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Inside Track: Depeche Mode 'Memento Mori'

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Marta Salogni By Paul Tingen
Published June 2023

Inside Track

Analogue tape played a key role in the production of Depeche Mode’s Memento Mori album — even though it was recorded to Pro Tools.

Marta Salogni’s unique approach to music production has seen her recognised three times by the Music Producers Guild, with the 2018 Breakthrough Engineer of the Year Award, the 2020 Breakthrough Producer of the Year Award, and last year with the UK Music Producer of the Year Award. As well as a wide range of leftfield electronic, alt‑pop, art and punk rock acts, Salogni has made her mark on the mainstream with credits like Björk, Bon Iver, Black Midi, Sampha and Animal Collective. Prior to going it alone, she also worked with David Wrench on mixes for Frank Ocean, the xx, Goldfrapp, FKA Twigs and David Byrne.

Inside TrackThis Spring, Salogni achieved her most significant mainstream success to date when Depeche Mode’s 15th studio album, Memento Mori, went to the top of the charts in a dozen countries. Salogni recorded the entire album, and mixed it at her Studio Zona facility in East London.

Zoning In

The studio is a hybrid of the traditional and modern, with a prototype 22‑channel Studer console from 1974. Its most striking feature is Salogni’s collection of a whopping 12 quarter‑inch tape recorders (see box), the result of a slightly unorthodox career trajectory. Growing up in Italy, close to Milan, with a keen interest in art and music, she moved to London in 2010 to attend a course at the Alchemea Music Production College. Around that time she became interested in synths and tape machines as ways of expressing herself musically.

“I love the fact that on a synth you can create sounds that didn’t exist before. I love traditional instruments as well, but it takes a lot of time and patience to learn how to play one. Whereas, with synths you can switch them on and immediately experiment with sound in a way that’s instantly personal. Plus they are intuitive and creative. It’s the same with tape recorders. I became fascinated by them, and all the different things you can do with them, even though they’re originally built to record.”

After Alchemea, Salogni spent several years in several different studios in London, including at Dean Street, RAK, Strongroom and Mute, and assisted producer Danton Supple and mixer David Wrench. For a while she had a studio at Mute, but since the beginning of 2018 she’s been working at her first completely independent facility, Studio Zona. While most of her work now consists of mixing and/or producing, Salogni also uses tape recorders on the live stage, performing alongside other musicians or alone.

Marta Salogni: I always try to make gear do stuff it was not designed to do.

In The Studio

The roots of her involvement with Depeche Mode go back to 2015, when Salogni assisted Danton Supple on the album Angels & Ghosts, by Soulsaver and Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan. In 2020 she mixed the follow‑up album Imposter. In recent years, Salogni has also mixed several projects for producer James Ford, known for his work with Arctic Monkeys and Florence + the Machine.

Following the death of Andy Fletcher, Depeche Mode are now a duo.Following the death of Andy Fletcher, Depeche Mode are now a duo.Photo: Anton Corbijn“James called me in the Spring of last year, and asked me, ‘I know you do mostly production and mixing these days, but would you be interested in recording Depeche Mode with me for a new album?’ I love Depeche Mode, so of course I said yes. But then, Andy Fletcher [the band’s keyboard player] passed away, and all we could do was wait for updates. In the end the decision was made to move forward with the album, also in honour of Andy.

“So in July of last year I travelled to Martin Gore’s Electric Ladyboy studio in Santa Barbara. Martin’s studio is exceptional. It has everything you can possibly need, all the synths that you can imagine. It’s like a playground and a place in which I felt very inspired. It’s also really well laid out from a technical point of view, with a U‑shaped, custom‑made rack of gear, with preamps, dynamics and distortion on one side, effects on the other side, and then there are all the Euroracks, old Moogs, and the Roland System‑500, and so on.

“There are Barefoot monitors, and the desk is an SSL Nucleus, so not analogue, but we had enough analogue gear to make up for this. All the polyphonic synths are in a second room, where we built an improvised vocal booth. In the first half of the sessions it consisted of some mic stands and rugs that we found, and in the second half Martin got someone in who built a proper heavy curtain booth. There’s also another room with more synths and keyboards, and pedals, guitars, basses and amps. We had everything we needed!”

Super Sessions

The core team at Electric Ladyboy consisted of Gore, Gahan, Ford and Salogni. “We were really tuned in,” she says, “and had a beautiful time together. We experimented a lot. They were really open to experimentation, and excited whenever I suggested something new. On one of our days off I said, ‘I’m really missing my tapes machines because they’re fundamental for my creative process. Do you mind if I find some?’ They were up for that, so I made several phone calls, and I found some at Wiggle World, a brilliant studio in Los Angeles.

“The studio kindly let me borrow three tape machines: an Otari MX5050, an Akai and a Sony, all two‑track quarter‑inch. I felt like my best friends were back! I started experimenting with them and making loops and realised that there was a lot of scope to use them on this record. The others also really liked it, and so when we returned for the second set of sessions, which began in September, Martin had bought two Revox A77 tape machines for his studio.”

The tape machines were used alongside many other sources of effects. “I recorded Dave’s vocals with a Neumann U87, which went into an API preamp, an LA‑2A, and finally a Massive Passive EQ. On top, Dave loves to sing with effects already set. So before he came into the studio I set up a few chains of effects, some of them quite extreme, and he loved that. He was like, ‘I can project into these spaces.’

“A lot of these spaces came from the tape recorders, but in addition I also used effects units like the Eventide H3000, the Eventide Eclipse, the Mu‑Tron Bi‑Phase phase shifter, the Publison IM90 Infernal Machine sampler, an Overstayer MAS, a Roland Dimension‑D, the Ursa Major Space Station, and AMS RMX16 and Lexicon digital reverbs. We used the Dangerous Liaison to line some of them up in a chain, and this also allowed us to mix them up. I’d then record his vocals dry in Pro Tools, and printed all the effects separately.

“We created similar chains, again also using tape recorders, for the synths, drums, guitars, and also the strings. There are no dry strings in the record. We went to Shangri‑La [Rick Rubin’s studio] to record the strings with Davide Rossi, as well as some drums played by James, and more vocals. We brought a lot of gear, including tape machines, to add effects, and I used the bathrooms in Shangri‑La as echo chambers on the strings. In general, we recorded everything through a lot of effects, because we wanted to make it sound interesting and different.

“I also was honoured to receive a writing credit on one song, ‘Speak To Me’. It was written by Dave, and James and I literally locked ourselves in the studio one day and completely remade his demo, and presented it to him. He loved it, so much that he gave us a writing credit on it. We changed key, changed tempo, and took out all the instruments, and built the arrangement back up from the vocals. James and I used the EMS Synthi A for a lot of this, for example creating the high‑pitched drones and the heavy kicks at the end.”

Console Capers

After two and a half months of recording sessions at Electric Ladyboy, Salogni returned to her Zona studio for the final mix of the album. “I was really looking forward to working in my room with my desk, speakers and sub, which I know well, and to make sure that all the elements in each song could co‑exist and gel together, not only track by track, but also as an entire album.

“As I was mixing, I sent off my first draft to everyone, and after getting their feedback, I imported that mix into the mix session for the next track, so I could A/B between the two. I did this for the entire album. We wanted a consistent sound across the album, unless it was a creative choice for something not to be consistent.”

The gear at Zona that Salogni uses to mix is kept deliberately simple — other than the 12 tape recorders, of course. “I wanted to keep the studio quite minimal, so I looked for a desk that had everything that I needed. My 1974 Studer desk is actually two Studers put together, united by a meter bridge. It has 22 channels, eight groups, and has been modified to have direct outs, so it integrates well with my Avid HD I/O for Pro Tools. I can mix either fully analogue, hybrid, or fully in the box.

“The desk has EQ on every channel, and limiters, so I don’t need much other outboard, other than the tape machines. If I need anything specific for a session I just hire it in. I’ve got some things on my wish list, but for now I’m happy. I know everything in this room inside out, and I use everything. I don’t want to have some compressor sitting there without doing anything. I’d rather have what I use and then borrow or rent or buy whatever I need.

“My monitors are Genelec 8050s with a Genelec sub, and Dynaudio BM15s with a Bryston amplifier. Having a sub is essential nowadays. The Dynaudios are very transparent. I had them in my previous studio, so I also kept them for continuity. I did a lot of work on the acoustics and the insulation in this room, and tuned the Genelecs to the room.”

Studio Zona is home to a quirky selection of synths and effects devices.Studio Zona is home to a quirky selection of synths and effects devices.

Fine Tuning

Salogni’s mix process for Depeche Mode’s Memento Mori album was rather different from other mix projects. “Of course, I was already really familiar with the sessions, because I had created them from scratch, and James and I worked on Pro Tools during the recording and producing. So there was minimal mix prep work involved for me.

“Normally I’d have tidied up the session, and I would have put things in order and coloured them, so I know my drums are at the top in blue, my basses are orange, and I don’t have to distract my brain to go and find tracks. It means I don’t need to lean into the screen too much while mixing. Screens are distracting devils!

“Also, James and I had regularly been doing rough mixes in California. We added many effects during tracking, and some during the rough mixes, and these effects were agreed upon by all four of us. The effects were final and had been printed. It meant that my main work here was to finesse the rough mixes, and make sure everything can co‑exist, and be clear. Clarity is key for me.”

As well as making the album sound coherent as a whole, Salogni also had to make sure that it would stand up against other contemporary releases. “First of all, this project was about itself, so I did not reference specific things. Having said that, I don’t like things that sound retro. As someone who works professionally in sound, I think it is a disservice to the technology that we have.

“Depeche had massive hits in the ’80s, and everybody knows that these records sounded modern at the time. But we now have technology that allows us to reproduce frequencies that we were not easy to deal with back in the ’80s. I believe it’s important to make the most of the technological advancement of our time, unless a specific palette of sounds is the result of a creative choice.

“In addition, I want a record to sound good whether somebody plays it through AirPods, a small radio, in a club, in a stadium, or through a massive festival system. Quite a lot of artists I work with tour in clubs, so I need to make sure their songs will sound good in a club scenario. In my mix of ‘Ghost Again’ it means that the kick is upfront, and everything is clear. There is no mess or soup between the low mids and the low end. That is very important.”

Marta Salogni: I want a record to sound good whether somebody plays it through AirPods, a small radio, in a club, in a stadium, or through a massive festival system.

The Mix Process

With the sessions laid out the way she prefers, Salogni set about the actual mix process. “The first thing I do is to mute everything. After that I unmute one thing at a time, solo it, and EQ it if needed. I then solo another element, and do the same, and then I will make sure both sound good together. I then do the same with a third element, and after that it is a process of adding tracks in one by one, and making them sound good on their own, and good in context.

“I’ll be doing a lot of subtractive EQ at this point, to make sure things can coexist without getting in each other’s way. It’s a matter of shaving frequencies off one instrument if it’s already covered by another, and then making sure you don’t lose something. In a way, subtractive EQ is an anti‑climactic thing to do, but when I don’t do it, and turn things up loud at the end, and put on a compressor, the mix can fall apart. Whereas when you have done subtractive EQ, you can make the track very loud and present.

“I unmute things in the order of priority in the track. In one mix the first thing I unmute may be the lead vocal. I may unmute the vocal, and then the kick, and then the guitar, and then the bass, and so on. With ‘Ghost Again’, I started with the drums, because the track is based on a drum loop from Martin’s demo, and then we built on that. I would have started by making the loop sound good, because that is one of the first things that gets you hooked in, and then the bass, which is quite driving.

“The bass comes from the Moog modular, and the drums are made up of different elements, including the loop, a Roland TR‑606 drum machine, and the Eurorack Noise Engineering Basimilus Iteritas module. We also layered the guitar a few times. It was played by Martin, and we recorded it through two amps and a DI. The guitar also went through tape machines, the Korg MS‑20 used as an effect, the Mu‑Tron, a Dimension‑D and an AMS RMX16, all outboard.

“Once again, when I mixed, these effects were already in the session. Because we already had so many analogue effects in the sessions, I did not send my mixes out to my Studer desk, other than just a couple of things. If a track was missing a bit of presence, and I knew I could get the best result from the desk EQ, I would send it to the Studer, and then print it back in. I also added a few tape recorder delays here and there, like a slap echo to the vocal in in ‘Ghost Again’. But after these two and a half months in California, we had plenty of tape effects.”

Drums & Bass

The process of “refining” the rough mixes involved a lot of automation on volume, panning, and a considerable number of plug‑ins. “There were four plug‑ins on the drums bus track: a Soundtoys Decapitator, a FabFilter Pro‑Q 3, a UAD LA‑2A and the EQ7 from Pro Tools. There’s also a drums parallel, which is sent from the drums bus track, and it has the Soundtoys Devil‑Loc and a UAD AMS RMX16. I was still adding distortion during these final mixes, I really rate the Devil‑Loc plug‑in for that. I also use quite a few UAD plug‑ins, and have the UAD‑2 Satellite Thunderbolt Octo Core.

Soundtoys’ Devil‑Loc was used to add saturation both to the drums and the bass synth.Soundtoys’ Devil‑Loc was used to add saturation both to the drums and the bass synth.

“With the bass, I really like having a lot of it, and for it to be as clear as possible, so it sounds good on AirPods, mono speakers, stereo speakers, with or without a sub, speakers that are from today, and speakers that are from the ’70s. I want a listening experience that is democratic. But I also want a listening experience that is the best that it can be. It means that I A/B my mixes on many different systems.

“In this session I have some Devil‑Loc on the bass, as well as some Soundtoys MicroShift, because I wanted to stereo the bass a little bit. The mix setting on the MicroShift is quite low. The Devil‑Loc creates some saturation and distortion, and I also added some presence with an EQ. Both aim to make sure the bass can be heard on speakers that don’t have much low end.”

Guitars & Synths

The guitar was multitracked through a variety of effects, all of which were printed to the Pro Tools session.The guitar was multitracked through a variety of effects, all of which were printed to the Pro Tools session.The synth solo in ‘Ghost Again’ was created from several layered sounds.The synth solo in ‘Ghost Again’ was created from several layered sounds.“After the bass and drums I would have brought in guitars and synths. We recorded each guitar part, with parts doubled, over several tracks: room mic, DI, amp 1, amp 2, Mu‑Tron, AMS, Lexicon. For each part these went to a group aux track: guitars 1, 2 and 3. I had plug‑ins on these aux tracks, like the Pro‑Q 3, LA‑2A and Valhalla Room [reverb]. These then went into a master aux track, which allowed me to unify the guitar sound.

“There are quite a few synths. There’s an Elka Synthex, an ARP Solina String Ensemble, and there’s a synth solo from a mixture of synths, including an Arturia PolyBrute and a Buchla. The panning effect is a stereo setting on the Elka — the effect happens as you play. I added quite a few plug‑ins on the synths, including the Valhalla Vintage Verb on the Elka, and the UAD EMT 250 on an aux effects track. I like the Valhalla on the insert, because I can use it as a widener as well. It’s a really good plug‑in, pretty magic. I have the Waves Doubler on the Solina, which pushes it wide and brings out some shimmer.

“We ran the synth solo through many things in California, including the tape recorders and the Overstayer. During mixing I added a [Oeksound] Soothe 2, because all these synths, especially from the Eurorack, have a huge frequency range, and sometimes the high frequencies are too prominent. Soothe does a great job of attenuating high frequencies like that, without killing the presence of the sound. I also use the Pro‑Q 3 on the synth chords to take out low end, doing subtractive EQ, so it does not get in the way of the bass.”


“There is a lot of volume automation on Dave’s vocals, because I wanted to make sure the lyrics are clear. His vocal performance is great, and I wanted it to shine above everything that is happening, which is a lot. Sometimes the endings of his phrases have a little bit of volume automation, to make sure they cut through. I wanted his performance to feel very dynamic, and for the effects to support his performance.

“I automated the effects for different parts and sections, so that they all feel slightly different. A lot of work went into that. Plug‑ins I used on his vocals include the Devil‑Loc, Oeksound Soothe, and Valhalla Delay. The Devil‑Loc can be quite subtle, and works well on vocals. I also have EQ, compression, EQ, de‑esser, then another EQ, Devil‑Loc, [Soundtoys] Radiator, Soothe, and EQ at the end.

“I wanted Martin’s vocals to have their own space, which was different than Dave’s, so they could each be in their own worlds. There are two tracks with Martin’s vocals, panned slightly left and right, EQ’ed and then the Waves H‑Delay on a ping‑pong setting helps to spread them. The Valhalla Vintage Verb smooths out the repetitions. Then there is another EQ, which just takes down some of the low mids, so that the vocals are nice and clear. Finally, there is a send, which goes to a slightly different HDelay, and a slightly different Valhalla.”

Extensive level and pan automation was used to fit David Gahan’s vocal parts into the track.Extensive level and pan automation was used to fit David Gahan’s vocal parts into the track.

Master Bus

“There is the important process of making the mix sound good as a whole, which means that as a mixer I do a lot of work on the master. I will have EQ and compression, sometimes I will add saturation, sometimes I will play with the width and I will automate that, or I may automate the output of the compressor if I wanted one section to pop out. Sometimes I will add effects on the master.

“I mix with nothing on the master bus until I get to just over halfway into the mix, and then I complete the rest of my mix with plug‑ins on the master. These plug‑ins make the mixes feel like a record. The four plug‑ins I have on the master bus in this track are my go‑tos: the PSP Master Q2, UAD SSL 4000 G, UAD Chandler Curve Bender, and the Linear Phase Multiband.

“The PSP allows me to EQ the whole mix, and to lower the inputs in case I need more headroom. Then I have the SSL 4000 G, for compression. I like using a little bit of compression as it helps everything to gel. I always use a slow attack and a fast release so I don’t compromise any transients, which is very important for kick and bass. Then I have the Curve Bender, which is a very good and simple EQ. The real thing sounds good, and so does the plug‑in. UA have done a great job with modelling it.

“And finally, the Multiband allows me to tackle frequencies that may be a little bit too prominent in certain sections, but not in others. I can compensate for any loss of volume by turning up the gain. I sometimes add in an EQ at the end, often with the Pro‑Q 3, just for last‑minute tweaks, to see whether I have still more space for bass or for top end. Of course the mastering engineer will look at that, but I want to make my mix the best it can be before it gets to them.

“Towards the end of my mix, I will also put a limiter on my master bus, because I want to know what it sounds like at mastered volume. I use the DMG Audio Limitless for this. I make the mix loud so I can address it as a track that is already mastered, and it may lead me to make any final tweaks. After that I take off the Limitless to print the mix, and I send that to the mastering engineer.”  

Tape To Tape To Tape

“I’ve got five Revox tape recorders,” explains Marta Salogni, “one PR99, two B77 and two A77s. I also have four Akai 4000DS MkII tape recorders, two of which I use for spares and experiments, an Akai 1721, a Ferrograph 5A, and a TEAC four‑track. I’ve also got two Watkins Copicats, and a weird Davoli Echo Mixer. Davoli is an Italian company that used to make Binson Echorec‑style stuff.

“I always try to make gear do stuff it was not designed to do. I like to use my tape recorders as effects, for example to add saturation and distortion. Or they can act as delay units, or to add textural feedback, or to create loops and polyrhythms, or I can use them as pitch‑shifters thanks to their varispeed. I feel I can do pretty much everything with them, really. There is a lot of freedom within that process. They’re very multifaceted and versatile.

A few of Marta Salogni’s 12 reel‑to‑reel tape machines.A few of Marta Salogni’s 12 reel‑to‑reel tape machines.

“My Revox PR99 is the top‑of‑the‑range version, with XLR in and out, and I may send a full mix out to it to add some analogue quality, or use it for tuning specific delays, since it has a very precise varispeed function. The B77s have RCA and jacks for input and output, and I may use them to create loops, cumulative loops, and delays. Tape will travel from one B77 to another, with one set to record and the other to playback. It can feel like a maze or labyrinth in here sometimes!

“I do the same with the Akais, but obviously they have a different sound, and also, the tape tension is different. Sometimes when I have tape going from one Akai to another, the tape will lose tension and this creates modulation that will then be regenerated, and that contributes to the overall effect.

“I used the two‑tape‑recorders effect on many tracks on the new Depeche Mode album, including the opener ‘My Cosmos Is Mine’. David Gahan’s vocals came back from the second tape machine, and when I then feed it back in, it will start interacting with what was there before, creating a cool effect. I like that process during the compositional and production part of a record, because it can inspire new things.

“Working with the tape recorders can bring unexpected results, because things are never the same twice. I often use tape recorders live when recording, because a player or singer will feel like they are responding to something outside their timing, and duets with the machines start to happen. It keeps things refreshing and interesting. I also use tape recorders to create harmonies and layers. It works great on strings, for example, when they play long notes, and these go from one tape recorder into another, and the delays create harmonies and layers.

“Also, it’s nice to get out of the chair to work with the tape recorders. I enjoy being able to physically work with machines. There are projects in which I use a lot of tape, which is RMG SM911, but also projects on which I don’t use tape at all. It depends what people want. People do tend to come to me for creative input, and because of my way of working, and that means that I tend to have a lot of freedom. I can do pop, which works more according to a recipe, but also because I tend to work with more leftfield acts, I can bring a different angle to the traditional approach. It’s what makes me wake up every morning and feel honoured and glad that I’m alive, because every day is different!”