Once you’ve seen the pretty red SSL 4072G+ in studio B at Sphere Studios in North Hollywood, you won’t forget it. Nor will you forget the convenient way Pro Tools is configured right in the middle of the console. You will be impressed with the immense gear selection—so many mics and vintage basses (the owner started out as a bass player)—once you’ve set eyes on them in the special closet and all throughout the rooms.
And if you have a conversation with studio owner/producer/engineer Francesco Cameli, what will definitely stick with you will be his passion and commitment to music, sound and art.
He’ll tell you it’s all about creating an environment for “the guys and girls who still want to play, who do really care about making organic music, and it’s about making it easy for them as artists to come in and perform their work, instead of the attitude of, ‘That’ll do, I’ll fix that.’”
And he’ll say he wants to be one of those people to capture one of those works of beauty. “It sounds really romantic and pie in the sky,” he says, “but if I’m not making music that makes me happy and makes my client happy, why are we even doing it?”
Which is what led him to move his Sphere Studios from London to Los Angeles in 2014, including loading that SSL into one of two 40-foot containers to ship the studio and his home on over.
Cameli, who grew up in London and went to Berklee College of Music in Boston before returning—built his studio from the ground up, which included 5.1 mixing as well. After 13 years, he says, London’s music industry began to suffer greatly so it was time for a change. Fortunately, the investment he made had compounded greatly and made it possible for him to make the move.
For the first 18 months he worked out of Devonshire Studios while he looked for a permanent place to land. At first he bought a building in Burbank where he spent a year and a half arguing with the city about parking spaces. Luckily the neighbor wanted to expand, bought him out and he found the 10,000-square-foot building that was Royaltone from 1995 to 2005 and the privately run Kung-Fu Gardens from 2005 to 2015.
“It was meant to be; there’s something really magical about this building when you walk into it,” Cameli says. “It just feels like you want to be creative in here and make some music. I was very taken by that the first time I walked in the building.”
Cameli says he renovated the consoles—his SSL and Studio A’s original Neve 8078—re-wired the facility and tried to keep as much intact as possible.
Progressive Design began work in November 2015 and converted several spaces, including turning an office into a creative room with a vocal booth, sponsored by Roli, with a Roli Seaboard.
What had been a gym is now Studio D, a privately leased space, and what had once been a jacuzzi is now Studio E, also for private leasing.
“These two rooms were empty and tenants fill it with their own gear,” explained studio manager Megan Milius.
Studio A has three Steinways—an original 9-foot from Royaltone days, an upright that will be a tack piano and a 7-foot that Cameli brought over from London—as well as a Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Hammond B3. A drum wall full of snare options will thrill drummers.
The SSL 4072 G-Plus in Studio B, with custom Pro Tools center section. PMC monitoring in the walls.
Cameli says the fact that he makes a point of having his gear in perfect working order at all times is something that he believes sets his studio apart.
“If it’s in the rack, it works, period,” he says. “You plug into it, sounds great, next. If it doesn’t work, it’s in the tech shop being fixed and you put a blank in the rack until it’s fixed. It’s acceptable for something to fail during a session because it just fails, you can’t stop that, but it’s not acceptable to have something that has failed to be sitting in a rack.”
He mentions his extensive collection of instruments.
“That’s my background,” he says. “I grew up as a musician before I became an engineer, so I appreciate that a great instrument will inspire you a certain way. And options and not having to chase your tail over, ‘This drum is not giving me what I need, let’s try to tune it perhaps in a way that makes the actual instrument itself uncomfortable to be in a tuning it shouldn’t be in.’ It’s so much easier to say, ‘Let’s put the right instrument there, let’s change the microphone, let’s change even where we’ve placed the microphone,’ and all of sudden you’ve arrived organically at a sound you’re not going to have to throw a ton of plug-ins at or a ton of EQ on, or here’s a bunch of compression or here are six microphones, when really here’s the right instrument and one instrument.”
Cameli favors PMC monitors now.
“Not an awful lot of people know about them in this town yet,” Cameli says. “They’re more with the film guys, but people in our control rooms go, ‘Wow.’”
The studio hasn’t been open long, but artists have been coming. Animals As Leaders recorded in Studio A with Cameli co-producing. TV’s “Fear the Walking Dead” booked Studio A, as well. There have been some Disney sessions and recently Toto mixed their 1991 Toto Live at Montreux Jazz Festival DVD with Steve Lukather at the helm.
On the Toto sessions, Cameli demoted himself to assistant engineer.
“Gladly,” Cameli says. “Because it’s 5.1 and our assistants haven’t done much 5.1 yet, and I have done a bunch of it back home and it’s Toto, so I’ll happily be a fly on the wall.”
Toto used Studio B with the SSL G+, which Cameli purchased from another studio in about 2000 after mixing a record for Clare Teal at that studio. Cameli says it is one of the last G+ models ever made.
“The console made my job on that record, which was really well recorded anyway, that much easier,” Cameli says.
After no one in London could bring his idea to put the Pro Tools rig in the center of the SSL to fruition, he tried again in Los Angeles while restoring the desk.
“I’m getting old and grumpy and I’m quite tired of sitting sideways onto my speakers and craning my neck and going deaf in one ear,” Cameli says. “So SSL is modular and you can split them everywhere and anywhere, so we split the desk in the middle and we inserted a center section and put in the Pro Tools rig.”
He says they ripped out the patch bay which had been in the console and remoted it and expanded the console to a 72-channel.
“Everybody likes bigger and better, so we made it bigger,” he says. “And she’s red. So even if you don’t remember the name of the studio if you’re new in town, you’ll remember the red SSL.”