Cookie Marenco has pretty much done it all. She’s considered to be an early pioneer of digital recording. She’s engineered and produced five Grammy-nominated records and an Academy Award-winning documentary. She plays the piano, oboe and sitar. And she’s the founder of Blue Coast Records, a recording label that specializes in acoustic music and high-fidelity recordings.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to work with world-class musicians and produce critically acclaimed albums, then keep reading. Cookie Marenco is about to take us behind the scenes.
Q: What’s a typical day in the recording studio like?
Marenco: I don’t advise that anyone pursue a career in music unless they truly have a passion for it. You have to really love it, sometimes beyond reason. Here’s what a typical day looks like for me:
6 a.m. – 8 a.m. I spend this time reading/responding to emails, talking to customers and researching music industry news.
8 a.m. – 1 p.m. I block off this time for office/admin duties, which include editing the newsletter, creating marketing content, accounting, project management for studio sessions, artist discussions and business development.
1 p.m. – 10 p.m. I usually end the day with artist sessions in the studio. During this time, there are strictly no phone calls, no emails and no text messages. I typically spend about five to nine hours a day in the studio with artists, mixing, mastering or creating audio content.
On Sundays, the computer is off-limits (well, I try …).
Q: Who’s your favorite artist to work with?
Marenco: That’s a little like asking, “Who’s your favorite child?” I’d say that any artist who is part of Blue Coast Records is there because he or she is a favorite artist I’ve produced in the past. One of my most memorable sessions was flying to England to work with Ladysmith Black Mambazo 20 years ago. I still have vivid memories of that session. Stories for days!
Q: What’s your favorite album you’ve ever produced?
Marenco: I would have to say it’s the Blue Coast Collection because I gave myself no limitations on who to work with, where to record or how long it would take to complete. The concept for the album came about when I met another engineer by chance in France — Jean Claude Reynaud. We were both frustrated that recorded music had lost its sound quality. Our first recordings took three years to complete. Those recordings are the basis of Blue Coast Records.
Q: Who’s your biggest music inspiration?
Marenco: When I was young and played music frequently, my heroes were Miles Davis and Arthur Rubinstein. I’m also inspired by my friends who are incredible musicians like Art Lande and Paul McCandless. As an engineer starting in the '80s, I admired Quincy Jones, Trevor Horn and Bob Clearmountain for their incredible sound. In the '90s, I was inspired by Gerry Kearby, my friend and mentor who founded Liquid Audio, the first digital music software company. He also brought over the first recording device on the Mac® to us in the mid '80s. He was an amazing person to be around.
Now, I’m motivated by many of the new artists I work with who travel and tour incessantly with so much dedication. I love finding young, talented artists who have no idea what’s ahead of them. Their drive inspires me.
Q: What’s a milestone you’re most proud of?
Marenco: I don't think much about the GRAMMY® nominations or ACADEMY AWARD® projects as much as being part of music innovations in new media and distribution.
My first “moon walk” was back in November 1997 at UCLA while working with Liquid Audio. I was positioned to be the first engineer to record two live songs, have them uploaded to the Internet and played back to 1000 attendants as it was available worldwide for sale within an hour of the performance. It was the first audio file delivered from a live recording in under an hour. At the time, we might as well have been talking about flying to Mars. I’m proud to have been part of that historic moment even though I had no idea how much of an impact it would have 15 years later.
Another important milestone happened in June 2010 when Blue Coast Records made the first DSD files available for downloadable sale through the Internet. These weren’t just files on an SACD or sent on a disc. At the time, no playback devices were available yet except the Sony PlayStation™3. It started a movement. Now, more than 400 devices can play DSD files.
The other milestone was launching Blue Coast Records in 2007. I remember thinking I would give our first recording, Blue Coast Collection, one chance — a debut at the Paris Hi-fi Show. It turned out to be a critical success, and we haven’t looked back since. Blue Coast Collection is still our best-selling title. I’m proud to say that we have 60,000 fans who have signed up for our music.
Q: How has digital recording evolved over the years?
Marenco: In the 30-plus years I’ve been recording, good recording techniques haven’t changed. However, acceptance of less-than-great sound quality has become the norm, and people expect to get all their music for free. People are gradually starting to prioritize quality of sound over convenience, though. There is change coming as consumers of all ages start gaining more interest in DSD and vinyl purchases.
Q: Will millennials embrace high-res music?
Marenco: We’ve already seen it start to happen. More millennials are starting to see vinyl as an important part of their music collections. I’m seeing more young people inspired by higher quality sound and converting to High-Resolution Audio. It’s especially true outside of the U.S. A lot of our first-time buyers are in their 20s. Really, who needs 35,000,000 songs that sound like garbage? Those days are soon going to be over.
Q: What’s something you’d like to tell our readers?
Marenco: For those who love music and feel it’s important in their lives, please support your favorite artists by going to concerts, buying their music and telling friends what you’re listening to. Try to imagine a world without music. It’s tough, isn’t it? Music is what makes us human.