthouse West live room.Photo: Ramon Rivas @ramonrecords

Welcome To The Jungle

Many of the great New York studios, including some of those in which Ann Mincieli learned her trade, are now closed, victims of a real‑estate boom and the downturn that hit the recording business in the 2000s. So it raised eyebrows when, in 2010, Mincieli decided to build a high‑end studio in Manhattan. “It was at a time where the industry hit a low. All the studios were closing, streaming was taking over, everyone didn’t know where the future of the industry was going to go. And here I was in full‑blown construction mode!”

The control room at Jungle City Penthouse East. Visible lower right is the studio’s vintage EMI TG‑series console.The control room at Jungle City Penthouse East. Visible lower right is the studio’s vintage EMI TG‑series console.Photo: Ramon Rivas @ramonrecords

It was a brave call, but against some expectations, Jungle City has flourished. Indeed, the whole studio industry is now much healthier than appeared possible at that time, and Mincieli is often called upon as a consultant for other high‑end projects. Amongst other things, she’s Studio Director of the stunning Sanctuary Studios in the Bahamas, and has worked with Sony to develop in‑house studios in key cities such as New York, LA and Nashville.

The gorgeous main live room at Sanctuary Studios in the Bahamas.The gorgeous main live room at Sanctuary Studios in the Bahamas.Photo: Cheryl Fleming Photography

Mincieli realised that when New York studios were going under in the early 2000s, it wasn’t simply a matter of rising rents and falling income. Often, their business model had left them tied into long‑term financial arrangements that left them vulnerable. “The business plans behind a lot of the old studios was where I didn’t want to make the mistake, which was leasing a space for 30 or 40 years and not owning it, which was leasing consoles and gear and not owning it. And then it takes you 30 years to pay off a lease, and then you don’t even own it. I didn’t want to do that. I bought my gear with cash.

“My family invested with me, which was my sister and her partner. They both worked at Met Life at the time, and my sister found the location, which 13 years later is in the heart of Hudson Yards and the High Line. It’s not in the middle of Times Square. It’s not in the middle of tourist land. There’s a lot of art galleries around.

“I wanted everything about my studio to throw you back to what studios really were. I wanted the staff, the seven‑star hotel type mentality, that I learned from Rose from Record Plant and Troy Germano and Hit Factory. I really wanted to create the modern‑day Motown. I didn’t want to take any shortcuts. It started with the location and it being a place for inspiration. I could have leased a cheap space and put 10 studios in it, but I wanted quality over quantity. I wanted to be a destination.”

Jungle City’s policy is to have the best of everything!Jungle City’s policy is to have the best of everything!Photo: Cheryl Fleming Photography

The Learning Curve

Mincieli sees the current renaissance of the studio business as an opportunity for some young engineers to receive the kind of comprehensive, on‑the‑job training that she got back in the early ’90s. She recognises the value in colleges and universities that teach recording and production, but says that education alone can’t equip someone to be a great engineer. “You need to learn protocols, you need to learn technically what it takes to run a session and a facility, You’re not getting all of that. The schools do a great job of changing the curriculums, because kids coming out now even at some of these high‑end schools, they don’t want to learn an instrument, they want to learn Ableton and they want to learn how to be a better DJ. It’s changing before our eyes, and a lot of them come out now as producers.

“And at some of the studios now, it’s very easy to set up, right? You can just set a microphone up, route the music to the headphones, and that’s the most you’re gonna learn. I go to schools and they want to learn Auto‑Tune. They want to learn Melodyne. And it’s like: you need to learn the whole foundation of how to build a house before you put the shingles on! There’s a whole foundation that you’re not learning, and I believe in the depth of engineering. And when you work at Jungle, there’s many different types of sessions that are coming in. You’re gonna have many different types of encounters. Whether it’s Depeche Mode, setting up, three days of modular synths, to another client bringing in two‑inch tape and locking up tape machines. It’s a depth to the engineering and assisting roles.

“I work on an initiative, too, with Sony Music. Rob Stringer put a committee together to have studios for each label and in each flagship location. I put those studios together for Sony, and it’s a way to keep the community going. How are kids coming out of school gonna be able to learn if they’re just in their bedrooms? They need to connect to be part of our industry. So I’m glad that more facilities are opening. I’m part of the hiring process in some of the locations, and I’m really proud to hire people and keep the community going. So that’s my goal: to keep the music studio community going.

“Being great means a lot of discipline. I took my career really seriously when I was young. When some of those guys were out partying, I was at home going to bed because I had a session next day. I was so passionate about this industry, and I still am to this day. I’m married to this industry. It’s all I know and love.  

The Key To Perfect Vocal Takes

No matter what genre Alicia Keys is pursuing, one thing that’s always front and centre is her voice. Asked if she has a set way of tracking this unique instrument, Ann Mincieli’s answer is thoughtful. “She uses several mics depending on the vibe and the sonic of the song. For starters we use a [Shure] SM7; no matter where we are around the world, you can put that mic up at any keyboard setup and she can get ideas out, and obviously there’s no bleed. If you solo an SM7 vocal track, you won’t hear much bleed, but you do have to raise your mic pre up high. It’s a dynamic mic and I think the magnetic field is very small on it, but it’s amazing. And you saw everyone, from Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson, on those mics back in the day. I use the foam filter and keep everything flat.

“I also use a vintage [Telefunken ELA M] 251, and then I have an M16 that was designed by Telefunken USA. It’s a $1200 mic and I know there’s many variations of it right now, but we have a prototype that they made. She uses that as well. And there’s similar microphones out there that are 1200 bucks till this day, and it’s an amazing mic. And we use a [Sony] C800G.

“She loves textures, so she might use a different mic on backgrounds for textures, and a different mic on her lead. I think it depends on the key of her song; if she’s in a key and it’s pushing and it’s squeezing her tone, then I might not be on her M16. I just have to figure out the range and the key of the song. I’ve had her on a [Shure] Beta 58 in the control room, like she’ll be singing, and vibing because she’s writing, and then I wound up keeping some of that as a take. I see a lot of artists doing that since the pandemic, too. Sometimes you have to roll with it. It’s less about like, ‘Hey, this might not be proper right now!’ but you know what? It’s working.”

She Is The Music

Like many successful engineers and producers, Ann Mincieli takes her responsibility to help and mentor other talented people very seriously. As well as recruiting young engineers for Jungle City and other studios around the world, she’s also set up a non‑profit dedicated to helping women succeed in the business. “Myself, Alicia Keys, Jody Gerson and Sam Kirby decided to make an organisation about helping women in all facets of the music industry. So check that out: We wanted to flip the numbers and every week and every day we’re pushing and creating opportunities for women in our space at a global level.”