Composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and studio co-owner Gaia Leone has a grudge against the idea of doing ‘just enough.’
After becoming a successful performer in her home country of Italy, Leone moved to the United States, where she studied music production and composition before furthering her career by working with major TV networks like Discovery Channel and NHK Japan.
She is also the co-owner of Bertinelli Sound, an award-winning music production studio that places a large emphasis on artist-driven creative direction.
Leone has also become a proud advocate of gender equity in the music industry, an industry which has largely been dominated by men for many decades.
When we had a chat with Leone, we did our best to touch on many of these topics, but the focus, by a wide margin, was the role women play in the music industry today and how that can be changed for the better in the near future.
Even in the midst of what has been an especially challenging year for creative professionals, Leone has high hopes for women in music and for the continued health of the overall music industry.
Thanks so much for joining us. So, in addition to your own music, you seem highly motivated to help others find their sound as well. Is this what inspired the founding of Bertinelli Sound?
Absolutely! Bertinelli Sound is founded on the principle of “vision transparency” meaning that we do not impose our own views and preferences on our Artists.
Do you feel more women are becoming involved in music production?
I’d say the music industry has been witnessing some drastic changes in recent times. Some of them were for the worse with COVID-19 that caught so many professionals and aspiring professionals by surprise.
But on the brighter side of all of this, it is during this crazy time that I witnessed a growth of the womxn in the music industry, especially in the field of Audio Production, Engineering, and Composition.
What’s even better? It’s coming from this generation. Take Alissa Faratro, Domi Degalle, Esin Aydingoz, and so many more. They are paving the way for a new outlook on the industry.
I feel like, as a woman, you have got to have some extra courage in pursuing your dreams and cultivating your talent and developing your discipline because there are indeed extra challenges for us.
I remember when I first started to play bass, people would barely take me seriously because I was a girl. Same thing when I started working as a composer. A change is unfolding but it is of course a slow process. I am grateful though to be able to give my contribution by providing access to a newly developed sense of community between women composers.
I am also a composer at MPATH Tracks and I’m tremendously inspired by its President and mentor, Mirette Seireg. Through her work and mission she is empowering so many young upcoming composers and created the first Music Library in the whole world to achieve gender parity. I am beyond honored to be an active member of this key driver for positive change.
How would you summarize Bertinelli Sound’s artistic approach?
We are the ideal intersection of techniques, competence, and guidance. We don’t force our artists to “think in our way”.
For some, Music Production is a process with set steps, mechanical dynamics. For us, it is a journey where we invest our skills. Flexibility, an open mind, and good humor are key elements to a successful production.
How long did it take you to find your own sound? Were there any major turning points in your musical journey?
I think your sound keeps evolving with you as you grow up and mature. It is funny though how when I started playing and taking music more seriously, I dove into the study of jazz and fusion whereas with time I kind of switched back to hard rock, alternative rock, hard funk, and experimental rock more recently.
I think it all comes full circle. One needs to “talk a lot” before one can appreciate fewer words. Of course, jazz and fusion always have a special place in my heart and indeed imprinted my approach on the bass and on composition, too.
But I think for me growing up listening and playing more and more, being exposed to different genres and cultures was crucial to refining my ears. In this way, I learned to appreciate music under different regards than just complexity of say the harmony or phrasing.
There’s also the layer of the mix, the tone, the beauty of the pure rawness of the message. You listen to what you used to and you start catching incredible details that you didn’t notice years before and you enjoy it so much, almost like it was a whole new song.
That’s how you know your ears have matured. It’s truly the beauty of music. Because of this, I think the two major turning points in my musical journey where when I discovered Jaco, Duke Ellington, and Scott LaFaro in my late high school years and then in my senior year of college at Berklee when I went back into deep analysis and listening of bands such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, Gorillaz, Tame Impala, Pink Floyd, Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees and so many others!
Do you think smaller, independent studios are going to be the future of music production?
I think COVID-19 is teaching us a huge lesson. That is, you don’t necessarily need a big studio to put out something remarkable. This was already starting to be very obvious with the rise of the so-called “bedroom producers”.
And most of us who compose and produce music are or have been bedroom producers at some point.
The truth is, our possibilities are becoming almost limitless within our laptops. You don’t need a big space nor an API or Neve to make a song that will be impactful.
People’s tastes are changing. The way they listen is changing. Finneas was probably the most recent, most widely-known example.
If we think about it, this pandemic drastically sped things up. People were stuck at home and when it was clear it was going to be for longer, they simply couldn’t stop making music.
So there you have your potential. Smaller independent studios are very promising in this sense because they have fewer expenses and maybe less pressure that bigger ones have in terms of their own “name” or “sonic reputation”.
But there’s also the other side to this which is basically “with great freedom comes great responsibility”. Smaller indie studios rising now are rising within a global recession where not a lot of people think music are “essential” so there’s that.
It’s going to be hard to find the money and, perhaps, the clients. Plus, if independent studios don’t adopt a certain type of creative direction, there’s the risk of becoming a confused mixture of stuff that just puts out very different things in a mediocre way.
COVID-19 and post COVID-19 are interesting because we will see how this all plays out. Smaller studios could potentially take a big slice of the cake if they play smarter. Definition and advertising I think are key.
This works as far as band/artist production goes in my opinion. Other areas such as film and TV are still somewhat dependent on the bigger studios. That’s a whole huge mountain that is hard to move unless it decides to.
In a very general sense, has the music industry been changing for the better?
I’ not sure about this. There are really cool things like womxn on the rise, the mixture of genre and the creation of new sounds, the growing potential of making music from your laptop or phone.
But then you also have things like royalty-free music libraries, AB5, and all of that Spotify controversy.
I’d say that as long as there’s change and there’s a dialogue within the creatives, like composers, songwriters, engineers, producers, performers, all of the people who are the “makers” of the art, music is in good hands.
But also, good managers and smart marketing that knows that social media is at the service of the artist and not vice versa.
Do you have a message you’d like to share with aspiring musicians and production professionals?
I’d say, study. Your instrument, music theory, styles, and pioneers. Develop a culture of music. Keep your ears and mind open and be flexible.
And when you feel stuck? I’d like to share a few words that one of my Berklee mentor, Professor Simone Scazzocchio, once told us in our class: “Write that song!”
No matter if you think it’s bad or if you keep having second thoughts about it, you only become better by doing a lot of trials.
Music production, arranging, and composition need to be practiced just like you’d do with your instrument. Consistency is key.
And the two last things would be: learn now how to say “no” to distractions so that you can say “yes” to objectives. And always try to keep good humor and have fun with it!