Salo Loyo – Keyboardist and Pro Tools Programmer for Luis Miguel
Originally from Mexico City, Salo Loyo grew up in a family of musicians. From an early age he showed his love for the piano and decided to turn it into a career at the age of 17. In 1985 he arrived in the United States and began his formal musical studies. Some of the artists he has collaborated with include Jon Anderson (Yes), Marco Antonio Solis, Charlie Zaa and Luis Miguel for whom he has written several hit songs such as “Sol, Arena y Mar”, “Tell Me a Kiss”, “Eres “Feeling You Far” and more. His songs have earned him prestigious awards from BMI, Grammys and Billboard. Apart from his work with Luis Miguel in the studio, Salo is part of his live ensemble playing keyboards and programming/sequencing. Salo Loyo uses exclusively Avid Pro Tools for all his recordings, arrangements and compositions, as well as for the handling of the sequences and the audio flow of Luis Miguel’s live show.
Originally from Mexico City, Salo Loyo grew up in a family of musicians. From an early age he showed his love for the piano and decided to turn it into a career at the age of 17. In 1985 he arrived in the United States and began his formal musical studies.
Some of the artists he has collaborated with include Jon Anderson (Yes), Marco Antonio Solis, Charlie Zaa and Luis Miguel for whom he has written several hit songs such as “Sol, Arena y Mar”, “Tell Me a Kiss”, “Eres “Feeling You Far” and more. His songs have earned him prestigious awards from BMI, Grammys and Billboard. Apart from his work with Luis Miguel in the studio, Salo is part of his live ensemble playing keyboards and programming/sequencing. Salo Loyo uses exclusively Avid Pro Tools for all his recordings, arrangements and compositions, as well as for the handling of the sequences and the audio flow of Luis Miguel’s live show.
Salo, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and experience as a musician/producer, and especially as an expert user of Avid products. Tell us, how was your first contact with Pro Tools?
It was about 23 years ago when I was recording with Jon Anderson (vocalist for “Yes”) and they gave me a demonstration of the software, I was hooked from that very moment.
How long have you been using Pro Tools and how did you learn to use it?
Around 1999 he was working on making editions for T.V. And the platform they were using was Pro Tools. I remember downloading the free version of Pro Tools. I began to get familiar with it with the old, but sure method of “just checking it out”. I was already familiar with some other recording platforms; however Pro Tools was the one that made the most sense and made the workflow easier, which is always welcome.
Why did you choose Pro Tools over all the array of options that exist?
As I mentioned, Pro Tools has a user-friendly interface, it is easy to use and you record/edit in conjunction with MIDI and audio from a single screen, which saves you a lot of time and keeps the spark of inspiration alive. Ultimately this is the most valuable aspect of the creation process. Pro Tools is the industry standard and therefore one of the great advantages is being able to collaborate with the entire professional community without any problems. Being able to work at home from my laptop and knowing that I can get to any studio, and that my sessions will be fully compatible, it’s truly priceless. Now with the advances in social networks and so on, Avid once again puts itself at the forefront with collaborations through the cloud opening a new world of possibilities to create, share and live our music.
Do you use any other system?
Look, I used almost every systems available, and I’ll tell you in all honesty, I always ended up coming back to Pro Tools for a very simple reason, it’s the easiest most user friendly music system, and I did not have that learning curve that exists almost everywhere else – I did not have that with Pro Tools. And it’s also a fact that one of the most important features of this software is that as far as collaborations with professional musicians are concerned, with Pro Tools as ‘the standard’, you can almost always be sure that your counterpart will most likely be working on Pro Tools too… so, again almost always, collaborations are much easier and fast.
Let’s talk about your live performances on the stage with Luis Miguel, what is Pro Tools’ role?
Indeed, one of my main responsibilities in my work with Luis Miguel is being in charge of the supporting tracks (sequence) and Pro Tools is definitely my DAW (digital workstation) of preference.
It is totally stable and that is the most important thing in a live situation. The ease of editing and configuring groups, outputs and VCAs makes my life a lot easier. To be able to use the same platform from conception of music, to carry it through the whole creative process of production, and then take it live, is very valuable.
Pro Tools is another member of the band and one of the most important. Here’s where we carry all the supporting tracks for the concert. As you know, the music of Luis Miguel is very complex in terms of arrangements and orchestrations, we are talking about big productions with songs that include up to 50 and 60 tracks. To replay this live in its entirety, as he has wished (to sound just like the record), it has become necessary to program additional supporting tracks in Pro Tools, since it would be very difficult to travel and play the tour with an 50-60-piece orchestra. That is where Pro Tools comes in with the supporting tracks that include the additional string ensembles and horn sections. Also, any song can have up to 5 guitar parts (and we only have one guitarist playing live). Bottom line, these base/support tracks bring out the magic when combined with the live music performed by this band of incredible musicians that we have and, in turn, the support that gives us the environment of the sequences.
And finally, another important feature is that each song is associated with a video short film track running along with the sequence and is sent to the video monitors (teleprompter). We have two systems synchronized by SMPTE. The sequence is precisely what binds us all because we are running the teleprompter with the video track that goes directly and exclusively to Luis Miguel. We have a backup system in case there are any glitches, and the SMPTE code is also used by the lighting engineer to synchronize the lighting effects. Pro Tools is a vital element for the Luis Miguel show. With the video track tied with time code to the musical sequence tracks, Luis Miguel will always feel comfortable knowing that everything is going to play in an orderly fashion ,and in the same way, show after show. And since he really likes the show to be exactly the same every night, then the goal is to make the artist feel good and comfortable.
Tell us more about what’s inside your sequences…
Well, there is a bit of everything. There are guitars, keyboards, horns, strings and percussion sounds like bells, waterfalls, keys and even some kind of dramatic effects like some explosions that we used at the beginning of the show and a couple of song endings to add intensity and drama. None of these production elements are really “playable” by any of the musicians, but they are important for the final mix, so it is best to put them into the sequence within Pro Tools.
What is your main role as a keyboard player?
I play the synthesizers. I play supporting beds like pads, bells, some strings. Depending on the song, we always choose most of the tracks that can be played with the live band and the rest gets into the sequence inside of Pro Tools.
Tell us more about the playback in Pro Tools…
I am exactly in charge of all this and I have full control of right from the stage. The computers or CPUs are behind the scenes, but I have two screens where I see and coordinate everything. As I am playing, also behind the stage next to the CPU there’s another engineer whose main role is to make sure that everything flows and -in case of interruptions or malfunctions- he is in charge of giving us support while we play. But I have full control of the sequence too.
What other type of gear from Avid do you use aside from Pro Tools on stage?
All of our streaming equipment is fully Avid including the hardware. We have the HDIO interfaces (two of each) that are interfaces of 16 inputs and 16 analog outputs, and we use 13 of the 16. No matter how many tracks the song has, we squeeze everything through those 13 channels. The systems are all synchronized via SMPTE (time code) as I mentioned already and is generated by the SYNC IO also from Avid.
Let’s talk about the use of Avid recording equipment. Are the shows recorded?
We normally don’t record the shows, but we do record certain elements and parts during the rehearsals. In Luis Miguel’s show, we play several medleys. In order to be able to make the song transitions work well during the live show we record these elements and other ideas directly to Pro Tools from the rehearsals. One more of the many reasons why we use Pro Tools. it is used throughout the process, from rehearsal to stage. I can take a hard drive and connect it to my system, and that’s all I need to be able to do my job and have everything I need. Before we used Pro Tools, it was a very painful process to coordinate all of this. Especially when working with multiple platforms. Above all, making sure everything was the same, nothing moved or fell out of time – or even worse that there could a conflict of compatibility and sample rates. From my experience, this is what I value most about using Pro Tools from start to finish.
Since we’re talking about recording rehearsals, tell us how the tour is built?
First we choose the songs. Since Luis Miguel’s career goes back three decades, usually all the shows include a few other songs from the older ones. From there, I talk to the label and request Pro Tools sessions. When I receive the session(s), I then set up what are called the “Stems” (consolidating multiple tracks to a single track or stereo track). I record keyboard “Stems”, strings and horns and assign them to the outputs already pre-established by the FOH engineers. My job is to deliver the balanced mix of the sequence to the engineers and that all the instruments have a stable audio level between all the songs. Doing this with Pro Tools is very easy. Since AVID added the “Clip Gain” function you are looking at the graph and you see it by intensity and by its size, and with that visual reference it is very easy to adjust levels and to get as close as possible to the results you want. All this without changing screens, everything is done on the same screen which makes the workflow – again – as easy and fluid as possible. Yet another key feature that gives us more freedom working with Pro Tools.Another important feature I should add…
Its output assignment. When you are on stage and you have the artist and the rest of the band waiting for you, I have to assign 50, 60 tracks to outputs, so with Pro Tools I can assign groups easily and assign them to their due outputs and all this with just a couple of simple clicks. A shortcut on the computer keyboard (Shift + Enter). And with this, they are assigned! It’s that easy! Like this feature, Pro Tools has many more that let you do substantial jobs in a matter of seconds. This way you will always be ready quickly and the artist will take it into account. You’re always ready and you do not make him wait, nor the rest of the band either and that’s why they like you even more! And of course, Pro Tools also has an advantage allowing the user to arrange things by means of colors, by which all work becomes always visual. When you’re on stage and in the dark, being able to identify and encode things through well-established colors is another plus, which makes working with Pro Tools simply a requirement in everything we do.
Has Pro Tools ever failed you during any of the concerts?
It has failed a couple of times, but not because of Pro Tools itself, but because we dropped the computer… [laughs]. The truth is that the system itself has never failed us, in fact it has always worked extremely well and it is a rock-solid performer.
All Avid equipment that, although designed for studio, is very resistant and withstands perfectly the most demanding situations of the tour. We have played on the beach where the wind blows and the sand flies all over, we’ve played in the ‘palenques’ (mexican rodeo-type entertainment) where drinks are spilled, etc., and in other types of environments where the gear will always be subject to a good portion of heavy duty use and external elements. Avid’s gear is truly the most resistant and well-crafted rugged construction. You can expect the best quality and performance.
What can you tell us about using the HD equipment?
Of course, that’s very important too. On the last tour, we started using HD Native. Remember that in previous years, in order to be able to use HD you had to install the audio card to the computer CPU because laptops don’t take CPI cards. Now all that has changed. Pro Tools HD Native small interface connected to the ‘thunderbolt’ port, it’s plug-n-play! And that now gives us the ability to run the HD system through laptops. We no longer need towers. Back in the day it was necessary to carry a giant system and now it is done with just a laptop or two. It reduces the cost and makes it much easier to transport. Especially, in those places like the ‘palenques’, concerts on the beach, small places that do not have the space or infrastructure to put large systems. Precisely it was in one of those places [as I mentioned] that by not having an access ramp to roll the equipment into the venue, was where we dropped the computer and ruined the system. We had to replace it immediately. Here you can see what a big advantage the HD Native means.
Finally, tell us a little about your studio work when recording Luis Miguel’s albums, and with your own band…
That’s right, in fact the way I use Pro Tools and all Avid equipment is basically the same both on the stage and in the studio. The ability to be able to have all the features that I talked about like high resolution recording, grouping, color differentiation, tracks, outputs and ease of use, make Pro Tools undoubtedly the best system. When we are developing a new album for Luis Miguel, after the song selection process, my brother Francisco [Loyo], the music director, and I started to develop what I call the ‘skeletons’, which are the basic sequences in the Pro Tools session. That includes the chord changes (harmonies), the forms and the first ideas of some very basic arrangements -like horns- and from there we come up with everything else. Since everything is born in Pro Tools, taking it to the recording studios and the world stages is the most practical and easiest job in the world.
These days, I am also collaborating with my own band, No-Pals, recording and producing our second EP which will be released by Q2 2017. No-Pals is formed mainly by members of Luis Miguel’s group such as Lalo Carrillo (Bass) and Jeff Nathanson (Sax).