A Legacy Behind the Console
Steve Marcantonio is one of the greatest engineers to ever sit behind a console. He truly is a living legend. But, his legacy as a legendary recording studio engineer is not just about the great music that he has either recorded or mixed, it is also about the way in which he has established relationships throughout his career with artists, producers, musicians and his fellow engineers. Image courtesy of Steve Marcantonio.
When Steve Marcantonio first became an assistant engineer at The Record Plant in 1978, it was a very different world. In fact, he actually took a pay cut to become an assistant engineer versus what he was making at the time as a young employee at General Motors. In 1978, personal computers were making their appearance for the very first time. America was in the midst of a decade-long recession. The most dominant form of popular music on the airwaves was disco. A year earlier, the feature film, Star Wars, had dominated the silver screen for the first time. Even James Bond, as a character in the film, Moonraker, went into space— though, not for the first time. Cable and satellite television were years away in the future— in fact, most American households had a color television set, but it could only acquire four network channels. A large number of Americans still received their news via reading print newspapers. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate and the Space Race, had each occurred in the years leading up to the mid-1970s. By 1978, most Americans were looking to move forward again. It was into this historical backdrop, that one of the greatest engineers in the history of music recording would make his first appearance at The Record Plant in New York City. But, his legacy is actually one of the most interesting in the history of popular music in that it's not just about the past, it’s also about the future. For the most part, when we consider the legacy of someone who has had great achievements in their life, we are speaking about the past only. But, with Steve Marcantonio, his legacy is actually two-fold. First, he is the final chapter in the storied history of one of the greatest recording studio facilities and its way of making great music— The Record Plant in New York City. However, he is also an important agent of change, as he is one of the truly instrumental engineers whose work led to the country music boom of the 1990s and its subsequent rise into becoming America’s pop music. He is also a fabulous teacher, mentor and friend to so many people in the Music Row community in Nashville, Tennessee, and deeply revered by so many who work beyond it, as well.
When Steve Marcantonio began working at The Record Plant in New York City in 1978, he was quite often called, “Roy’s Boy,” which of course, is a reference to the fact that the owner, manager and chief engineer at the famed facility, Roy Cicala, had taken him under his wing as a young assistant engineer. It was a learning experience for sure— even, Steve, himself referred to it as a “bootcamp,” in which there was a system, or a manner of working that you had to learn or you just wouldn’t cut it. At the time, there were no college degree programs or specialized schools that trained a person for becoming a recording studio engineer. You learned on the job. He learned how to become a great assistant engineer from another assistant on the staff, Gray Russell. But, he learned how to become one of the very best engineers in the world from legendary engineers and producers— a few of whom, were on the staff at The Record Plant, including: Roy Cicala, Shelly Yakus, Jack Douglass, Jay Messina, Bill Whitman (who often engineered or produced sessions at The Record Plant, but, was not employed at the studio) and David Thoener. Throughout their careers, those legendary engineers and producers have worked with the following artists or acts: Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Alice Cooper, Cyndi Lauper, Aerosmith, Cher, David Bowie, The Band, Queen, and The Who— it’s an astounding list, for sure. He would carry the lessons that he had learned from working with them into his own work. The bass and drum sounds, the sounds of the electric guitars, and the vocals of some of the greatest artists in the history of popular music were his training ground. In some respects, he is also the final chapter of this storied tradition. By 1987, The Record Plant in New York City was sold to a new owner and within a few short years, it had closed its doors— though the satellite studios in Sausalito stayed open for another two decades (closing in 2008), while the location in Los Angeles is still in full operation. It was at this time that Steve Marcantonio began his career odyssey that would eventually take him to Nashville, Tennessee, to work in what was becoming a booming renaissance in country music. He would bring the lessons that he had learned from his experience at The Record Plant to country music— which, of course, would lead to a renaissance in the genre and its boom in popularity in the 1990s as audiences began to gravitate away from the pop and rock music of the period to listen to country music in extremely large numbers.
From 1988-1995, there were a number of great engineers who made the move to Nashville during the country music renaissance and boom of the 1990s. But, Steve Marcantonio, put his stamp upon the tremendous music of this period in country music and beyond. An important component of his legacy is that he has truly changed the way that we should think about what makes an engineer truly great at their craft. Even in today’s world of professional music recording, great engineers tend to specialize— some just mix great projects, for example. Steve Marcantonio is actually one of the very few engineers in the world who is widely recognized as both an amazing tracking and mixing engineer, which is actually quite rare in the profession. And his work— his credits include: Alabama, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Vince Gill, Deana Carter, Faith Hill, George Strait, David Lee Murphy, Restless Heart, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Montgomery Gentry, Rascal Flatts and so many other amazing artists and performers throughout his long and storied career, is a remarkable testament to his prowess as a masterful recording studio engineer and it has served to make him a living legend in the profession. He was named the Academy of Country Music, Audio Engineer of the Year for his work behind the console in 2006. And, he has also achieved the highest recognition that an engineer can receive, a Grammy-Award for his work on the soundtrack for the documentary film, I’ll Be Me, which was the story of the final days of the life of the legendary artist and performer, Glen Campbell, in 2016. In order to understand the impact of his legacy on the period of the 1990s through his work, one has to understand what country music sounded like before his arrival. First, the genre was not widely accepted and record sales were in steep decline from 1982-1988, in country music. After the conclusion of the boom in the genre in the early 1980s— largely due to the popularity of the feature film, Urban Cowboy— country music was in the doldrums and it also sounded like it, too. (One could listen to the country music records of the period from 1982-1988, and each would sound the same.) Steve Marcantonio, brought a fresh approach to engineering— especially to the recording process that would give the music the same clean, organic and smooth sounds that were hallmarks of the pop and rock music that generations of fans had enjoyed throughout the 1970s and 1980s. His recordings (tracks) were both full and rich and he gave the music of the period an attitude and a flavor, especially the drum, bass and electric guitars of the period that country music did not possess until his arrival. His mixes tailored the instrumentation to the lyrics of the songs, so that each would be unique, just the way that the artist and the producer intended for them to be. He also brought new gear into the process, as he would bring API modules— at least in lunchbox form, with him. While it is true that his work behind the console, both in recording and mixing great music during the period, are an important part of his legacy, but, it is not the only part of it, and it may not be the most definitive component of it, either.
As brilliant as his engineering behind the console has been throughout his long and storied career, it is unique to say that it is not his only legacy. I would argue that it is Steve Marcantonio, the tremendous person of character and family values who embraced the Nashville music community with his larger-than-life personality and brought his passion for making the people around him better that is also a defining component of his legacy. Through his work, he has influenced so many up and coming engineers. He is an excellent teacher. But, he is also a true joy— no matter the type of session, to have the opportunity to work with, as well. He is an excellent leader who inspires those who work with him to give their best performance. And, he is just a true joy (as a person) to be around. He is revered by the artists, musicians, producers and engineers who work in the Nashville music community. It did not happen by accident, nor did it happen overnight, either. It takes work— very hard work, to build the relationships that make one a successful engineer. It is a true testament that he is not only revered inside the Nashville music community, but that he is also regarded as one of the greatest engineering minds in the world outside of it, too. In fact, he is highly sought-out for interviews, advice and as an instructor. In my mind, having been a professional educator for twenty years, he would have been one of the very best educational minds in that profession, if he had chosen that route at some point in his career. We are all extremely fortunate, whether you have had the opportunity to work with him or not in your career, that he chose in the summer of 1978 to take a position at The Record Plant and to forge a career to become one of the greatest engineers to ever sit behind a console. But, there is one final and very important component of his legacy that has truly made him the legendary engineer of our time— his embrace of the moment and his passion for recording great music. If there is another quality to discuss that is a part of his legacy, it is his uncanny ability to embrace the moment and his passion for helping other people make their dreams a reality. As he would say, “All music is art, there is no right or wrong way.” But, he has also embraced the new technologies that are behind the process of creating the great music of today. In fact, he has also become a master of their use in each and every respect. He has also embraced the new artists of today’s popular music and he is still working with them each and everyday to make sure that their musical vision can become a reality.
Steve Marcantonio is truly the legend of our time. He is an engineer whose work, ethics and values are those of a timeless past, but whose passion, ability to build relationships and unparalleled wisdom have made him both a legendary engineer and also a joy to work with in the recording studio environment of the present. He has truly changed the face of popular music. He has also— along with his amazing family— made tremendous contributions to the continued vibrancy of the Music Row community in Nashville, Tennessee, and beyond it, as well. His legacy is that of a legendary recording studio engineer who has built a career that has lasted for more than four decades and each and everyday continues to give us the gift of great music through both his amazing work behind the console and through his larger-than-life personality and tremendous passion for bringing out the very best in each of us.
Enjoy the Music from the Articles About the Life and Career of Legendary Recording Studio Engineer
With our Apple Music, Spotify or YouTube playlists, you can listen to the music from the groups and artists who were listed in the articles that have been written about the life and career of the legendary recording studio engineer, Steve Marcantonio. From 1978 to the present, he has engineered some of the greatest and most memorable songs in the history of popular music. Each playlist features the songs that were discussed in the articles about his life and career as a legendary recording studio engineer.
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Special Thanks and Acknowledgement
I would like to take a moment to thank Mr. Steve Marcantonio for his time, energy and immense contributions to the development of popular music over the course of his life and career. It is an honor to be able to take the time to honor him.