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Marco Mastrocola By Tom Flint
Published October 2001


Marco Mastrocola has a day job, a wife, a young baby and a mortgage, yet he still finds time to energetically pursue his passion: music. "I get up early in the morning to write music, stay up late at night writing music, use my weekends to write music, and my annual leave is spent making music," enthuses Marco. "I want to to build up my business as a freelance producer and composer so that eventually I can do the day job part‑time and find more time for writing. At the moment my day job pays the mortgage and the bills."

Marco's studio occupies one half of the living room in his newly‑purchased West London home. A box‑room upstairs has been turned into a vocal booth, and a collection of guitars, basses and percussion instruments is stored in various cupboard spaces around the house. At the core of the studio is an Intel Pentium III PC running a variety of software synths, samplers, plug‑ins and Emagic's Logic Audio Gold MIDI + Audio sequencer. Surrounding the computer system and lined up along the walls of the room are Marco's keyboards, upright piano, and other peripheral items of gear.

So far, the domestic working environment has proved ideal for his current projects, which largely consist of library music and film‑score commissions. There are some immediately obvious drawbacks to the home studio, though, the most obvious being the constant roar of planes passing overhead on their way to and from Heathrow. The regular clatter of trains on the line just behind Marco's house is also a problem, and recording with mics requires the shutting of all windows and doors. However, the greatest difficulties arise inside the house, where Marco's wife and young baby have to put up with their home being used as a recording studio. Marco insists the arangement is an amicable one.

"As long as the royalties keep coming in, my wife is happy for me to be writing music. She has seen me go from nowhere to where I am at the moment and she's seen the royalties get bigger, so she encourages me to keep writing. I like having my studio in the house because it has a nice friendly feel to it. If I get writer's block I can switch on the television and relax for 20 minutes.

"I've had vocalists set up in the hallway but the ambience wasn't right, so now I have a vocal booth in a small room upstairs. I've hung up a load of sheets to give the room nice acoustics. The laminated floor of my living room is alright for a control room but it's too reverberant for the vocal room so I've put down loads of bits of carpet. I've installed a security camera on my TV and there is another TV screen and security camera in the vocal room, so I can watch the vocalist and they can watch me. It makes things more personal. It wouldn't be ideal if the vocalist was up there for five hours and all they could do was hear me and I couldn't see what they were doing. I need to check that they haven't changed position between takes."

Educating Marco

Marco's instrument collection adds colour to sequenced compositions.Marco's instrument collection adds colour to sequenced compositions.

Having a well‑stocked home studio and employment as a composer/producer is a goal Marco has been working towards for a long time. "From the age of eight I took classical piano lessons, followed by less ons on bass, drums and guitar, although my bass playing is almost completely self‑taught," explains Marco. "I can play all those instruments to different levels but I'm mostly a bass player. All that education has come in useful. For example, being able to play the drums helps me achieve realistic sounds when I'm programming sequencers.

"I used to play in bands but I gave it up because I got fed up of the same old routine of playing in front of an audience of two people and not getting paid. That was seven years ago. At the time I was doing various part‑time jobs and teaching music for the Central London Youth Service."

Seeking a change of fortune, Marco decided to take a course in music technology and duly applied to the Thames Valley University to do a full‑time DipHE course. "I bluffed my way in there, really, by exaggerating how much technical knowledge I had," admits Marco. "I did have a bit of experience with sequencers but I hadn't done any hard‑disk recording or digital editing, and I hadn't really got into using Cubase either, so I was thrown in at the deep end. Once there I was able to get some hands‑on experience with their equipment and facilities. I spent as much time there as I could outside course hours.

"I had a great lecturer called Peter Stone who gave me lots of good advice and helped me a great deal. That course opened up a whole new world to me and I learnt everything I needed to get started. I achieved a high enough grade to be offered a place on a part‑time Master's Degree in music at Kingston University. So far I've finished one year, but the rest has been deferred because of a lack of money. The MA is based more on music theory and history than music technology, and it focuses on traditional ways of composing."

One of Marco's main assignments during his Thames Valley College course was to to put together a music library CD. The project was something Marco found particularly enjoyable, so on the advice of his tutor, the aforementioned Peter Stone, Marco decided to try to interest a publisher in his library work. At the time Marco's home setup consisted of an Atari computer running Steinberg's Pro 24 sequencer, a Yamaha DX7, a Roland TR505 drum machine and a four‑track cassette recorder — a setup which wasn't enough on its own to produce professional library music. Initially the facilities at college enabled him to get by: "At college we had a 16‑track tape machine, a main studio with three ADAT digital recorders, and all the mix studio facilities. When I left college I didn't have that, and for the first six months after college I was just employed part‑time doing crappy jobs, but then I found a job at Shepperton film studios as an audio engineer, so I started using their facilities when nobody was booked into the studio. That enabled me to put together some demos for my first publisher, Amphonic Music (see 'Writing for the Library' box).

"After that I had to invest in some more gear, so I bought my first PC and I started using Cubase VST. I tried audio recording as well as sequencing, but it crashed a lot on that PC, so I soon switched to Emagic Logic Audio. Logic worked fine, although having loads of audio tracks and using all the plug‑ins sapped the power of that PC, so I did loads of bouncing down on individual tracks to make it work. That PC now sits in the corner and runs software like Sonic Foundry's Acid, which is useful for making drum sounds and great for changing the tempo of loops. I also use Cubase on that PC from time to time, because I can load in and use soundfonts easily. Occasionally I use REX files, which require Cubase too."

Scoring A Job

Domestic bliss: using part of the living room in his house Marco turns out library music, scores the odd independent film, and generally works on plans for world domination.Domestic bliss: using part of the living room in his house Marco turns out library music, scores the odd independent film, and generally works on plans for world domination.

While still using his old PC, Marco managed to land himself the job of scoring for the underground Kung Fu film Draining Lizards. Marco explains how he got lucky.

"My sister's boyfriend had a role acting in the film and I asked him to pass one of my demo CDs to the director Mat Sunderland. About a month later he called me up and asked if he could use two pieces of music from the CD. I suggested to him that I compose some completely new music specifically for the film, and he was up for that. The deal was that I would make the music for the film for free and keep the publishing rights, so if the film got broadcast somewhere I would get the performance royalties. He was very happy with that.

"I discussed with the director over the phone what sort of thing he was looking for and he gave me an idea of the mood of certain scenes. He basically gave me the timing of things, how long in minutes and seconds the scenes were going to be. At this point I hadn't seen any pictures so I didn't know how it was going to fit.

"I went away and wrote a piece of music using hip‑hop loops and authentic Chinese and oriental sounds, chopped them up and fused them together with live guitars and basses — and it came together brilliantly. Eventually he gave me a rough cut of the film, which enabled me to play the music along to the pictures and edit more precisely. That was hard because I had no sync, so I was playing the video and timing it with a stop watch and deciding where things should change. Being hip‑hop it was very difficult, because I couldn't just change the tempo suddenly. It had to sound like one consistent tempo, so I was very careful to find spots within a bar of music to put the changes. He was constantly changing scenes, so I also had to change things around a lot. It took ages and it was a learning experience.

"I kept in touch with him and got to write music for his next film, which is a short called Money Trouble. Right from the start I took a completely different approach, using orchestral samples to create something more traditional.

"I was still working with my old PC for Draining Lizards, and using my old TEAC 144 four‑track cassette recorder to get my guitar tracks into the PC. The tape deck on that has completely gone; I was just using the mixer because it helped to give a nice tone to the sounds. Towards the end of that project I bought my Pentium PC and Emagic EXS24 software sampler, and I used that on Money Trouble to manipulate the orchestral samples. This time I insisted that Mat sent me an AVI file so I could load it into the Logic Audio AVI Player and have it playing on the screen. In there you get a little window which shows the film, so you can compose while it goes along. That speeds the whole process up incredibly. I managed to do the whole thing in less than a week. Compared to the months I spent on Draining Lizards, it was quite a change. Also, using orchestral sounds made it a lot easier to spot the music because I didn't have to worry about beats — I could edit it how I wanted.

"I set up sampled cellos, violins and oboes on different tracks in Logic and first came up with a bass‑line melody using the cellos or double basses to go with the scene. Then I'd build the composition from there. Occasionally I used some sound effects from a CD, to make things sound a little more interesting. In Logic all the audio was sync'd to picture, so I knew exactly where each section started and ended. I saved the finished audio to CD and wrote in the sleeve notes exactly where in the scene each section of music should start."

A Day In The Life


Although Marco has to be flexible enough to cope with whatever commission comes his way, he still has a standard way of doing things which best suits his equipment and most of the jobs he has to do.

"I write everything on paper, including verses, bridges and chord sequences. I sometimes use a dictaphone to record riff ideas. Logic Audio is used for programming all the drum parts, and then I make a guide track of all the chord changes. Even if I was doing a punk track I'd play a piano guide to a metronome. I also sequence in the bass line, which I use as a guide. From there I record the guitar parts directly onto hard disk through the Line 6 Pod — that's a life saver; it has all the sounds I need. The Pod goes into my Behringer Eurorack 2004A mixer and then into my Emagic Audiowerk8 soundcard. The soundcard is just two‑in/eight‑out, but I use the mixer in Logic, so I have enough I/O for most things.

"After putting my guitar parts down, I record the bass line using either my Fender Precision Bass or my Status Groove five‑string bass. To record the bass I use the Zoom 503 amp simulator. Sometimes I mic up my Gallien‑Krueger amp if I want that kind of sound, but usually I find the 503 is enough for all the bass sounds I need. Then I'll choose the drum sample for the track. Sometimes I use Soundfonts that I find free on the Internet. I've found some drum sounds there which are better than stuff on my JV synth.

"On one particular track I recorded a live hi‑hat part because I found that sequenced hi‑hats don't sound good enough on their own. I just miked it up with a Shure SM58 and recorded it through the Behringer desk and Emagic soundcard. I've also borrowed a good vocal mic which I sometimes use for miking up my bass amp, or for vocals. Again that goes straight into the desk and then to the computer.

"My sound modules are just the Roland JV1080 and Korg 05R/W, but I'm now looking to buy a Korg Triton. Occasionally I use the Yamaha DX7, but not much. I keep that because I have loads of sounds on disk and I know that if I got rid of it one day I'd wish that I hadn't, so I may as well keep it and bring it out if I need it. The Roland S10 keyboard is my master keyboard. It was my main sampler at one time, but I broke the disk drive so now it's just a master keyboard. I started to borrow samplers, but now I've got the EXS24 software sampler. It's very useful, very easy to use, and better than any hardware sampler I've come across.

"I would prefer to have everything in my computer, but we're still not at a stage where a computer can handle everything I want to throw at it. Having said that, I can get by with using everything in the computer, including the ES1 software synth and whatever suitable free stuff I can find on the Internet. I like to expand on my production skills by creating new sounds every time I write something."

Looking Ahead

The security video camera that allows Marco to communicate with performers tucked away in the bedroom vocal booth.The security video camera that allows Marco to communicate with performers tucked away in the bedroom vocal booth.

Marco plans to turn his producing, arranging, and programming work into a full‑time business. At the time our interview was conducted he had just set up his own web site (www.marcoma‑ and was making plans for the next few months. "I've been producing a singer recently; that work was finished just last week. It's been ongoing for the last six months. We've put together a few demos to try and get a record deal for him and a producer deal for me. I'd also like to keep writing music for the music libraries. I aim to have 10 pieces of music a year published, because it always brings in a bit of money. I'm also planning to record and write for a female singer later in the year. I just want to keep writing music, keep my producing skills going, and maybe break into the big time. I'm getting there slowly."

Main Equipment

Oldies but goodies: Marco's Yamaha DX7 synth and his venerable TEAC 144 Portastudio, whose mixer he still uses occasionally for an 'aged' sound.Oldies but goodies: Marco's Yamaha DX7 synth and his venerable TEAC 144 Portastudio, whose mixer he still uses occasionally for an 'aged' sound.
  • Pentium III PC, 800MHz
  • Emagic Logic Audio Gold v4.7 software sequencer
  • Emagic EXS24 software sampler
  • Emagic ES1 Virtual Analogue soft synth
  • Roland JV1080 sound module
  • Roland S10 workstation

Gear List



  • Intel Pentium III, 800MHz, with 512Mb RAM
    Marco: "My PC has two separate hard drives; one is solely for audio, and the other has been partitioned so that I can store all the Windows OS files and software in one half and the EXS24 samples in the other. I also use an external CD re‑writer to archive my work and burn completed tracks to CD."
  • Emagic Logic Audio Gold v4.7 sequencer
  • Emagic Audiowerk8 Soundcard
  • Emagic EXS24 software sampler
  • Emagic ES1 Virtual Analogue soft synth
  • Emagic MT4 MIDI interface
  • Sonic Foundry Acid Pro v2
  • Steinberg Cubase VST v5 sequencer


  • Korg 05R/W sound module
  • Roland JV1080 sound module
  • Roland S10 workstation
  • Roland TR505 drum machine
  • Yamaha DX7 synth


  • Behringer Eurorack 2004A mixer
  • CD‑writer running Adaptec's Easy CD Creator software
  • Korg G5 Toneworks bass effects pedal
  • Line 6 POD amp simulator
  • Sanyo Dictaphone
  • Shure SM58 mic
  • TEAC 144 four‑track recorder
  • TEAC DAP20 DAT recorder
  • Zoom 505 effects pedal


  • Acoustic piano
  • Fender Precision bass
  • Fender Squier Telecaster electric guitar
  • Spanish‑style acoustic guitar
  • Status Groove five‑string bass
  • Tokai Telecaster with EMG pickups
  • Yamaha electro‑acoustic guitar

Writing For Library Discs

For Marco, writing library music has proved to be a useful way of bringing in a steady income. It has also led to his music being used on some high‑profile productions, the most well‑known being Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Friends, and The Big Breakfast, to name but a few. Marco explains the concept of library music.

"Library publishers put together CDs in a particular style or mood. They have loads of them pressed and then send them out free to TV companies and radio stations for them to use in their productions. The publisher makes money by charging for a license to use any of the pieces of music on the CD. The deal is a 50/50 split between me and the publishing company. It's my job to provide the music and their job to get people to use the music.

"Amphonic Music send out briefs to all their composers explaining what styles of music they're looking for. Often they're looking for sound‑alike tracks because it's cheaper to buy a sound‑alike track than to buy the original. The first one I did, four years ago, is collection of rock styles that were popular at the time.

"You have to carefully write a piece of music which sounds like a famous piece without actually plagiarising it — which is quite tricky. On one CD I've written something called 'Pistol Punk', in the style of the Sex Pistols. It's a piece that sounds like them without being one of their tracks. Working like that is fun and it gives me the chance to do many different styles of music. It keeps my skills up."

Looping The Lizard: Soundtrack Methods

Marco explains some of the methods he used to create the sounds for the Draining Lizards soundtrack. "I bought a lot of copyright‑free loops. All the oriental samples were off a disc, so I used software called CD Copy to extract audio samples and convert them into WAV files. In Logic Audio, I opened the files in the Audio screen and from there I was able to drag and drop the audio onto the Arrange screen. Then I adjusted the tempo of the loops using Time Machine. I chopped and changed the Chinese violin instrument to create a melody. Where necessary I put some of the chopped audio on its own track and then used the Pitchshift plug‑in to change the pitch.

"I changed the phrases so that they would sound more logical and more like a complete piece of music, rather than a series of loops played over and over. I recorded guitar, bass and keyboard parts using my TEAC 144 four‑track as a mixer. At the time it was all that was available to me, but as it turned out it was beneficial, because the mixer on the four‑track does give it a nice 'aged' sound, which I like. If I want that aged sound, I dig out the 144. I took the output from that into the soundcard in my computer. I used the mixer in Logic Audio to do the final mixdown.