Otto Botté: “Less is more”

I want the music industry to be a platform that promotes mental health, spiritual health, and physical health. Music is a gift we barely understand as humans. It’s greater than we can comprehend, it’s purely experiential, and for that reason, it has immeasurable power. I want to learn how to harness that power for good […]

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I want the music industry to be a platform that promotes mental health, spiritual health, and physical health. Music is a gift we barely understand as humans. It’s greater than we can comprehend, it’s purely experiential, and for that reason, it has immeasurable power. I want to learn how to harness that power for good and continue to make music with a purpose, not for me, but for the world. It’d be selfish to make music for myself when I know the blessing it can be to others.

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Otto Botté.

Grammy-nominated multi-platinum, mixing/mastering engineer, and songwriter, Otto Botté, is 1/3 of the sample-based electronic group Pool Cosby, who just released their second album, Day Breaks. He now returns with new scheduled releases following singles, “Majestic Chemistry” and “Rocola De Verano” ft. Rochee and Grammy-nominated Trombonist Frank Cohen and signifies the beginning of more to come.

Botté also works with superstar musicians to help realize their success. His mastering work on Robin Schulz’s viral remix of “Waves” by Mr. Probz landed him a Grammy nomination in 2015 for Best Remixed Recording — Non-Classical. His studio work with Enrique Iglesias, Trey Songz, Fedez, Club Dogo, and others, has also secured the mastering engineer over 8 million in sales.

Whether it’s his projects or behind the mix, Otto Botté brings a unique touch to his work that speaks to his strong sense for making irresistible music. Influenced by his Colombian roots and fast-paced NYC life, his sound is perfect for a night out or an intimate moment in and guided by the music-rich world around him. With more singles and an EP on the way, he’s definitely a new artist to watch.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. I came up playing drums at church, playing in rock and electro bands since junior high, and trying to produce backing tracks with my brother in a little music room we had in our apartment. There I picked up the keyboard, bass, and guitars that bandmates would leave after writing sessions with my brother. I started strumming and slapping, not knowing music theory but with such a drive to play by ear and cover songs by Jamiroquai, Muse, and Soda Estereo. I played a lot in those days — it was all I wanted to do, splitting my time between soccer practice, homework, and lots of beat making, drumming, and fixing our old computer.

An earthquake event hit our city when I was seven years old, and my dad then decided to move temporarily to the US to pursue a better future for the family. His 6-month tryout turned into ten years of our family being apart. When I was 7, he left, and we reunited in NYC when I was 17 — about nine years ago. I’m forever grateful for my parents’ sacrifice and unconditional support. Our story has been an unquestionable driving force in my music career. I haven’t stopped playing, getting more curious by the day, and learning new things inspired by my parents’ bravery to let go and seek something new.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Sitting in that music room in Bogotá, frustrated over how bad our demos sounded, pushed me to pursue audio engineering after graduating from high school. I knew one day I would be able to crack the code — find the secret to professional record-making — and the US signature sound that pushes the globe’s music quality standard. I just had to keep experimenting with an open mind and asking the question: Why do my favorite records sound the way they do?

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Getting to work on a song with Enrique Iglesias was a true testament of how relationship building is the key to success. An A&R was looking to develop a new artist on their roster and reached out. We worked countless hours on other singles, and our relationship kept growing over the years. One day she told me she had a special record for me to mix and master, and out of nowhere, sent a song produced by Descemer Bueno (Cuban producer) with Enrique Iglesias as one of the primary artists. I lost it. It felt like I was about to cross a milestone. We did the record, everybody approved it, it came out, and a new career chapter started. Nothing has been overnight, too-many-to-count late nights asking “WHY,” coming up with the “how” right after, and then, the next morning, sending the file out to the client for approval.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had to ask my brother, who reminded me of a time we were about to play an awful show in Bogota. We were standing outside of the venue, waiting for our time slot to go on stage. A few weeks before the show, we asked the second guitarist of the band not to play with us anymore. This was hard to do, but even his mom noticed an issue in our sound. We were rehearsing at his apartment, and over dinner, she asked us, “who was playing that loud and squeaky out of tune guitar?” We all looked at each other, trying to understand what was going on and the right thing to say, though I don’t think anybody answered. So we are at the show, and the guy shows up to ask for his keyboard, one that we borrowed long ago and were about to use for the set. We panicked while our bass player tried to convince him to let us return it another day after the set. It seemed like our bass player wasn’t making any progress, but he was a psychology major; he had the instinct to talk him out of it, so we put our trust in him, and well, he did! The guy left, and then we just decided not to play the show, it was too shady, and we would end up playing a short set that would’ve taken longer to set up than to play through.

A couple of lessons learned from those days: When you are just starting, no gig is too small or unworthy. You have to do those. Skipping the line will only leave you unprepared for the life-changing gigs. Those are fewer and unforgiving because people will be there for a SHOW you have to put on. The second lesson is, always invest in your own gear, so that if you need it, nobody is going to come trying to take it away from you, and if it breaks, you won’t owe money to anyone. It sounds obvious, but we either learn through experiencing life ourselves or by looking at mirrors around us that reflect mistakes and truths in other people’s lives, so you can go through the pain or try to learn from history. Bonus lesson, always have clear in-person breakup conversations with people you are collaborating with when it feels right to move on. Always lead with kindness.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Two of my favorite albums of the year just came out in August: TRUE COLORS by Corey St.Rose and Couldn’t Stay by Michelle Chamuel, aka The Reverb Junkie. Both are independent artists I admire and respect deeply. I also just wrapped up mixing and mastering Jacuzzi Jefferson’s second studio album due this fall. He is one of my favorite producers, closest and dearest friends, and I’m honored he trusted me with his sound and vision.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

I’m fascinated with the idea of bursting the bubble. We are all part of circles, a kind of energy that influences, shapes, and builds us. I believe that energy is a potent tool for creating progress — if we learn not to be afraid to burst our bubble, be intentional about listening to different people, and do our best to put our biases aside. We don’t have to agree; we just need to listen, let other world-views sink in, and see the good in them. Find that life-giving beauty in our differences and diversity. Film and television are billboard-like outlets where people seek confirmation. Suppose casting supervisors, producers, and directors are intentionally showcasing what active listening can look like on the screen. In that case, I believe people would feel eager to follow those examples in their everyday lives, seek to create those same kinds of spaces, and broaden their circles/burst their bubbles. The screen pushes the culture.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Instead of worrying about connecting with someone outside of your network, talk vision with the people already in your network. Build with the people you already have a connection with. That work will be more meaningful and reap more fruit in the long run if you discern wisely where to invest your energy and efforts.

2. Becoming an audio engineer is just as hard as becoming a virtuoso drummer. I don’t know why I thought engineering would be any easier. I went into it thinking it’d be a more reasonable pursuit giving my drumming skills and the intimidating sea of talent and competition in NYC when I first moved. I was so wrong, but I learned quickly music production was something I had fallen in love with, and I was going to put it all in, make it a priority in my life, push harder every day to be a positive influence, and be able to give back to my students.

3. Less is more. A simple message has a broader reach.

4. Learn to tell a story. Storytelling is an invaluable tool to genuinely connect with other humans. In the arts, a genuine connection is more powerful than money and political/bureaucratic power. It has a moral compass embedded in it that protects the relationship itself from bad intentions or ulterior motives.

5. You’ll arrive at the point where you are finally doing what you dreamed of well before you realized you’ve arrived already. It will look different but it’ll be the right place.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Take at least one full day off every week regardless of your workload. I have a hard time being consistent with this practice but I’ve noticed how my most challenging weeks are the ones where I want to keep going because I’m in the zone, cranking out piles of fun work and not creating enough space to recharge. I’m passionate about fitness, and that brings a lot of joy and self-awareness into my lifestyle, yet being active is not enough. Finding time to recenter, spiritually, mentally, and physically are all key to a sustainable lifestyle. I want to be 70 years old and still making records; it’s a marathon!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want the music industry to be a platform that promotes mental health, spiritual health, and physical health. Music is a gift we barely understand as humans. It’s greater than we can comprehend, it’s purely experiential, and for that reason, it has immeasurable power. I want to learn how to harness that power for good and continue to make music with a purpose, not for me, but for the world. It’d be selfish to make music for myself when I know the blessing it can be to others.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My dear brother and best friend Pablo, he is the most valuable player in my career. He’s stood by my side since day 1. I remember when we were 14 years old moving gear and gigging around cities, or staying up late master planning the next move, motivating me to keep going because he sees me for who I am, and now shooting music videos in the mountains of Maryland during the summer. He’s not an outdoors person, yet he goes above and beyond hiking for hours with me, under an 85-degree sun, while mosquitos are going badly at him, and he’s holding 20 lbs of video gear. He’s the person behind the scenes I want everybody to know.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The Tarzan Method, which I heard from Casey Neistat, although he is not the original author: “If Tarzan never let go of the vine he was swinging from to grab the next one, he would have never gotten to the other side of the jungle. He just would have sat there swinging back and forth”.

NYC is home for me, although it is a transitory city for many. For that reason, I’ve had to say goodbye to a lot of people, prioritize, change plans, say no to social activities, and even sacrifice completely romantic interests to keep moving forward and keep the momentum going. Holding on to nothing, but trusting God’s work and that I’ll land my grip on the next vine closer to my goals and aspirations.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Pharrell Williams, would I love to have a conversation with him about the power of music, synesthesia, and why music moves us spiritually so unpredictably and uncontrollably.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram @otto_botte Facebook Otto Botté Twitter @otto_botte Spotify Otto Botté

This was very meaningful. Thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

About The Interviewer: Karina Michel Feld is the Owner and Executive Producer of Tallulah Films. Karina has 20+ years of experience in TV, film, and print and is a respected member of The Producers Guild of America. The mission of Tallulah Films is to bring together directors, entrepreneurs, film investors, and screenwriters to produce award-winning TV and film projects. Tallulah Films continues to be drawn towards films that are meaningful, influential, and uplifting. Karina is also Co-Owner and CFO of Fresh Patch LLC (as seen on ABC’s “Shark Tank”).

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