Photos by Carla Salvatore
Throughout June we’re working with the Mayor of London’s Sounds Like London campaign to bring you profiles on the most interesting and exciting women in London music. First up we talk to producer, mixer and engineer to the stars Marta Salogni about her story and how London has allowed her the thrive.
Marta Salogni’s parents have just recently begun to understand what it is that their daughter does for a living. “Before, it was, ‘My daughter is doing this job I don’t understand, she didn’t go to university, she’s probably unemployed’,” Salogni laughs. “Now, they show [people] my name on the back of a CD.”
Salogni doesn’t have any old CD credits to show for her talents as a producer, mixer, and engineer. Recently named Breakthrough Engineer of the Year at the MPG Awards, the London-based Italian has worked with the likes of Frank Ocean, FKA twigs, and Sampha to help sculpt career-defining records. Perhaps most notably, she was hand-picked by Bjork, of whom she’s a lifelong fan, to fly out to Iceland in 2017 to help her mix her ninth album, Utopia.
“It wasn’t one or another aspect that I preferred – I loved doing it all”
It’s a long way from home for Salogni, who grew up with her mother (a schoolteacher) and father (a factory worker) in Capriolo, a town of just 7,000 people. “The music scene is quite small,” she reflects – and as for producers and engineers: “the ‘working behind the scenes’ scene is even smaller.” Salogni remembers it as a “safe” place, “crystallised in time – which is both good and challenging. It’s moving very slowly.” Her escape was a club that opened its doors to under-18s on Sunday afternoons, and it was through these early raves and secret CDs shared with friends that she nurtured a love of electronic music, noise, and experimental composers.
Though she dabbled in piano for a few years, Salogni’s imagination was really caught by music when she was taken under the wing of an engineer at a local live music venue and activist space. Seeing a mixing desk for the first time, she remembers thinking, “Wow, this thing manipulates what I hear – that’s a crazy concept.”
After spending years grafting in the live music scene, Salogni made the move to London in search of more of a scene – once here, she enrolled at audio school Alchemea, honing her studio skills. She started work as a runner and assistant to a producer who was also an engineer, and quickly realised she wouldn’t be happy unless she was doing it all.
“It wasn’t one or another aspect that I preferred – I loved doing it all,” she says. “It gives you this aesthetic coherence, and flexibility, to be able to be that person who a band goes to and says, ‘We have a limited budget, but we want to make a record’. I can make a record – I can do pre-production, recording, production, and mixing. It makes me feel confident.”
London brought a whole new world of opportunities to her. Her very first session as a studio engineer was with Phil Selway of Radiohead. “It was brilliant. He was so lovely, despite the fact I was so nervous, I couldn’t sit down.” These days, she’s much more comfortable, which is necessary for the job – artists invite her to become fully immersed in their worlds, to help craft their vision on an intimate, microscopic level.
“It becomes very personal – both conceptually and physically, you get very close,” she reflects. “We talk about the album and the music, then we talk about ourselves. We try and understand each other. We kind of just end up talking about anything – art, the books you love, what you did last weekend… An album is like a whole world, a window into someone’s life. You feel like you have a child [when] you make an album.”
Salogni’s time in Iceland with Bjork was particularly revelatory. She would discuss the shape and character of each track with her as if it were a living, breathing entity, finding new and innovative ways to reflect that song’s intent in her mixing.
“It was strange when I started out, because I didn’t know of any women doing the job that I wanted to do.”
“She would tell me, ‘this track is about this concept, I would like the concept to be translated from an audio point of view’. So [if] the track is more severe, I would try and translate that into EQ… She would be like, ‘this track is very euphoric, so the volume jumps up and down, the track needs to be brighter to try and convey a sense of excitement in the vocals, we need more high frequency’. It was like a voyage into something metaphysical… It was so enlightening as a way of mixing. It’s changed the way I do things.”
It was Bjork who famously spoke out to Pitchfork three years ago about the lack of women we see in studio engineering and producing roles. For Salogni, growing up in a remote town in Italy, she was even more starved of technical female role models than most. “It was strange when I started out, because I didn’t know of any women doing the job that I wanted to do,” she says – but that isolation was what fuelled her. “The fact that I was the only woman I knew doing it made me be stronger, and not give up.”
“My first suggestion to other women or non-binary people starting out, is just because you don’t see other people doing what you wanna do, it doesn’t matter, you’ve gotta do it. Because then you can be the role model for someone else.”