Producer/engineer Patrizio Pigliapoco is in the fast lane of his career, but as hard as he’s working these days, he’s enjoying the ride. He regards his work—which has included producing, mixing, and arranging for Juicy J, Fergie, Prince Royce, and Little Dickie—as the stuff of dreams, particularly since 2016, when he found his place in Chris Brown’s studio. Pigliapoco’s gig is not for the faint of heart: He’s on call around the clock, but he and Brown have found synergy in Brown’s speed-of-light style of cutting vocals once, line for line, and Pigliapoco’s razor-sharp ability to understand and deliver what an artist wants and needs without ever having to ask for it.
Pigliapoco—who works exclusively in the box with Brown—demonstrates mastery of every angle of music production, including the business acumen, communication skills, and creative chops to help shape tracks into hit songs. “Once I get the track in there and we start figuring out the song, we’ll start arranging the beat because a lot of times, the beat is arranged in whatever form the producer wanted it to come in,” he says. “We’ll start shortening parts and moving parts around, creating a song out of the track—the whole process from the raw track to the end final product.”
Pigliapoco records Brown with a Telefunken 251 microphone, Neve 1073 preamp, and a Tube-Tech CL 1B compressor—and Auto-Tune is a must. Pigliapoco and Auto-Tune are a lot like old friends whose relationship has transcended change—including the shape of pop music, the expectations of the audience, and constantly evolving technology. “I’ve been using Auto-Tune probably since I started,” he explains. “Out of high school, I became Juicy-J’s engineer for Three 6 Mafia, when I was 18. I started using Auto-Tune then, obviously not the way it’s used now because music has changed a lot in the past 10 years.” He says he now uses Auto-Tune every day, “With Chris, I’ve been using it non-stop. It’s the first thing we have to open.”
Pigliapoco and Brown print Auto-Tune to tracks, which gives Pigliapoco more freedom, considering it’s not unusual for Brown to record up to 10 records in one day. “At the end of the day, with Chris, when he cuts a take and he hears it back and he says, ‘Okay. Next line,’ that take is done,” he says. “There’s no going back. If there is something wrong with it later, he’s just going to recut it. It’s just a lot faster than trying to open up the Auto-Tune editing and try to edit something when you can cut it 10 times in that time.” As Pigliapoco puts it, with an artist as prolific and fast moving as Brown, Auto-Tune helps him keep “a momentum of perfectness. We just got to keep it going.”
Pigliapoco has perfected a reliable vocal production formula: “When I open up a session, the first thing I have to do is put the key in. Usually, Chris prints Auto-Tune between 14 and 2 depending if he’s doing something that he wants a lot of Auto-Tune on. If he just wants it ‘regular,’ it’ll be 14 or 13 on the Retune speed.” Here, Auto-Tune is used for obvious effect. “Chris obviously can sing,” he says. ‘He doesn’t need it at the end of the day.” He adds that Auto-Tune speeds up tracking because “using it is like having a little bit of WD-40 on your wheels; you’re just going to get there a little quicker,” he explains. “I’ve recorded people without Auto-Tune, and it has taken that much longer to record, because humans aren’t perfect.”
At the same time, Pigliapoco isn’t afraid to branch out with Auto-Tune; lately he’s been making heavy use of the Formant feature, which he’ll sometimes apply later, after vocals are recorded: “I love to put that on vocals to give them crazy effects,” he says. “It sounds like it’s a pitch down, but it’s not a full pitch down. It just makes it sound like the guy has smoked a lot of cigarettes, or is really old, or something like that. To put that vocal through reverb and effects really gives it a different vibe.”
And whether he’s using Auto-Tune straight up to print, or for cutting edge effects, does Pigliapoco consider Auto-Tune crucial to his craft? “One hundred percent. Auto-Tune, literally, has changed everything. Auto-Tune has shaped the entire industry.” The same could be said for the artistry of Chris Brown and Patrizio Pigliapoco.
Music and Technology Writer
Sarah Jones is a writer, musician, and content producer who chronicles the creative and technical forces that drive the music industry. She's served as editor-in-chief of Mix, EQ, and Electronic Musician magazines and is currently the live sound editor of Live Design magazine. She’s a longtime board member in the San Francisco chapter of The Recording Academy, where she develops event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers.