Engineer Maria Elisa Ayerbe is a Miami-based audio engineer, producer, and composer. She has been part of the musical productions for artists such as Mary J Blige, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, JLo, and many others. Her work as a recording & mixing engineer has received two Grammy nominations, nine Latin Grammy nominations, and one Latin Grammy win – including four nominations for her role as producer, engineer and co-writer of Paula Arena’s Mis Amores album in 2021.
Mis Amores is currently nominated for the 2022 Grammy Awards as Best Latin Pop Album. We chatted with Maria about the process for the album, recording during a pandemic, and her use of the Vanguard V4 FET Condenser.
Q: You’ve done a few records with Paula Arenas. When did you start working with Paula?
A: I first met Paula in 2015 in Miami when I joined Julio Reyes Copello’s studio as audio engineer. Paula was Julio’s artist and she was writing and producing her 1st album with him then. Being both from Bogota, we instantly clicked and became really good friends. As an engineer working for Julio, I was involved in the recording process of many of the songs they wrote together for her first couple of albums.
Q: You are listed as producer, co-writer, and engineer on Mis Amores. That’s a lot of hats! Tell us about the process of making Mis Amores and how it differed (or didn’t) from Paula’s previous records.
A: In previous albums I would be an engineer recording instruments for other musicians who would come and perform for her album. Our relationship evolved through the years when Paula began calling me to record her vocals and write music together. We enjoyed the process together so much, eventually I ended up finishing production on the tracks that were once demos, and mix them after production was done. That is exactly what happened in Mis Amores.
It seems like I was wearing too many hats (which is true!), but the evolution was pretty natural since we knew exactly what had to be done for the song from the moment we were writing it and sketching up ideas. I became a natural conduit who was always led by the songs, and just allowed them to be however we felt more natural.
Q: What (if any) were the challenges that Covid presented to the recording process for Mis Amores (and for the many other records you’ve worked on the last couple years)?
When we were creating Mis Amores, Paula was pregnant and we were in the early stages of the pandemic. COVID became an added risk that we would try to manage as cautiously as possible (and I still do).
The fact that I could take a COVID test, go to her house and sit down with her to produce each track, changed the entire vibe of that album. It was me and her for months, really intense months, creating and letting our ear guide us through the production of the album. Thankfully, I had my ever-trusted Vanguard Audio V4 ready for action, a UAD Apollo x4 interface and a great closet space at Paula’s house, or my treated home studio back then. Paula’s pregnancy was already risky even before the pandemic, so we had already set our minds that this album was going to be home-produced anyway.
Q: Where was Mis Amores recorded?
A: The album was recorded at home (Paula’s or mine in Miami) with guitars sent in from Colombia by our co-producer Sebastian Mejia from his home studio as well.
We also knew that we wanted to work with Sebastian, so we developed a really great workflow with him where he would record a rough guitar track in Colombia. Then, in Miami, Paula and I would finish up writing the song with the guitar track, edit as needed, record a scratch vocal (which sometimes would end up just being FINAL vocal), send the idea back to Sebastian, and he would return additional guitar tracks that I would use as needed for the production.
Q: How did the Vanguard V4 get used on the record? Why did you choose the V4 over other mics in your locker?
A: I had a couple of options for Paula’s vocals, but it was a matter of “love at first sight” between the V4 and her voice. I remember the first day we tested it on her, we heard how clear, intimate and warm it made her vocals sound. She loved it right away. Since I was recording from home, I had the Apollo x4 to work with. I was super pleased to hear how well the V4 paired up with the Neve 1073 Unison channel on the Apollo, a Pultec EQ for tone and a Teletronix LA 2A on dynamics.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the best part about Mis Amores (besides the Grammy nomination)?
A: The fact that we did an album with absolutely no creative or time constraints (we had nowhere to go during lockdown!) allowed us to deliver an honest and sincere album, which was released independently and connected us to many listeners. Then both Latin and American Recording Academies honored us with nominations? Sometimes we still can’t believe it!
Q: You’ve done a lot of work with the Recording Academy, We Are Moving The Needle, Women In Music, and other organizations to help raise up women in an industry that’s overwhelmingly male. What’s something you wished all men knew about being a woman in the recording industry?
A: Gender does not determine how talented and committed someone is to their job, but so many still believe it does. People should be allowed to thrive in the recording industry if they are good and passionate about it, PERIOD. Unfortunately, women have been incorrectly perceived as “not strong enough, not committed enough” and so many other incorrect misconceptions. When you see a woman in the room, know that she REALLY wants to be there and she WILL do her best to BE the best.
Congratulations to both Maria Elisa and Paula on the Grammy nomination! You can listen to Paula’s album Mis Amores anywhere you get music. You can hear Maria Elisa’s other work and contact her for your own projects on her website, and follow her excellent Instagram account.