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November 24, 2014

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Q+A: Las Vegas at the Grammys: Meet the local mix master behind Snoop, Aoki and more

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EDM producer and mixing and mastering engineer Luca Pretolesi, who helms Las Vegas’ Studio DMI, is part of the team behind Snoop Lion’s “Reincarnated,” which is up for Best Reggae Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards.

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Imagine Dragons aren’t the only locals repping Las Vegas at the Grammys tonight. EDM producer and mixing and mastering engineer Luca Pretolesi, who helms Las Vegas’ Studio DMI, is part of the team behind Snoop Lion’s “Reincarnated,” which is up for Best Reggae Album at this evening’s awards.

It’s the Italian-born Pretolesi’s second Grammy nod, following a nomination last year for Steve Aoki’s “Wonderland” in the Best Dance/Electronic Album category. Still, the recognition is just icing on the cake for the 20-year dance music veteran, whose clients include Tiesto, Skrillex, Major Lazer, 2 Chainz, Bruno Mars, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and many more.

I spoke with Pretolesi about the nomination and life behind-the-scenes in Las Vegas’ dance music mecca:

Congratulations on the Grammy nod.

Thank you, yeah! Especially because I do dance music and EDM, so being part of Reggae Album of the Year is different completely. This project that we did with Snoop, it was a totally different kind of album from the start. It was recorded in Jamaica, Diplo produced it, I’m involved with the mixing.

It’s involved with Dance Hall, and (Diplo project) Major Lazer has those influences, but it’s not necessarily a reggae album. Snoop is definitely not a reggae artist. The record is very interesting. It’s full of collaboration — Chris Brown, Drake. It’s very different, and that’s pretty cool.

How were you approached to get involved with it?

I was mixing a song for Major Lazer, and Snoop personally really liked what I did. They liked the idea to have a very current, modern type of sound with the mixing and production of the album and have a very traditional recording that was made in Jamaica in Bob Marley’s old studio. So in the beginning, they asked me to mix the first single, and then I helped to mix the entire album.

It was a very organic type of collaboration. The album was meant to be very much a fusion of different styles between the artist, the producer, the mixer, who all come from different backgrounds.

You’ve been in Las Vegas for about 10 years. What brought you out here? Las Vegas seems to be a good destination for dance music artists to visit and perform, but the industry is not really based here.

That’s very true. Even today, at the peak of the dance music scene, the nightclub scene and the festival scene are way bigger than production. There’s so much going on with that, but as far as local production that goes international, not really. We have good names as far as rock, with The Killers and Imagine Dragons and others who represent Vegas in music, but as far as dance music, it’s still a very small scene. So in my case, I think it was just intuition.

One of my good friends had moved to America before me. I came just for the location first, and then I saw the opportunity to open a company and studio. When I moved here at the end of 2002, music in Vegas was based on hip-hop and commercial R&B. That’s all. House music or electronic music was maybe only for after-hours and maybe once a week for 200 people.

But I just loved the lifestyle and being able to live in a big city that, if you want it, can have a small-town feel. I don’t want to say that I don’t have competition here, but, as far as what I do, I kind of create my own reality and connections.

When I moved here, I had a really good feeling. I felt there was a lot to do. It was almost like an island. After a few years, around 2006 or 2007, I felt ready to bring something fresh and new into the scene. The U.S. is unique in that it’s a very slow country (for music) — when something blows up, it takes years and years to happen here.

But then when it happens, it becomes a scene that stays for a long time. So with doing dance music here, it was really just a feeling of when was the right time.

With dance music being as big as it is here how, what kind of opportunities does that present for you as a producer and an engineer to be based here?

It’s pretty huge. The main thing is this: I deal 90 percent with DJs and big producers. So my clients are the big guys who you see on billboards around the Strip. For them, Vegas is very important. It’s the main residency they have in the world, financially as well as for exposure. When they come to Vegas, they don’t really have anything to do other than play nightclubs.

That gives us the opportunity to be in a room together and work on records and build process. For me, in general the workflow is getting better because I have the luxury to have these guys in my studios when they’re here to just share ideas. It just makes our relationship stronger.

What does it mean to be “good” in your field, to have a real skill for mixing and engineering in dance music? What might be some misconceptions people have about it?

There’s a lot of difference between a regular mixer and engineer and an EDM mixer and engineer. Because we think of songs from a DJ’s point-of-view, it’s just a different approach in general. Today, in general, dance music is mainstream. So the budget on a dance record is equivalent to a big pop song or hip-hop song.

So we raised the bar three tiers as far as the quality of the mixing, to where you can’t go back. When there is a new song out from any artist, they must have a quality-sounding track that goes on the radio, TV and dance floors.

With mixing and engineering, there’s two types of approaches. There’s one that’s a bit conservative, and that’s a pure enhancement — you produce, and they make your production sound better. That can mean replacing sound or making changes on an arrangement when necessary.

The other approach is more artistic. It’s almost like an additional producer, where I feel that the track needs more space in one part, a different kick-up, more effects. It’s another end on the production of the record, and a lot of my clients are very open-minded about that.

What’s next for you?

One of the most exciting things I’m doing now is mixing the first track off Skrillex’s new album. He’s a very unique artist. He’s won any possible Grammy. It’s crazy because he exploded, and he’s never had anybody touch his tracks.

For the first time, he’s decided to let somebody else mix his tracks, so that’s crazy. He has a new album after two years, so his record is going to have a lot of exposure. We just tied that first track. Big new sounds. He’s taking risks again.

I also just did mastering for Gareth Emery’s new album. I recently worked again with Snoop on the soundtrack for “Turbo.” I’m gonna work with him again soon, but I can’t give details now.

What about your own career as DJ, as Digital Boy? Is that still getting put on hold because of all this?

The thing is, in my case, that really was one of my weapons. I was able to translate the music as a DJ and attack the mixing in a different way. But as far as today, it takes so much time to do what I do. Even just now by myself, I work with another mixer-engineer, an assistant.

It’s the whole week in the studio, and, after 12 hours, you need to rest your ears. That’s a priority to me. My mind is not on DJ'ing. I love it, and it’s still my heart, but I just don’t have time for it right now.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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