Antonio Escobar: Antipop Music Production
By Markus Thiel - January 30, 2020
Madrid-based Spanish producer Antonio Escobar is particularly known for his creative and also versatile work in different fields. His daily routine includes writing music for commercials and movies alongside producing for many different artists. His credits range from popular Spanish and international artists like John Legend, Zara Larsson, David Bisbal and Carlos Rivera to movies like Netflix's Klaus, The Secret Life of Pets and Toc-Toc or commercial contents for big brands like Renault, Coca-Cola and Sony. We talked with the international awarded musical multitasker, producer and engineer about his work-life on multiple planes and the Spanish music scene.
When and how did you find your way into the production business?
Good question! I think it all happened when I was in my twenties realizing that I'm not so bad at it, so I tried to make some money out of it. My first problem in getting started was my location in Malaga in southern Spain. About 25 years ago back in the late nineties this area wasn't as broadly developed as other regions. And so I decided to move to Madrid to start my career — but honestly I didn't really know how or where to start at that point. But after all I was young and brave and had nothing to lose! I started working in a studio doing mainly music for commercials and somehow it all turned out very well.
For what I know, your ambitions didn't stop there...
You know, working in the commercial business is great, but dealing with permanent deadlines and tight schedules can also be very exhausting, therefore I felt the need to add something else to my work-life. I began making music for films — short films at first — and started producing songs and albums for local artists. Although I never really abandoned working in the commercial industry, my focus shifted gradually towards producing records and composing movie soundtracks.
What's your main instrument as a musician?
Oh, I'm afraid I’m one of these modern musicians who can barely play an instrument, at least I played some keyboards — for everything else I had the computer. So I'm really not a trained pianist or something. But I always put my heart into everything I do. I consider every job as one single step of an infinite ladder. For me there is no such thing like a small or a big job. Sure, things like budgets have an undeniable impact on the scale of possibilities, but since nowadays — induced by Spotify & Co. — every producer has to compete on a global scale, you have to keep up with the top of the industry. This can be truly challenging, especially when working with top acts like John Legend, with whom I produced a song for one of his albums, which was mainly produced by Kanye West. All of a sudden, you’re standing up against all these big names. On the other hand, the bigger budgets a project like this has, the more opportunities to choose from.
What is your general approach when it comes to composing?
It depends. When it comes to commercials, customers — typically advertising agencies — tend to send me some references or further detailed lists of feelings they would like to cover. For instance, “to be emotional, but not too much” and things like that. My job in the process is to define the style by translating the descriptive information into music. For example, if you get to the point that the outcome should be something "Indie," I'm trying to find certain references like "a bit towards Radiohead but not too much." This way I'm trying to set the right frame for a start and also to avoid problems during the process. Usually this leads to finding some tracks with the desired mood to present them to the customer and as soon as we're on the same page I start with the composing process.
Movies are generally more difficult because most of the time there are no references at all. You're frequently confronted with things like: "Hey, this is the scene with this distinctive song, but I don't like the song. On the other hand, the rhythm is cool!". Such a process requires a lot of analytic work regarding certain characteristics as much as intense instrumental considerations and focusing on desired moods.
Working with an artist is a completely different matter. Besides getting familiar with his style it’s also helpful to study his career and musical development to date besides analyzing current market situations and trends. Although very commonplace, comprehensive conversations with an artist are highly substantial to the outcome of the production process. When it comes to production, I like working very close with the artist, who is ideally at my side for most of the time.
I guess there's also a lot of translation work for you to do while developing the artist’s ideas into music?
Sure! When an artist tells me he likes Coldplay, it usually doesn't mean he or she wants exactly to sound like them, it's most likely the attitude they're after. Regarding Spanish music you often end up with something much more conservative at the end of the day, because many artists like to maintain a special style that they don't want to put at risk losing it. I learned the hard way that if a Spanish artist wants for example to sound like Bruno Mars, he wants maybe just to sound a bit cooler but definitely not alike, because first of all, the Spanish language doesn't sound and feel like English. Secondly, if a Spanish artist would try to sing and perform like Bruno Mars, it wouldn’t be accepted by the audience because nobody is used to it. Thirdly, if a Spanish artist would decide to sing in English instead, he or she runs the risk of being rejected because it’s no longer genuine.
Sounds to me like your job requires a lot of sensitivity.
To sum this all up, half of my work as a producer is actually close to that of a psychologist. You have to listen carefully to fully understand. Besides that, my job requires constant openness and a conscious look towards new styles and music genres. For instance, Spanish Trap music is a really interesting movement because it differs from Latin Trap and also American Hip-Hop by being much more personal and underground. It takes some time to discover how distinct musical styles work. Sometimes it's hard to keep track on everything, but I really try as hard as I can.
What are your favorite tools when it comes to production?
It’s legit to call myself a Cubase fighter because I teach this software at least twice a year to students. And it's not only to share my knowledge, but also to learn from younger generations and cultivate a vivid exchange of experiences. With so many different DAW software solutions out there, I also enjoy showing others that recent versions of Cubase offer virtually all the answers to any of today’s audio and production-related questions. Alongside Nuendo, it's simply my favorite tool in the studio — therefore it’s also the center of my masterclasses.
Do you use Nuendo and Cubase for different tasks in the studio?
Most of the time I use Cubase for recording, because of its low latency, switching to Nuendo later for the mixing process. So for me, both solutions are fulfilling different tasks. Besides, they're both working absolutely perfectly with my Steinberg UR824 interface.
What other hardware do you use?
Apart from my Amphion speakers I tend to surround myself with a bunch of synthesizers. Actually I have to admit there can't be enough of them. I also have two big racks of outboard but to be honest I hardly use any of it because all the integrated tools in Cubase are at least as good and much more comfortable to use.