On the day that A-level results are published throughout the UK, many young people are now considering their options and next steps, whether it be taking a year out, seeking employment or an apprenticeship, or continuing their studies at higher education.
In an attempt to help others understand the benefits of studying at Higher Education, the importance of continuing professional development for musicians and, most importantly, to help celebrate his recent success, we caught up with our long-standing MLC Piano Teacher, Paolo Iannattone, who has just received a first-class honours degree in Music Technology and Production from the University of Derby.
Paolo, your list of achievements is immense! So let’s start by introducing yourself to our readers—tell us a bit about your background and musical experiences to date?
I started playing the piano at the age of 4. The spark ignited when at 12 I started preparing for admission to the Conservatory, where I was lucky enough to meet two extraordinary teachers like Gerardo Iacoucci and Giancarlo Simonacci. Meanwhile, my passion for synthesizers and technology has grown. At 17, I started working professionally live and in recording studios as a session player, which I did all the time I lived in Italy, up to 7 years ago. I think I’ve played piano and synthesizers on thirty or more albums. I can’t be precise. As an orchestrator, I worked on the soundtrack of some blockbuster movies, all together they have grossed about 100 million euros. Over the years I have been lucky enough to share stages and recording studios with musicians whose records I bought. I think my best moment was when I played in a TV show with Al Jarreau, of which I previously had the entire discography at home. I was very excited, a great memory. Another great moment for me was when I shared the stage at the Blues Festival in Lucca (IT) with Sonny Thompson (Prince’s New Power Generation) and Michael Baker (Whitney Houston’s Music Director). It seemed incredible to me. I am a lucky guy. Just two months ago, Marco Machera – musician and songwriter whom I respect very much – asked me to play the piano on a song from his new album and then he told me “in this song the drums will be played by Pat Mastellotto“. Wow, how not feel lucky?
What (or who) currently inspires you and how would you say your tastes have changed or evolved over the years?
My passion is the creative process, especially in the recording studio, and its evolution. As a musician, I feel that this is my natural environment, like a fish in the sea. The names that inspired me are many and still inspire me…there are entire discographies that I know by heart, from The Beatles (which I discovered later) to Frank Zappa or Pat Metheny Group, Weather Report and Steps Ahead or Prince and Mahavishnu Orchestra. I don’t think my tastes have changed or evolved much since I was 17. It seems to me that I keep adding knowledge. As if every day I became more aware of the mechanisms of the creative process. For example, I would be very curious to spend days in the recording studio with Black Midi, to understand their creative process which must be very intriguing.
You’ve just finished your BSc degree, receiving a first-class honours in Music Technology and Production, which is amazing! So please tell our readers what made you choose Derby and how you found studying at this level.
The reason I chose Derby was that it’s Level 4 and its modules. After enrolling, I had a brief meeting with the course leader, John Crossley, who told me that he had read my CV and—if I wanted to—I could start the course at Level 5. I told him that I was very interested in electronics, mathematics and all the theoretical aspects. For this reason, if I could, I would rather study the Level 4 modules. I wanted to understand how machines “think” and first produce sound. It was an extraordinary experience, which I thank God for having had the opportunity to live. It must have been a good choice too because I achieved 2 Dean’s Awards at Level 4 and then at Level 5 in recognition of outstanding academic achievement. The following two years served to put into practice the knowledge acquired during the first year. If I could, I’d start over. I have never stopped buying—and finally understanding—books that theoretically tackle the practices of a recording studio.
How important is it that we all continually learn and develop ourselves as musicians? What would you suggest are the best ways of doing this (for both teachers and students alike)?
It is important and necessary. The production of sound, the technology applied to creative processes, never stops. For example, I am very intrigued by the Artificial Intelligence applied to creative processes, music composition, mixing and mastering. Net of the man-machine dualism, it is a newly opened field that has extraordinary potential. We don’t know how the relationship between AI and tonal music will evolve. Or even with serial music, why not? Surely it will not be limited to just the use that the music industry will want to make of it, trying as always to simplify the processes to spend less and earn more. The fields of experimentation are totally open. As musicians, we have an extraordinary opportunity to learn how to interface with new technologies. From this point of view, we are given the opportunity to experience extraordinary times. We must cultivate curiosity and open-mindedness. Not be wary.
What would your advice be to any current MLC students who might be thinking about going to Uni in the coming months or years?
My suggestion is to follow your passion, have a love for the sound you want to produce—with a £50 instrument in your garage or in a recording studio with machines that cost hundreds of thousands of pounds—and study enough to be in control. Being able to produce exactly the sound you have in your mind. There are so many ways to learn and so many courses. A thorough reading of the curriculum that universities offer is necessary, but also ask for advice from those who are more experienced, trust the know-how of others. In this sense, at MLC we are fundamental in helping students make decisions. Because the moment you decide to push a key, vibrate a string, hit a drum, you are a musician. You’re just less experienced than another musician who has been doing those things longer than you. But you are part of a community.
So, what’s next for you Paolo? What are your plans for the medium to long term?
Growing in my teaching skills is the first goal and I am very determined to do so. Working at MLC which over the years has given me so much in terms of experience and friendship. A secondary goal is to spend more time on my record label Moon Shelter to keep producing and releasing music. Something I do more for myself, like a diary.
And finally, what are your Top 3 Desert Island Discs (and why)?
The first is “The Nightfly” by Donald Fagen,
I fell in love with it on first listen. I was 16. Great songs, great arrangements, great musicians, great recording. Every music production student should analyse this recording. On this record, I can’t add anything that hasn’t already been said and I don’t want to run the risk of being trivial.
The second is “I Am” by Earth Wind and Fire. It was the first time I bought a David Foster’s production and I realised that I was in front of a monument of the music industry after only a couple of plays. No one is like David Foster, in the music industry.
The third is “As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls” by Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays, the first album on which I cried with emotion while listening to music (there are others). It’s something I call a no-genre album, it could be ambient, cinematic or jazz or all of them or everything else. I don’t know. I think no one knows. If I had a record shop, I wouldn’t know which shelf to put it on. I think it’s still the most emotional album I keep listening to.
Thanks, Paolo—and huge congratulations again on your fantastic achievements so far!
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At the MLC, we offer more than just instrumental lessons—not only can we help develop your skills as a performer, but we also offer higher education level diplomas in teaching and creative enterprise. So if you or your loved ones are interested in music, please get in touch to find out how we can help to #UnleashYourPotential!