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Darío Peñaloza on Mixing with Nuendo

With over 35 years of experience, two Latin Grammys to his name and an enviable network in the Latin American music industry, Darío Peñaloza is a Venezuelan producer, recording, mixing and dubbing engineer, who since his very beginnings has put his trust in Steinberg products for his work.

We had the pleasure to talk to Darío about his work, his experience, the awards he’s won and, of course, about his favorite DAW: Nuendo.

Hello Darío. Thanks a lot for your time. Tell us: How long have you been working in the music industry?

I have more than 35 years in the audio industry, primarily focused on the music side, both live as well as in the studio, while at the same time I do a lot of dubbing work.

We know you’ve worked with many international artists as well as cinematographic productions. Could you name a few of them?

In movies and TV series I was in charge of the 5.1 Spanish version of Bates Motel, Mindy Project, Brooklyn Nine Nine, as well as the Barbie movie, Justice League, Batman to name a few. As to music productions I have worked with artists such as Guillermo Carrasco, Aquiles Báez, C4 Trío, Rafael Pollo Brito, Hermanos Primera, Alfredo Naranjo, Saxomanía, Rafael Martini, Juan Castro Ortiz, Pedro Castillo, Miguel Siso, Orlando Poleo among many others.

What motivated you to venture into the audio and music industries?

I wanted to work in audio since I was young. My father was an audiophile and music lover, so at home good music was always playing from good equipment. I started studying electronic engineering to later specialize in audio, but that road would have been too long. Then I learned about specialized schools in North America, so I decided to shorten the gap and study abroad. Before I left for the US, I had the opportunity to work at a radio station as an operator where I confirmed my passion for the faders, knobs and audio tape. I then transformed my passion into my profession.

How were your first years in the business?

When I came back to Venezuela, freshly graduated, my first job was in dubbing, recording, directing and mixing Brazilian TV series into Spanish. I discovered an interesting world I didn’t know before. At the same time, at nights and on weekends, I would record demos for bands and would also carry out music projects in different studios. After a while, some friends and I had the opportunity to open up our own studio and so we built Le Garage Studios. I kept working for other small and bigger studios like Telearte, one of the most important facilities in Venezuela designed by Chip Davis.

At the beginning of the ’90s, the Venezuelan jazz and contemporary music movement became my principal source of work. At the same time, I worked for a symphonic orchestra for many seasons.

In 2000, I became independent and had two studios in different locations until 2013, when I installed my home studio.

Tell me about your home studio and the projects you are currently working on.

My home studio is of mid-size (3 by 4.5 meters) and only for mixing. I use a Mac with Hafler TRM 8.1 and Genelec 1029 monitors. I have an RME UCX interface at the studio and a Steinberg UR22 that I take with me when traveling and for conferences because it is light and crystal clear.

Here I basically do two kinds of work: music mixing, singles or whole albums for local and international artists; and also 5.1 mixes for TV series and movies dubbed into Spanish for the Latin American market of Zone 4.

You are also a lecturer at a music academy, right? What can you tell us about that?

In 2014 I started giving speeches about audio and discovered that I liked to teach and that I had a hidden vocation. In January 2015, I was invited to the Audioplace Academy to become part of the teaching staff and was in charge of the module “Mixing 5” at the highest level of a three-year-long program, helping my pupils to form musical judgement. Teaching is something I enjoy and that fulfills me; there is a return that you don’t get from every album. I primarily focus on teaching them to establish the parameters of quality, to praise the music as much as possible in Latin and Venezuelan genres as well as instrumental or acoustic jazz.

What were the main reasons why you chose Nuendo as your production platform?

When I started to work on my own in 2000, I decided to make some tests to choose my DAW. I had a drum pattern recorded on an eight-channel hard drive that I processed on the exact same way with Cubase VST32, Digital Performer, Logic and Pro Tools. I created two versions of the mix, one applying only level and panning changes and another one processing with native EQs, boosting and cutting the exact same amounts on the exact same frequencies: kick drum +3 dB at 80Hz, overheads -3 dB at 1 kHz and +3 dB at 10 kHz, etc. I then took those mixes to a friend’s mastering studio and there we did some "blind tests" with them to see which one we liked the best and which one the least good. In both cases both of us liked the Cubase VST32 mix the best, and that is how my history with Steinberg began. I then upgraded to Nuendo as soon as I could, since I was also starting to mix for 5.1, and I wanted to use the best of the best.

And after so many years of using Nuendo, do you still feel the same?

I think that choosing Nuendo as my working platform was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. It allows me to achieve the sound richness that I want very easily, with a wide dynamic range and an unbelievable versatility to do things.

The native convolution reverbs and impulse responses are my main tools for mixing and dubbing. I can go from one version to another without any hassle, mostly when working for series that last many seasons. I can guarantee my clients uniformity in their mixes. And even when I travel, I can keep working on my laptop with no issues whatsoever.

The few times I recorded in Nuendo, I felt a larger fidelity, sounding warmer to my ears. On the other hand, the convenience of always being able to use folders for my drums or percussion tracks, it just leaves more room in my session, and all that without even mentioning the coloring functionality that makes my life much easier.

But I think that what I like the most about Nuendo is the Control Room, having the facility of good metering with all values at hand and moreover, being able to have independent monitors — that’s just invaluable.

You have won two Latin Grammys. Tell us about your first one.

The band C4 Trío is composed of three cuatros(a Latin American instrument that looks like a ukulele) and a bass. For their fourth album “De Repente” they invited the singer and cuatro player Rafael “Pollo” Brito to sing on eight out of ten songs. It is mainly a Latin American repertoire but played with Venezuelan rhythms.

I was in charge of mixing about 85% of the album and it was one of the fastest jobs I’ve ever done, since, right after they started recording, there was an opportunity for a wide-spread release of the album together with a Venezuelan newspaper and that set a fix deadline. So, while they were still recording at different studios, according to their availability, I was mixing the songs that were already recorded.

That album won the 2014 Latin Grammy for “Best Recording Engineering for an Album”, an honor that I shared with other eight colleagues from three different generations.

And what was your most recent production about, the one that won you this acclaimed award for a second time?

The Venezuelan “cuatrista” Miguel Siso recorded a big part of his album “Identidad” at the academy where I teach and asked me to mix it. So I did.

In 2018, it won the Latin Grammy for “Best Instrumental Album”. One of the engineers that recorded a great part of that album was one of my former students, which gives me with great satisfaction.

And did you also take care of mastering it?

No, I don’t do mastering. I have big respect for that kind of work and I also like to get a second opinion. My colleague Jesús Jiménez has been mastering all my albums for over 25 years now. It’s a kind of partnership we have here.

He’s been mastering with WaveLab since a very long time, which allows me to deliver my mixes in 32-bit float so that he can then drop the resolution to 24 or 16, depending on the case. I also have WaveLab in my studio for the final master, Jesús prepares it and we finish it together here, so that we can define some last details like the separation between songs in the albums. This is very important for the listener: there must be a distance according to the tempo of the piece that’s coming and the one that’s just ended. If both pieces are fast paced, it is not the same as when a slow one comes after a fast one… one should leave a little more distance in this case. I like to take care of even those small details in my productions.

What do you like the most about your job?

To me, it is a privilege to work on the art of another artist, to be part of that vehicle that transforms an interpretation into something consumable. And I also love teaching; the return you get from your pupils is just unbelievable, while conveying the importance of respect for music to new generations, making them understand the privilege to be allowed to work on someone else’s art and that it entails mystic, ethics, responsibility and compromise. That there is a vital human factor for a professional’s success, that equipment doesn’t sound by itself and that nowadays, with the surplus of options out there, we need to have awareness before investing or applying a plug-in to an instrument. Is that really necessary? The music must be the protagonist and the artist the owner, not oneself. Use the technology please but do not attack the art or the listener.