Unmatched sonic detail enables Gajate to capture every nuance of performances for artists like Christina Aguilera and shows like American Idol.
While a career in music is the culmination of a lifetime of work for many, few get their professional start as early as percussionist and producer Roland Gajate Garcia. “I come from a musical family”, he says, a notable understatement given that his father–Richie Gajate Garcia–is a well-known percussionist and educator who has performed with the likes of Diana Ross, Phil Collins, and many other industry-leading acts.
My father has been my teacher my entire life, and getting that kind exposure to music at such a young age allowed me to progress very quickly, he adds.
The younger Gajate started appearing as an occasional substitute for his father at age 14, turning fully professional at 16. “I’ve been in the industry for a long time and developed a lot of relationships”, he says. After years as a top flight player for live and broadcast events like American Idol, The Voice, and Dancing with the Stars, Gajate found himself looking for new avenues for growth. “As a musician I’m always wanting to challenge myself”, he says. “That’s why during the last five years I started transitioning to writing and production”.
Room for growth
The expansion of Gajate’s professional purview begat a home studio upgrade, with Gajate acoustically refitting a guest house on his property to his specifications. “The room here is about 20’ by 20’”, he says. “It’s a good size but feels cozy–a little bit like home and a little bit like work at the same time”. Gajate used bass trapping, absorption, and diffusion to improve the acoustic response of his space without making it sterile. “I wanted to leave some reflective surfaces because I’m recording drums and percussion”, he says.
As part of the upgrade, he also began to research high-quality monitoring options. He soon discovered Finnish speaker manufacturer Amphion, whose thoughtfully designed, high performance passive monitors are a top choice among chart-topping engineers.
“I first encountered Amphion speakers at another studio in LA and was impressed with what I heard”, he says. A visit to a dealer followed, where Gajate compared a pair of Amphion One18s to several other speakers from other manufacturers. “In the context of a shootout, I could easily hear the difference in definition and clarity between Amphion and the others”, he says. “The One18s didn’t seem to be coloring the sound in any way. It was a clear ‘yes’ for me”.
Referencing some of his favorite records, Gajate confirmed his initial impressions. “I studied jazz in college and have a lot of experience playing different styles of music, so I have a good knowledge of what things should sound like acoustically”, he says. “When I listened to jazz records on the One18s–trios, big bands, or otherwise–I felt like I was in the room with the players myself. That really sold me”. He acquired the One18s along with an Amphion Amp700 power amplifier, and before long expanded his system to include the BaseTwo25 bass extension system as well.
People who came to the studio couldn’t believe the bass response that was coming out of my One18’s on their own, but as I started getting more serious about writing and production I wanted to get an even fuller picture of what was going on in the low end, he says.
His 3-way monitoring system soon provided him with frequencies from 20 Hz to 20 kHz with a tolerance of +/-3 dB, ensuring access to maximal information in his recordings.
Dialing in the details
Authentically capturing acoustic percussion instruments constitutes a significant part of Gajate’s work, both for studio records and live shows.
“I played for Dancing with the Stars as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction for Eminem and Lionel Ritchie recently, and for many of those big live gigs I have to do some number of pre-records here in my studio”, he says. “Meanwhile, I’m also cutting percussion for Christina Aguilera’s new studio record”. Attention to detail defines his approach to engineering these recordings, ensuring the energy of his performances translates.
“When I set up to record drums or percussion, I’m looking to accurately represent how I hear the instruments in the room”, he explains. “I’m a perfectionist, and there are so many factors with percussion. There are different types of heads–plastic versus natural skin, for example–and they all speak differently. I’m always trying different mics and micing techniques to capture those details”.
Solid monitoring helps Gajate know when he has hit his mark. “My speakers are painting the picture”, he says. “If the instruments sound good in the room and they’re not sounding good in my monitors, I know I need to adjust the microphone type, positioning, room placement, or some other variable. If I like what I’m hearing in my monitors, I know it will translate to my mixes”.
While acoustic instruments are central to much of Gajate’s work, his production and songwriting endeavors encompass a wide variety of genres, making it critically important that his monitors can handle a wide range of material with the same clarity, imaging, and integrity.
I produce EDM and other styles of music as well as things with more conventional instrumentation. Being able to do a jazz record, an acoustic record, and an EDM record in the same day on the same monitors is awesome. That versatility is so key to what I do, and the Amphions have proven themselves time and time again in that department, he says.
Spreading the sound
Gajate feels confident that his recent work is some of his best yet, and cites his broadcast background as one key to his success.
“A lot of the skills I developed in the broadcast world for recreating songs and things like that are skills that I use as a producer and a writer”, he says. “They help me stand out and have landed me some big placements and credits”. Meanwhile, his studio and monitoring system have continued to impress clients. “Everyone that comes in here can’t believe the detail I’m getting out of these speakers”, he says. “Especially the bass response. They’re just blown away”.
Rather than keeping his preferred tools to himself, he is more than happy to spread the word. “I can think of at least ten people who I’ve recommended Amphion to that have gone on to purchase their monitors for their own studios”.
For Gajate, the speakers also contribute to a clean, professional aesthetic matched by his acoustic panels, which he and a partner design and sell under the brand ioAcoustics.
The look of the One18s atop the BaseTwo25s really adds to the vibe of the room. Who doesn’t love to be in a beautiful space with great gear? It’s an amazing feeling, and my monitors are a big part of it, he says.