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John Morales in the Mix

New York-based producer John Morales is acknowledged as being one the early pioneers of remixing as well as being a special Steinberg endorser of the very first hour. Kicking off his musical career as a local disco DJ, Morales started creating edits of his favorite tunes while continuing to spin decks in various clubs located in the NY area. In the ‘80s, Morales began working for WBLS radio where he met Sergio Munzibai, together forming M & M Productions with which they landed several chart toppers in the years to come. From then, John Morales was remixing the great names like Jocelyn Brown, Chaka Kahn and Marvin Gaye. Today, Morales is fully engaged preserving his past work, archiving all his mixes of the past few decades.

John, thanks for speaking with us today. Can you tell us how you got involved with music?
When I was about 12, I persuaded a local record store to give me a part-time job with payment not in dollars, but in 45s. Yes, 45 vinyls! By the time I was old enough to get a full-time job, my record collection helped me get my first DJ gig at the influential Stardust Ballroom in the Bronx, NY. Soon enough, the clubs were packed with people wanting to hear what I was spinning. As my reputation grew, I was invited downtown to Manhattan to play guest spots at the likes of Pippins, Bentleys, 1018, Limelight and the infamous Studio 54. Like many DJs of the ‘70s, I ventured into the studio more for need than necessity. I started to make medleys and remixes because the records in those days were too short (most in the 3 minute range) and being a DJ, I needed to get more out of the records I was spinning.

What was the first recording equipment you used personally to make those recordings?
I purchased a Sony ¼" reel-to-reel and learned to edit. It was hard work, with long hours editing and putting all the little pieces of tape together and making something creative happen. Reflecting now, I realize how important it was to what I would later do. It taught me a lot about what I wanted to do and how to do it, so that by the time I got in a real studio I was virtually a whiz at editing tape much to the amazement of some of the engineers I worked with.

M&M Productions, can you tell us about that?
I first met Sergio Munzibai while at New York’s influential WBLS radio station. He worked as musical director alongside Frankie Crocker and later at Motown Records. We met again in 1982 while at a New York studio called Blank Tapes, where I had worked for many years with Bob Blank, and discussed creating a remix partnership. My first record together with Sergio was Mikki’s Itching for Love. After that, we united and did all our mixes together and the M&M moniker was born.

Some of the artists we remixed for included the Fantastic Aleems, Class Action, Jocelyn Brown, DeBarge, Harold Faltermeyer, Shakatak, Miami Sound Machine, and The Temptations over an eight-year period. These remixes were often found on the Billboard Dance, R’n’B or Hot 100 pop charts. As our remixes were being heard by more and more people, we requested to remix songs for Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, Spandau Ballet, Aretha Franklin, Shalamar, Hall & Oates, Dan Hartman, Candi Staton, Melba Moore, Rose Royce, Billy Ocean, Debbie Gibson, Odyssey, Commodores and even Peter Schilling and Rod Stewart.

Any John Morales solo projects you can discuss?
I have completed remixes for Joe Jackson, The Supreme Beings of Leisure, Chaka Kahn, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Carol Harding and Penny Ford to name a few. A couple months ago, I completed the 4 Tops Reach Out DVD for Motown/Universal. This project included well over 60 audio tracks, 5.1 surround and a host of other challenging aspects; as well as the accompanying video that generated a file in excess of 20 GB. Throughout the entire project, Steinberg performed amazingly without a hitch or crash. Most recently, I started mixing a James Brown Live project that I’m very excited about working on. It has been a long dream to work on some James Brown material.

How long has Steinberg been your software of choice?
Just as Steinberg is celebrating its 25th anniversary, I have been using Steinberg software for just as long! I have mixed and produced hundreds of records using Steinberg software and have found all the software to be extremely user friendly and easy to navigate. The user interface works well for me. I like the way it’s laid out, thus making it easy for me to follow and track my projects. Oh, it sounds good too. [smiles]

25 years? We should give you an award or something?
You should. [smiles]

Do you have any favorite features in Cubase?
Any feature that will help me get the most out of the music I work on I’ve always loved — like the Timewarp feature when working on dance stuff.  I just started really digging into Cubase 5. The REVerence reverb is slick and the integration of the VariAudio pitch correction tool is out of control. Lately, I have been trying out the Beat Designer plug-in, having it trigger the Groove Agent ONE instrument. I can already tell this is going to open up some creative opportunities for my remixes. But, above all, my favorite feature is stability. Knowing that Cubase will perform and not crash or lose critical data — that’s all I can ask for.

You meet a lot of other producers and remixers. After showing them how you work on Cubase, have you seen many of them changing over to Steinberg?
I have to admit, many guys talk a good game about their DAW until they see Cubase in action. I’ve had a few guys say I have to try that. They all love the interface, the ease in which the program functions and how amazing it sounds. I always tell them just to give it a chance and see that there’s more than one horse in this race and Steinberg is leading the way.

One more question: can you offer some tips on how you approach a remix project?
My projects are all different. But fundamentally for me the rhythm track has always been the foundation of my mixes. I usually start there, making sure the track is kicking and pumping before I work my way up to the keyboards, horns, guitars and any instrumentation it may have. I usually do the vocals last and make sure I place them above the track, and bring it all together.