Producer, mixer, and engineer Hector Castillo got his start on the other side of the music industry. When he was young his band was signed to a major label and they toured the country, but Hector soon realized he’d much rather be in the studio than on the road. After enrolling at Full Sail and getting a taste of the business from the other side of the glass, he knew what he wanted to do.
After graduating with his Recording Arts associate’s degree in 1999, Hector went straight to New York City, where he picked up an internship at Looking Glass, the studio owned by American composer Phillip Glass.
“I knew I wanted to work there, so I pounded on the door and they said to come back in a couple of months, so I kept at it,” Hector remembers. “I found a little job to sustain myself, but I kept going back to Looking Glass all the time until the internship opened up and I took it.”
Working alongside Phillip Glass, Hector quickly climbed the ranks, from intern to assistant to staff engineer (and eventual partner). He credits Phillip with teaching him about recording, and in his first years at the legendary studio he worked on numerous film scores, including Glass’s own projects for The Hours and Notes on a Scandal. But after several years of mixing classical scores and recording 80-piece orchestras, Hector was ready for a change. He started gravitating toward the avant-garde style of rock ‘n roll that he really wanted to record.
“With classical music, it’s a very clear focus,” says Hector. “At some point, I wanted to smoosh the canvas and go for a dirty, more experimental sound. I had a lot of freedom with how to treat orchestras with Phillip’s music – I recorded them in different sections at a time so when it came time to mix I could treat them differently. But I got to a certain limit with classical music. I wanted to change the lens a bit.”
Hector’s credits include work with experimental rock artists David Bowie, Bjork, Lou Reed, and David Byrne, to name a few. In recent years – since the closure of Looking Glass and the move to his own private studio in 2010 – he’s started working even outside that genre, with other experimental acts, Latin artists, and emerging indie bands and musicians, including electronic act The Brazilian Girls, Argentinian rocker Gustavo Cerati, Fuerza Natural, Beck, and more.
“Working with indie bands and younger bands is just a different adrenaline rush for me because everything’s new, and you can try anything out because they’re hungry to experiment,” says Hector. “You put a microphone in front of someone who’s been in front of a microphone 1,000 times and they already know how to deal with it. But when you have somebody that doesn’t, you can tell them to do whatever you want really. I found that to be very liberating and fun and that’s kind of where I’m at now.”
Hector has found a good mix of working with both new and established artists, in order to “keep it as interesting as I can.” One of his current projects is the DVD for the Roger Waters’s The Wall, a combination of live recordings from several of Waters’s recent sold-out shows.
Hector’s eclectic resume is the result of being open to work with all types of artists. It’s something he suggests students do as well: “If you just think hip hop and only listen to that, you don’t have a big palette of stuff to pull from,” he says. “You have to keep it fresh, with both music and gear. When I was recording a country artist, I learned how to use pedal steel, and now I use it in my productions all the times, especially when I want strings and can’t afford an orchestra.”
These days, he spends a good amount of time traveling, recording bands in various locations and bringing the tracks back to his Brooklyn studio to mix. “My studio feels more like a musician’s studio than an engineer’s studio,” he says. “It’s all instruments, amps, guitars, and pianos. That’s what I like. When I’m there on my own, I’ll play with the stuff.”
More than 15 years and five Latin GRAMMY Awards later, Hector still finds himself branching out in the industry, trying out new things in the studio, and mixing and producing both new and established musicians. It’s been in those smaller, more undiscovered sessions where he says some of his most memorable career highlights have come from.
“Obviously working with people like Phillip Glass, David Bowie, and Bjork are highlights,” says Hector, “but sometimes the highlight is when you have this weird realization about music in a session you wouldn’t expect. When you’re in a session with a superstar you really have to be on point, and sometimes when you’re not in such a stress-driven situation, you can be looser and come to breakthroughs easier.”