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Pickle Music’s Dario Calequi Is Making (Sonic) Waves

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The sound designer, mix engineer and composer tells LBB about his musical ‘epiphany’, how technology is helping the industry, and why Pickle Music is going from strength to strength

Pickle Music’s Dario Calequi Is Making (Sonic) Waves

Music runs through Dario Calequi’s DNA. As a child, he’d wander around his home to the tune of whatever Mozart or Bach classic his Mother happened to be playing on piano at the time. Such a refined musical upbringing may not have had entirely the desired effect, however, as Dario found his sonic tastes aligned more with anarchic rock and roll such as the Ramones. 

Fast forward to today, and Dario is in charge of the sound design, mix, and composition for household name brands such as Burger King and Toyota, whilst drawing on his experience with big-budget Netflix series.

To reflect on how the line between ads and entertainment is continuing to blur - and why he’s passionate about democratising high-quality audio - LBB caught up with Dario… 


Above: Dario’s work in 2021 included Toyota’s beautiful ‘Nora’s Joy’ campaign. 


LBB> What kind of kid were you growing up, and when did you first know that a career in music and sound would be right for you?

Dario> It all started with the piano at my mother’s house. She was very talented, and loved to play the classics like Bach and Mozart on the weekends and after work. I remember she’d make me go to these lessons for classical piano. But the trouble is that, when you’re a teenager, you don’t want to be mastering the classics - you want to be rocking out to Metallica or the Ramones! But, as much as it wasn’t what I was looking for at that exact moment, playing the classics on that piano was my first contact with music. 

However, my passion for music really took off - and I think this is true for most people who love music - when I started sharing it with my friends. I can remember like it was today how my brother came home from school with a punk rock CD and I had this kind of epiphany, like ‘oh my god - this is what I need to do’. Something just clicked in my mind, and everything musical that I’ve done since then has stemmed from that moment. 


LBB> Do you still get any of those ‘epiphany moments’ now? 

Dario> Sometimes, yes. Though you can never predict it, of course. It’s rare, but occasionally I will hear a song that feels like it's unlocking a part of my mind that I never knew was there. These are the moments which show us why we love music. 


LBB> I read a quote from you in 2019, in which you expressed your wish that the quality of speakers on handheld devices would improve in order to offer users a ‘more enriching’ experience with sound. Have you been encouraged by how technology has evolved since then, or is there still a lot of work to do? 

Dario> I am encouraged, yeah. As technology continues to evolve there’s no doubt that quality is getting better, and we’re also seeing some fantastic headphones which used to be very expensive drop down to affordable prices. At the same time, I think the rise of the creator economy has forced a greater appreciation for sound quality because so many of us find ourselves listening back to our own voices or our own work. So, yes, I am optimistic that more and more people will have access to high quality audio. 


LBB> Why is that something which is important to you? 

Dario> There are two reasons. Firstly, higher quality audio can provide you with total immersion. I think that being immersed in the work of an artist - blocking out all other sounds or distractions - is the best way to pay respect to their work. 

But secondly, and more importantly. There are simply things you miss when you’re listening to poor quality audio. So many of us watch movies and big-budget TV on our phones now, but in doing so we sometimes deprive ourselves of a lot of audio which enriches these stories we love. Many productions use audio cues to send subliminal messages to the audience, but you risk missing out on these when you aren’t using the best equipment. Linked to this, as well, is the fact that I’ve seen many critical decisions get made about projects on Zoom calls using sound which is coming out of a laptop. We often explain to people that downloading the music and listening by yourself will give a different - and often better - impression. 

Of course, the most important thing is still the idea. The best equipment in the world only exists to support great ideas.

For me, sound quality is like the difference between fast food and a beautiful home cooked meal. With the cheaper option, you’re much less likely to get the quality and nutrition that you need. 

 

LBB> You have a very broad experience in the industry, with both ads and cinematic Netflix series. Do you think that the lines between advertising entertainment are blurring in the modern industry, or will they always require a distinct approach from you? 

Dario> The boundaries are blurring, yes, and as a result I will approach all jobs in the same way when it comes to quality. 

This is something which also comes back to how we interact with media in today’s world. Because we will watch a blockbuster movie on the same device as we view a social post, we will - subconsciously or not - expect a similar level of quality from both. For creators, that does mean that the lines are blurring as you say. 


LBB> And is there a particular project - or simply a moment - which stands out in your memory as particularly significant in your career so far? 

Dario> This world we work in moves so quickly that it’s difficult to reflect on projects which are in the past! In general, you take new lessons and tools from every project which puts you in a better position for the next one. 

Having said that, one campaign which will always stick out in my memory is our work with David, ‘Confusing Times’, for Burger King. That was a super fun project in which we tried a few new things, and watching the finished ad back is an amazing experience. 


Above: ‘Confusing Times’ for Burger King playfully alluded to post-pandemic uncertainty around social situations.


LBB> You’ve also spoken in the past about how you need to consider more and more formats in the work that you do. Can you tell us a little bit about how your approach changes depending on the format?

Dario> In 2022, it’s essentially impossible to predict precisely how people are going to listen to your work. It might be through a state-of-the-art audio setup with a subwoofer in a living room, or it might be from the speaker of a mobile phone. Or anything in between.

So I’ll always make sure that a part of my creative process involves listening back to my work on as many devices as possible. Listening from as many different perspectives as possible helps clarify your thoughts, and gives you a greater understanding of your own work. 


LBB> If you could travel back in time and give one piece of career advice to your younger self, what would it be and why? 

Dario> Oh that’s easy - make sure you see Prince play live before it’s too late! 

On a serious note, I do think it’s important that you don’t skip steps in this industry. My work has improved greatly since I started working with better quality equipment, so perhaps my advice could be ‘make sure you get great equipment as soon as possible’. But I wouldn’t want to have totally skipped the part where I was struggling, because that’s how you learn. Every step on your path is connected. 


LBB> Finally, the past two years have been challenging for many reasons. How have you personally been keeping inspired and motivated throughout it all? 

Dario> I’m a lucky guy, because I am someone who can be locked in a studio with some instruments and a mixer, or some kind of sound design task, and I’ll be happy for days! 

But, of course, there have still been challenges during the pandemic. A great source of motivation for me has been Pickle’s continued growth and seeing us working alongside amazing people and clients. It helps to keep pushing yourself and to be learning all the time. 

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Pickle Music, Wed, 16 Feb 2022 20:15:56 GMT