Since the age of 12, Venezuelan producer, engineer and two-time Latin Grammy winner Rubén Salas knew that he wanted to work in music. After a trip to Miami where he happened upon Full Sail University, he decided––largely against his family’s wishes––that he’d pursue his degree in audio engineering. Ultimately, he graduated in 2006. Salas came to Full Sail with the intention of working in rock but later gravitated back to his Latin roots. Artists he’s worked with since include Venezuelan super band Guaco, singer-songwriter Erika Ender (co-writer of mega-hit “Despacito”) and multi-platinum artist Felipe Pelaez, all of whom are Latin Grammy winners.
On his first day at Full Sail, Salas did not speak a word of English. Consequently, a field that was hard to break into was rendered even harder. But his personal philosophy helped pull him through. “I often tell people ‘Work hard and your dreams will come true,’” he says. “I’m a person of vision and projection. It doesn’t matter how difficult things are. You can always develop ideas and make them happen.”
A challenge throughout the industry is coaxing the best from an artist while in the studio. Accordingly, Salas has found his own way to set a nurturing tone. “Artists are very peculiar people, no matter what the genre,” he observes. “When you’re in the studio with them, skills, ego, everything has to be set aside. What matters is how you can relate. The studio is very intimate and you need to establish a relationship. It’s all about energy transmission, which is key to the recording’s success.”
Something else he often finds vexing is capturing good vocals. But this isn’t for any technical reason. It’s due more to differing interpretations of a song. “Even if you want the song to go one way, you have to put your ego aside,” he asserts. “You have to respect the artist’s vision.”
Among Salas’ favored pieces of studio gear is a microphone created by a friend of his: the Berliner U77. “These were made in low numbers and they’re incredible,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter what kind of vocal you use it on. It adapts to everything. For a male vocal, I may have used one mic like an [Telefunken] ELA M 251 and another for a female vocal. But I can use the U77 on all of them. It doesn’t matter where you put it. It always sounds great.” He’s also partial to the Chandler TG2. “That pre-amp just by itself is magical,” he adds.
Although he values the experiences, skills and connections he gained at Full Sail, Salas nonetheless says that a degree in engineering alone is scarcely a guarantee of employment or, indeed, success. “I recommend it but just because you went to Full Sail, UCLA or Berklee doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to a job,” he insists. “Your resume doesn’t speak for you. Employers don’t look at it, so it’s very important to network. Work hard and be the best at what you do. That will be your presentation card.”
Salas has several projects in the works, including Rubén Blades’ latest record (he recorded the strings for the album) as well as 123 Andrés’ Movimiento––the Spanish word for movement––his forthcoming children’s record, which is planned for a 2018 release. Salas believes that it’s important to help and serve children, which forms part of the reason why he had a hand in that record.