CORPUS CHRISTIE, TEXAS: It was 1983 when Cruz Martínez – then just 12 years old – first took up the keyboard to play in a family band in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. His natural talent and musical intuition inspired La Sombra de Chicago to ask him to produce their album Porque te Quiero four years later – when Martínez was just 16 years old! That album was nominated for an American Grammy Award, solidifying Martínez’ standing in the industry and inspiring his move to Corpus Christi, Texas, where the label Freddie Records had a state-side studio. Soon after, Martínez started playing keyboards for the same Tejano band he was producing for La Sombra. From there, he founded and produced Los Kumbia Kings – arguably The Beatles of cumbia music, complete with a dramatic breakup – and more recently its descendent, Los Super Reyes. Across the decades, Martínez has amassed numerous platinum albums and Grammy nominations, along with five Grammy wins. He currently works out of personal studios in Corpus Christi and Monterrey, Mexico, while making plenty of time to produce, arrange, engineer and song write records for his wife – famous Latin singer Alicia Villarreal – and their children.
From the start, Martínez was fascinated by the technology used to create music and was a (very!) early adopter of the computer’s role in the process. “I’m a super tech freak and have been from day one – I actually learned to use computers at the same time that I learned music,” he said. “As I grew musically, so too grew my programming skills.” Martínez’ prodigious abilities as a keyboardist, songwriter, engineer, producer were all augmented by his – at the time, rare – aptitude for coaxing computers to do musically-useful tasks. “When I started out, I was saving files on 5 ?-inch floppy disks!” he laughed.
He continued, “I’m amazed at how far digital technology has come. It’s really damn good these days!” Martínez was also an early adopter of Metric Halo’s flagship plug-in, ChannelStrip, which was released in 1998, shortly after the company’s founding. “Ever since I got my first copy of Metric Halo ChannelStrip, I’ve used it on just about every album I have produced, including my later Grammy Award-winning albums with Los Kumbia Kings,” he said. “I use it on almost every single track. ChannelStrip’s presets are great; I usually start with a preset, which gets me most of the way to the correct sound… very quickly. People ask me, ‘Cruz, how do you get it to sound so good so fast!?’ My answer is that it’s mostly there in the ChannelStrip presets.”
Martínez relies on the method when he’s mixing in one of his studios and when he mixes on the road. In fact, his later Grammy Award-winning work was mostly completed on the road. “Having ChannelStrip on my laptop has been a huge blessing,” he said. He is unbiased in which instruments get the ChannelStrip treatment; drums, vocals, bass, and guitars all see plenty of use. “It’s a well named plug-in,” he said. “I really do call on it like it’s the channel strip of my digital console.”
In addition to ChannelStrip, Martínez has also made extensive use of Metric Halo HaloVerb and Metric Halo Multiband Dynamics plug-ins. “Of all the reverbs I’ve ever used, HaloVerb is my favorite,” he said. “It gives me such amazing and natural-sounding reverbs, and the parameter controls are comprehensive. I can completely change the sound of the reverb to give me distinct rooms that work well for different instruments or songs. Multiband Dynamics has been a lifesaver and time saver for me. A lot of less experienced engineers these days use the ‘record-as-is-and-worry-about-the-sound-later’ approach, which leaves me with some bad recordings that I have to fix. Multiband Dynamics is an excellent tool for adjusting dynamic levels within different frequency bands. I can clean things out and correct mistakes that would be impossible to address with any other tool. And like ChannelStrip, great presets and intuitive parameter controls really speed up the process.”
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