Based out of Miami, Florida, Ricardo Sangiao is one of the hottest names in mastering at the moment. Known for his work in the Latin, hip-hop, and dance genres, Ricardo has had a hand in many platinum releases in the past few years and shows no signs of slowing down. He's mastered records for Rick Ross, Danny Ocean, and Diljit Dosanjh, just to name a few.
Working under legendary engineer Bob Katz, Ricardo has learned from the best and is now applying his knowledge at his own studio, World Class Mastering. Ricardo recently sat down with Vintage King for a Five Sounds With interview to talk about a number of records he has worked on, his process and the gear he uses.
Danny Ocean - "Dembow"
This is a very special song. "Dembow" is the first song that I worked on with Danny Ocean. He’s like my brother. He’s a very close friend of mine, we spent Christmas together. I know his mom and dad, he knows my sister. It’s very cool, because Danny and I are very similar in personality. We were both born in Venezuela, we both moved around to several different schools in different countries growing up. He made this song, “Me Rehuso," which is one of the biggest Latin songs of the past few years. He recorded and produced it himself. He did that completely independently. After that, he signed to Warner Music Latina, and Atlantic Records for his English stuff. His follow up single was "Dembow."
So, I work independently now. I used to work at other studios, I worked for Bob Katz for a while, and then I started my studio called World Class Mastering. The concept was to give the best sonic processing and all the projects I’ve received have been through word of mouth. People who liked working with me have referred me, and that literally made my work go all around the world. I’m very thankful for that.
That’s how I got to Danny. Someone else introduced his manager to me, and we got to work on "Dembow." That song was huge,I remember being in a taxi in other countries and hearing our song. It was crazy. After that, we did the rest of his first album, 54+1. It was a very special album.
For "Dembow," I used a combination of plug-ins and hardware. I remember that I liked the sound that the Maselec MEA-2 gave it by just running it through the equalizer with all settings flat. This processing stage widened the stereo image in a very natural way while preserving all of the things that made the record sound cool.
In my humble opinion, mastering gear should never get in the way of the sound of a record. Unless you’re going for a specific effect, mastering gear should enhance records in a very musical way or be as transparent as possible. Most of the time the MEA-2 can do both.
Diljit Dosanjh - "High End"
This is a really cool track. Diljit’s team contacted me to master the single. I wasn’t familiar with the artist, but the team who contacted me wanted to keep it secret. I sent the single to them, they loved it, and I mastered the whole album after that. It was a huge record in India. When it came out, it had over four million listens in 24 hours.
I feel like I always have to give it my all when I master these tracks, and I enjoy all of the projects I’m a part of. Then I give it to the label or producer, and let them direct the style or vibe they’re looking for. Some of these projects, I don’t know who the artist are, and I make sure it gets the same royal treatment as my favorite clients. If I know I did my best, I can sleep at night.
I really liked what the producer Snappy did on this record, he killed it. I did a lot on this record but perhaps one of the key processing highlights was the use of upward expansion to give the record more knock. They were looking for a loud, in your face master. The problem was that the approach they wanted would greatly weaken the drum’s impact. I tried to persuade them by explaining that because of streaming loudness normalization we didn’t need to make it that loud. However, they explained that they wanted the record to blast on all possible playback situations. Even those where no loudness normalization occurred yet.
My solution to give them what they were looking for was to use one or two single band upward expanders. This allowed me to dynamically boost certain frequency ranges in the drums. The expansion gave the drums more knock than they ever had and was able to compensate for the transient loss caused by the heavy limiting.
This approach required a delicate balance because the remedy could potentially cause more distortion further down the line. There are always certain compromises tied to these types of approaches, but I gauged it and at the end of the day they loved it and more importantly, the fans loved it.
Guri - "Nira Ishq"
I have a client who’s a good friend in Canada, Deep Jandu, he’s a very well-known music producer. He contacted me one day, and said “Hey Ricardo, I have a song I want mastered by you, but I need it ASAP.” He sent me Nira Ishq. When I heard it, it was beautiful. It was just different. I mastered it with a more conservative approach. I didn’t want it to be as “in your face” as other tracks. It was a different vibe with this song, I really liked how it sounded. I remember I wanted to maintain its sound, and enhance it with a bit of an “expensive” sound. Months after I delivered it, I went back one day and looked it up to see how it was doing. It was #1 in India at the time and trending on TikTok. It was crazy. This was about two or three months after I worked on it.
Gigolo y La Exce - "Sin Señal"
This one was special. I love how it sounds. It was produced by a very close friend of mine, Franfusion. He’s a very talented Latin music producer. We started working last year, and he heard my work through a track I had done previously. He liked what he heard, and we ended up doing a ton of work together. This was the first one we worked on together, and I love how it ended up sounding.
It’s interesting because when I work with him, he doesn’t just send me a bounced file, he sends me the Pro Tools session. Latin producers usually don’t send full stems, they’re very protective of their stems. We just have that trust, and so I get to take a stem mastering approach. We have the same taste, so he trusts my ear. So I get to make adjustments, and then I get to move onto the 2 track.
I used a little bit of analog parallel compression with a very slow attack and relatively fast release. I believe I didn’t use my Antelope Audio 10MX clock for this one because I liked how the conversion sounded with just my Pure2’s internal clock. I bought that one from Vintage King. I remember I went through three different units to make sure I picked the best. Thank you for putting up with me [Laughs].
There’s a lot of intentional heavy limiting on this track, it’s part of the sound they were looking for. The limiting did not just make things louder and more distorted, it was also there to help raise upper harmonics hidden in the articulations of the vocals. This made the vocals sound more interesting. It also made them more upfront and helped them cut through the track.
Snoop Dog Feat. Becky G, Banda MS - "Qué Maldición"
This track just recently came out. The song, “Qué Maldición,” is by Banda MS from Mexico. They’re huge. They’re from Mazatlan. This track was mixed by my dear Mexican friend Ramón Sánchez, an extremely talented engineer and great human being. Ramon’s probably also won more Grammy Awards than one could carry with two arms. This is a remix of a song that’s already published so during the mastering stage I had to be particularly careful to maintain the essence of what they were going for.
For this one, I can tell you I used a lot of Maselec gear. I used the Maselec MLA-2 compressor, the MEA-2 Equalizer, the MPL-2 limiter, which I bought from you guys. I also bought an SPL Masterbay S from you guys, which I love. I used the Maselec MLA-2 compressor in parallel. For one, to introduce some density into the track, but also to blend in some of the transparent yet particular tone that the MLA-2 provides. During the MLA-2 compression I used a stereo unlinked approach that gave the vocals and instrumentation a more open sound stage.
I also used my Antelope 10M clock which created a more focused high mid. The combination inside my Maselec mastering chain (MLA-2, MEA-2 and MPL-2) gave the vocals and brass some subtle upper harmonics that gave the song a more hi-fi sound.