Hamilton, Canada (January 12, 2018)—Some music producers spend hours at the mixing console, week after week, dreaming of the day when they can buy their first Ferrari. Roman Marcone, owner of Halo Music Studio in Hamilton, Canada, flipped that dream on its head, selling his classic Ferrari so that he could buy his first SSL desk.
Marcone, who started out as a touring musician, spent a couple of years working in the UK before taking positions at Catherine North Studio then Porcelain Records, both in Hamilton. Just over two years ago, having left Porcelain, he bumped into an old friend who owns a local live music venue, This Ain’t Hollywood, and mentioned he was looking for a home for his own studio. By chance, his friend was looking for a new tenant above the club, which is referred to locally as The Saint—hence, Halo.
“It was a boarding house, the worst place I’d ever been in,” says Marcone, “but they helped the tenants find new homes and we tore the place apart.”
Halo, which also offers rehearsal space and music and engineering lessons, was initially equipped with a vintage Auditronics 310 desk that had started life in a broadcast facility. “It wasn’t my ideal board,” says Marcone, who had previously worked on Ward Beck and MCI 500 series desks.
Scouring the internet for a replacement console, he spotted an SSL 6064. “They wanted 90 grand and I jokingly said, I’ll trade you my Ferrari. He said that might work.” Marcone backed out when the deal began to look a little shady, he says. “But it sparked my interest, so I went looking for an SSL.”
He found one being brokered by Bret Richardson in Georgia that had come out of Doppler Studios in Atlanta. The facility closed in mid-2016 after a 46-year run during which the likes of Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, Faith Hill, Whitney Houston, Kayne West, Stevie Wonder and numerous others had worked there.
Over the years, some of the people with whom Marcone had worked had bad-mouthed SSL desks, he says. “I’d never used one, but I found myself using the SSL plug-in a lot on Pro Tools and thought it was great, so I took a chance.”
Marcone sold his Ferrari and hit the road to pick up the new desk, along with some vintage mics and modern outboard gear. Halo’s mic locker now includes Neumann U47 and Fet47, AKG C12, RCA 77 and BK5b, and EV 664, RE10, RE18 and RE20 models, among many others. Hardware processing includes an Eventide H3000, Sony R7 reverb, various dbx compressors and a CBS Audimax III 444 leveling amp.
The console is an E/G series hybrid: “It was an E series and SSL upgraded the motherboards and center section to a G series in the mid-nineties and expanded it from 48 to 64 channels, adding G and E/G series modules.”
It was only when he got back to Hamilton that he realized the desk was a little large for the room. “So I reduced it to 48 channels. It was an empty frame and dozens of boxes, with every nut and bolt in one jar. I put it all together myself; it took about three and a half days. They gave me every nut and bolt, lightbulb and switch, and six power supplies. It was such a wonderful experience.”
Having torn the space apart when he moved in, Marcone has retained the stripped-down walls and floor. “The concept of this place for me was about the feel. If you feel good making music, you make good music,” he says. “I’ve run a few studios over the years and taken the best elements from each one and turned this into my last one; I don’t like moving anymore.”
Marcone, who says he learned from a lot of great producers over the years, found that they all favored recording a band playing together in a room. “If you’re a band, the goal should be pulling it off live. Maybe there is stuff you need to fix and overdub, but if you can fix it with the player, that’s our goal.”
Key to Halo’s sound, in addition to the exposed brick walls, are the ART T4 mics permanently installed in the ceiling, enabling a repeatable setup for every session. “I have an overhead directly over where I put the drum kit. There’s a V, almost like a Decca tree, of microphones that are based on my room and the drum kit. Then I set the bass in opposite corner, centered in the room, so that it’s balanced on the room mics,” he explains.
Guitar amps can be in the room or in an adjoining room, but still audible, he says. “But the drums and the bass are always solid. That’s your foundation, and from that point you can set up as many mics as you want for different types of flavors.”
Marcone now finds himself adding less processing in his Pro Tools rig, which features Antelope Orion converters, not least because the desk offers different flavors of input modules plus onboard compressors. He’s also trying to use fewer plug-ins, he says. “I don’t think they sound great. It’s a small difference, but multiplied by 32 tracks, that turns into something. Less mass in music makes it more pleasing.”
Jailbirds’ “Gimme Your Love” was the first track entirely tracked and mixed through Halo’s SSL desk.
Halo’s Studer A80 MkII two-inch 24-track is also getting less use now, he says. “I leaned on it to get the tone I was expecting from the other board. I haven’t used it a lot since we got the SSL. But I keep it maintained and ready to go.”
The machine came from Prince’s place in Toronto, he says, with a Dolby SR/A noise reduction unit, serial no. 24. (Prince was married to a woman from Toronto and lived in the city between 2001 and 2006.) An Otari MTR-12 Series 2 half-inch two-track is also available.
“I used to record things how I wanted them to sound, then somebody steered me the wrong way,” he recalls. “I would just record it and figure it out afterwards. For the next two weeks, you’re struggling, trying to figure out a way to make it work. But if you do it on the way in, you’ve painted a picture and all you need to do is put a little varnish on it.”
Since he installed the SSL, he says, “I’ve been able to dial-in my dreams on the way through. If I’ve messed up, I’ll use plug-ins to fix it, but that’s rare now. The last four or five tracks that we’ve done here have mixed themselves on the way in.”
Halo Music • www.halomusic.ca