Industry Insiders: Maurizio “Irko” Sera at the Mixing Board

Maurizio “Irko” Sera calls himself an audio nutritionist — a man who devotes every ounce of his hustle to each piece of sound that comes across his mixing board. As a music fanatic and DJ from Venice, Irko has become one of the most sought-after audio engineers in the world of music. Having put his signature touch on mixes he’s done for Jay-Z, Jennifer Lopez, Kanye West, and Dilated Peoples, one of Irko’s latest projects has been his work on the 88-Keys album, The Death of Adam, that was acclaimed for it’s musical innovation as well as its sonic qualities. After starting the year as Sean “Diddy” Combs’ in-house engineer at Daddy’s House Studios, Irko’s latest musical conquest will be featured on EA Sports NBA Live 2010 and Ox of Soul One Inc. for Mad World on Wii game systems. It looks like the game has been good to Maurizio Sera.

Were there any Italian hip-hop artists you admired growing up? Hip-hop is everywhere, but it definitely comes from the US. One very good thing about my family is that they brought me all over the place when I was really young. Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, and America. I learned a lot from all those trips. I’ve never really used the Italian scene as a reference for my career. In my opinion, it doesn’t make sense to follow what’s not authentic. However, I’ve worked with lots of people in Italy … one particular artist, LaMiss, caught my ear. She’s dope.

How did you get interested in hip-hop? As a teen, when I traveled throughout the continents with my family, hip-hop seemed like it was everywhere I went; even in place like McDonald’s. I automatically got into it. It was the perfect glue for the people I met.

As an audio engineer, how do you work with artists and their music? I’m that guy who sits in front of those big mixers in the recording studios. I technically support whoever is involved in the album; musicians, singers and producers. I record everything you hear. I then blend it nicely and give the song its final shape, with the end result being what you’ll hear on the radio or on the album.

How’d you get introduced to audio engineering? I first started as a producer. I would make my beats and have different singers and rappers use them for their projects. Eventually, I found myself in the studio explaining to the actual engineer how to do his job … when I was paying him. So, I stopped and said, ‘Something’s not right here.’ I decided to take it to the next level and went to school to finish a three year program in nine months and got out with the max. I then opened my own studio. My first studio was not far from an American air force base in Italy. My first customers where military guys stationed in Italy and the projects were small, but I learned a lot and had great time. And now, almost a decade later, I’m here.

Do you find that Euro artists are hungrier and more fond of the musical culture than US artists? There’s no difference — people are people and artists are artists. The big difference is that an American artist can sell anywhere on this planet, and an Italian artist can usually only sell in Italy. So obviously, the numbers are very different.

Any artists who are difficult in the studio? New artists might not know every step of making an album. Most of the time, the work flow is fluid … and though it may look simple, it’s not. Every person I get to work with has a different perspective on music, so that means I learn from every project. I always have to understand artists’ goals in order to deliver the best service I can.

You spent the first quarter of 2009 working with Sean “Diddy” Combs at Daddy’s House. Talk about that experience. It was an outstanding experience. I had the opportunity to link up with a lot of interesting people and network for future business. I really learned a lot; [Diddy] is unquestionably one of those guys I look up to. His energy is very strong. I admire him.

Were you around for any of the creation of Making the Band? I wasn’t around for the filming of the show. However, I’ve seen and worked with most of the artists, producers, and writers from the Bad Boy camp.

What was it like spending that time in NYC? NYC is my second home. I have a lot of different favorite places. My most favorite has to be Dallas BBQ in Times Square.

If you have the opportunity to mix for one artist before it’s all said and done, who would it be? Busta Rhymes, Ryan Leslie, NeYo, Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott. That list is way too long for just one artist.

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