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Inside Track: Kesha ‘Praying’

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Jon Castelli
Published November 2017
By Paul Tingen

The Gift Shop is a  large, open-plan studio built to Jon Castelli’s own specifications.The Gift Shop is a large, open-plan studio built to Jon Castelli’s own specifications.

The success of Kesha’s ‘Praying’ justified the lengths that Jon Castelli went to to get the perfect mix — eventually!

“There are no rules in mixing, because it’s not about things sounding good or correct. It’s about how things feel. As a mixer, I always try to go one step further in getting it to feel the best possible. If mix version 4 gave you goosebumps, I want version 20 to give you even more goosebumps. Going that extra mile is what separates a great mix from a mediocre mix. Many mixers are willing to put up with something mediocre because they don’t know what to do when they’re faced with several different opinions, from the artist, the producer, A&R person, management, and so on. But what I learned from someone like Tony is that there’s always a way to solve that problem. The solution is to do whatever it takes to make it feel better than anyone could have imagined. That attitude is more important than the techniques, or what plug-ins are used.”

With five years having elapsed since the release of Kesha’s previous album, much was riding on the success of ‘Praying’.With five years having elapsed since the release of Kesha’s previous album, much was riding on the success of ‘Praying’.Photo: Olivia BeeThus speaks Jon Castelli, and the Tony he refers to is one of the world’s leading mixers: Tony Maserati. Originally from New York, Castelli moved to Los Angeles seven years ago, where he was signed to Maserati’s Mirrorball Entertainment as a mixer, songwriter and producer. With Maserati as his mentor, and often working with him on a joint mix basis, Castelli clocked up mix credits ranging from Lady Gaga to Ariana Grande. Two years ago Castelli went fully independent, and he now operates from his own studio, called The Gift Shop, located above a boutique in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District, and containing a rather unusual hybrid of digital and analogue gear.

In that quote, moreover, Castelli is not only describing his general mix attitude, but referring to a specific situation in which he didn’t have to go so much the extra mile as the extra marathon. The job in question is his mix of the lead single of Kesha’s third album Rainbow, ‘Praying’. An absence of five years left many people wondering whether the singer would ever make an album again, but Rainbow turned out to be a triumphant return, widely lauded by the critics and reaching the number-one spot in the US.

Something Different

The fact that Castelli mixed the track at all also defied expectations, given that half or more of all charting pop singles are currently mixed by just two top mixers: Manny Marroquin and Serban Ghenea. Record companies tend to contract one or both of them to mix a pop album’s main singles, and give the job of mixing the other album tracks to slightly less well-known and presumably cheaper engineers. Because of where Kesha’s career has been over the last five years, her record company, Kemosabe/RCA, pulled out all the stops to make the new album a success,...

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Published November 2017