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Legendary Studio Designer Francis Manzella Passes

TEC Award-winning studio designer Francis Manzella died Sunday, August 16, due to complications from hip surgery.

Francis Manzella won his third TEC Awards this past January for Studio Design Project, honoring his work on Old Mill Road Recording in Arlington, VT.
Francis Manzella won his third TEC Awards this past January for Studio Design Project, honoring his work on Old Mill Road Recording in Arlington, VT. NAMM

New York, NY (August 17, 2020)—TEC Award-winning studio designer Francis Manzella died Sunday, August 16, due to complications from hip surgery. As the head of namesake Francis Manzella Designs (FM Designs), Manzella created some of the most important recording studios and post facilities around the world, as well as restaurants, nightclubs, corporate spaces and more. Manzella’s design work was revered throughout the audio industry; a 15-time TEC Award nominee, he won three over the course of his career, including this past January when he took home a trophy in the category of Studio Design Project, honoring his work on Old Mill Road Recording in Arlington, VT.

A graduate of the University of Miami, Manzella broke into the New York recording scene working at facilities such as Wizard Studios and later Skyline Studios, where he spent a decade as the chief technical engineer through the early 1990s. During his time there, he engineered records for the likes of Gary Lucas, Ambitious Lovers and Sonny Sharrock, among others, and supervised the design and construction of two studios at the facility, along with the renovation of a third room. The spaces quickly gained notoriety and Manzella found himself fielding offers to design facilities for others—an opportunity that ultimately led to him going out on his own in 1992 to found FM Designs Ltd., its first assignment being the creation of East Hill Studios in New York.

Located in Mahopac, NY, today, FM Designs offers installation design and specification services, commercial isolation consultations, room tuning, monitor system renovation, furniture design, construction administration and more.

As FM Designs’ president and principal designer, Manzella’s creative work was a key ingredient of high-profile facilities such as Sterling Sound, Stratosphere Sound, Power Station at Berklee, The Studio at the Palms, The Orchard, Converse-Rubber Tracks (Boston), Manhattan Center, NYU Clive Davis Institute (Brooklyn), Fred Kervorkian Mastering, Man Made Music, and more. The company also created private facilities for the likes of Paul Simon, Harry Connick Jr., Blue Man Group, C+C Music Factory and others. Audio post facilities were also on the docket, as Manzella envisioned many for Bravo, Broadway Sound & Video, CNBC, Dallas Audio Post, Saturday Night Live, NBC, Major League Baseball, Fox Networks, Fox Sports, WGBH, World Wrestling Entertainment and others.

Manzella also found his design skills in demand in the corporate sector, designing conference rooms and offices for Virgin and Interscope Records; a production and duplication studio for Zomba Records; critical listening rooms and AV production studios for Bose; and R&D and production sound studios for iZotope.

In 2004, Manzella partnered with his company’s senior acoustician/designer, Lars Tofastrud, to co-found Griffin Audio USA, which builds high-end custom studio loudspeakers for the recording and media industries. Across his career, Manzella’s work took him around the world, whether designing venues in Italy and the Republic of Georgia, or more recently designing a 20,000-square-foot multi-studio facility for the African Music Institute in Gabon.

Regardless of how a space was intended to be used, Manzella was dedicated to creating environments that acoustically complemented their surroundings and over-delivered in answering the needs of their users. As he told Pro Sound News in 2011, “You shouldn’t have a room that is difficult to work in. You should have a room that gives something back and that you can get many different pleasing results from.”

Manzella is survived by his wife, Doreen, and daughters Sam and Missy. The family has suggested that those wishing to honor his memory consider making a donation in his name to Fair Fight (https://fairfight.com/), a Georgia-based advocacy group that fights voter suppression nationwide; Black Visions Collective (https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/), a Minnesota-based group for Black liberation; or Save the Music Foundation (https://www.savethemusic.org/), a nonprofit that ensures every child has access to music education in school.

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