From touring the world with rock & roll band Blue Öyster Cult to producing his own music-centric podcast on YouTube, Richie Castellano’s passion for music spans far and wide. A-T recently had the opportunity to sit down for a Q&A with Richie. In this exclusive interview, he shares details about his journey in the music industry, his favorite products to use while recording, and his passion for music. Read the full interview with Richie Castellano below.
Many people may recognize you from the YouTube video you produced recreating Queen’s iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody” with more than 1.5 million views! What was the inspiration for the video and how long did it take you to produce it from start to finish?
I got the chance to participate in the Queen Extravaganza auditions. It was an incredible experience. Queen flew all the participants to LA to audition at the Foo Fighters’ studio. I got to meet Roger Taylor which was a big thrill for me. That whole experience was the inspiration to make the video. I had been obsessed with that song since the first time I heard it in a movie theater seeing Wayne’s World with my dad. It’s accurate to say I’d been slowly learning this song since I was 12 and at 31, I finally felt confident enough to play it.
The entire process took a week. I locked myself in my studio until it was finished. The hardest parts for me were the piano and the lead vocal. Since I knew the piano part was going to kick my butt, I started the whole process by laying the piano track down. I figured that if I couldn’t get past that, then I’d save myself a bunch of time and not finish the project. Luckily, I was able to get a few clean takes to work with, and then the rest fell into place.
With a variety of covers on your YouTube channel, do you ever write or produce original music?
Yes! I love playing covers, but original music is a big part of my life. People are more likely to search for covers on YouTube than my original music, but I do have a large catalog of originals. I’ve been writing and recording music since I was a kid. I released my first original CD when I was 18. It’s called Alone In My Basement. That album ended up winning awards from BMG and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. The awards ceremony for the Songwriters Hall of Fame was at the Friars Club in NYC. I got to bring my dad and grandfather to that event. It was really cool. Since then I’ve recorded 3 more full albums of original music. My second album, Progeny, is a progressive rock album with some pop and blues influences. My third album is called Two Part Invention and features a collection of fun power-pop songs. My fourth album is called MorningStarlett which is an epic metal album featuring my wife on lead vocals. I also have written theme music for several comedians including Nick DiPaolo, Kevin Brennan, and The Hole podcast. Another fun thing I got to do is write songs and scores for the company Superbooths. I’m currently working on my fifth album. My original music is available on iTunes and on my website.
When I was in college studying audio production, we got access to a mic closet with all the obvious suspects. This was a great opportunity for me to try a bunch of different things and learn what I liked. The microphone that always did what I wanted was the AT4033a. I’ve used it on almost every project I’ve done in my studio since then. While in college I got record Grammy winning jazz bassist Todd Coolman. He was so impressed by the way it sounded on his bass that I think he went out and bought one. I also used the AT4033a on Regina Spektor’s vocals for her debut album. That mic has followed me. I love the way it sounds on my voice. When I can’t use it for space or bleed reasons, I use its little brother, the AE3300, which I believe has the same capsule, but in a handheld format.
On my YouTube show, Band Geek, we also rely heavily on the MOTU 1248. It’s a single rack space interface that gives us an insane amount of input/output (I/O). We record an average of 20 tracks and use 7 headphone mixes. The 1248 handles it all without breaking a sweat and also lets us control our own mixes from a smartphone app.
I’ve also recently discovered the Line 6 Helix which has made the task of getting great guitar sounds at headphone levels significantly easier.
In 2003, you toured with legendary rock band Blue Öyster Cult as their sound engineer. Shortly after, you joined the band and have played numerous instruments in addition to providing vocals. How did joining the band fall into place?
I’ve been working for BOC since 2000 as their fill-in sound engineer. In fact, the first time I ever left the US was with BOC. In 2004, they were in a pinch and needed a bass player with 4 days’ notice. I learned 22 songs and had my first show in front of a hardcore BOC fan audience in Las Vegas. The show went really well and I didn’t make any mistakes (at least that’s what I’m telling myself.) The original plan was to use me as a temporary bassist until they got a “name guy” to fill the position, but the guys were happy with what I was doing. This month marks my 14th year playing with them and they haven’t fired me yet! In 2006, the original 2nd guitarist/keyboardist, Allen Lanier, retired. Rather than replace him, they moved me over to play his parts and then got Rudy Sarzo to fill the bass chair.
Where did your passion for music stem from and who are your earliest inspirations?
The biggest inspiration for me is my family. My dad is an unbelievable soul singer and blues guitar player. My uncle is a phenomenal rock bass player and my grandfather was a jazz upright bass player. My dad and uncle have always had a band and as a kid they’d indulge me by letting me hang out at their rehearsals. That was a big part of my life growing up.
Outside of my family I was heavily influenced by ‘50s rock n roll. Little Richard, Elvis & Ritchie Valens were my favorites. Thanks to my dad and uncle I had a very well-rounded pop music education. Since they showed me the ‘50s stuff first, I discovered all the subsequent music chronologically which is actually a great educational tool. After I devoured the ‘50s stuff, I was all about The Beatles. Then I learned about lead guitar playing from Clapton and Hendrix. After that I got into the more virtuosic stuff like Yes, ELP, Queen and Stevie Wonder. Then I heard Van Halen, Yngwie, and Nuno Bettencourt and lost my mind.
In addition to touring the world, you also have a graduate and master’s degree in music. Where do you feel you received your most valuable lesson about music throughout these experiences?
I did learn a lot in college, but like everything else, college is what you make it. People can graduate with a degree in music and know exactly what they knew before going to college. Hard work is a big deal and probably the best teacher anyone could have. I think when you get to work with a lot of different people, you see what traits work and what traits don’t work. I’d say that being a competent, rehearsed musician is big deal, but it’s only part of the formula. If you’re always late, flaky with scheduling and a drag to be around, you may find yourself in an un-employable position. The successful musicians I’ve worked with usually have the right balance of all these traits. For me personally, I try to take the work very seriously while not taking myself seriously at all.
A few years ago, you created the podcast called “Band Geek with Richie Castellano,” what was the inspiration for your show?
This is a very simple answer. I started listening to a lot of podcasts and thought, “Hey, I can do that!”
Since then, the podcast has grown in a full-fledged video production series with comedy bits, live streams, and more. How would you describe the series to viewers and what can they expect with each video?
Band Geek is the name I give to most of the stuff I do on YouTube. Sometimes we’ll do interviews with our favorite musicians, other times we’ll just get together and record a song we’ve always wanted to try. Recently, I’ve been doing a solo live stream on Wednesday nights on my YouTube channel and those have been a lot of fun. Basically, the guiding principle with Band Geek mirrors my personal philosophy of taking the music very seriously, but not taking ourselves seriously. This is why we put Kazoo solos in songs, or our drummer takes a tea break during the pipe organ solo in “Close To The Edge.” These are just YouTube videos. No one’s getting paid to do them, so if they’re not fun, what’s the point?
How is recording a podcast different than recording a video?
Recording a podcast is fun and relaxing. Recording a video is a technical nightmare where things constantly go wrong. The truth is, we really need a video production crew, but I end up doing all of it myself, so we’re constantly troubleshooting, re-patching or trying to figure out why 3 of the cameras stopped recording during the best take of the day.
Can you describe the recording setup for your podcast?
Because we record in a tiny room, space and bleed are huge problems. To solve this, we record everything direct and can’t use acoustic drums. The drums are a Roland TD-11 kit from which we record MIDI. I almost always replace the sounds with samples in post. Abbey Road drummer and BFD3 are my go-tos. The bass is always direct. The guitars get recorded through the Line 6 Helix. Occasionally we’ll use an old VHT preamp through a Two Notes cabinet simulator. Keyboards are also MIDI’d so we don’t have to waste time looking for sounds. Vocals are recorded with a variety of Audio Audio-Technica mics. As I said earlier, I prefer the AT4033a or the AE3300. My wife uses the AT4047MP. We also use AT4040SP, AE4100, and ATM510 microphones. We mainly use the mic preamps in the MOTU 1248, but I also frequently use an SSL alpha channel and a UA 4710D. For headphones we use ATH-M50 and ATH-M40x. They’re all being fed by a headphone amp connected to the outputs of the MOTU 1248. Our DAW of choice is Pro Tools.
We’ve changed our video setup several times. We started with using a single iPhone camera. Now we use Logitech webcams recorded directly onto a hard drive. We also use Zoom Q2ns for mobile stuff. Videos are generally edited using Magix Vegas Pro.
From playing, to writing, recording, producing and everything in between – is there one aspect of music in general you enjoy above others?
I’m happy when I get to wake up and make something. I’m not too picky about what it is. Although, the feeling of hearing something you just wrote blasting through the speakers is hard to beat.
Do you have any advice for content creators or musicians who are trying to develop their own sound and style?
There’s a difference between fine tuning your content for your audience and chasing trends. If you do something to “get hits” it is very likely to fail. Start by doing something YOU love or by doing something YOU think is cool. This is not guaranteed to get you the results you want, but in the beginning it should be more about satisfying a creative need. When the subscribers, viewers, or listeners do start showing up, their feedback will help you decide what works for you and what doesn’t. Also, consistency is very important. Your first video will most likely go unnoticed. It might be your 11th video or your 63rd video that gets people to notice. Sticking to it can be grueling so make sure you really like what you’re doing, because you’re going to be doing it a lot!
Are you a content creator like Richie? How do you develop your own sound and style? Comment below!
[Photos courtesy of Richie Castellano]