null Building a successful studio with visionary Francesco Ponticelli

Building a successful studio with visionary Francesco Ponticelli

We recently caught up with Musician, Composer, Sound Engineer and Producer Francesco Ponticelli at his Genelec-equipped professional recording facility, Cicaleto Studio, which is nestled away in the beautiful Italian countryside. There, Ponticelli opened up about his experience of creating and running a successful studio business.

Can you tell us a little about your studio operation?

We opened in 2020, and we already boast a very strong team of audio engineers with long and highly specialised experience in the field. We're located in a historic eighteenth-century villa, set in an idyllic nature reserve. The building, which has maintained its ancient splendour, now contains within it a jewel of acoustic design. Our studio consists of a control room (5m x 7m), two isolation booths, two main recording rooms (Main Hall 13m x 7m x 6m and Classic Hall 15m x 8m x 8m), which can also work simultaneously using audio/video links, and finally, our La Limonaia room, which is 5 metres tall and 95 sq metres in total. The studio proudly contains a wide range of exceptional musical and technical equipment which is constantly being expanded – not least of which is a Steinway D piano in the Main Hall.

What kind of audio work do you do?

At Cicaleto, the classic ways of doing things are blended with the most modern and advanced technologies. The brilliance of the room acoustics and top-level equipment go hand-in-hand with the exceptional competence of our resident sound engineers, Paolo Alberta, Marco Romanelli and myself. We also host many artistic projects run by guest sound engineers, with a great level of satisfaction. Each project is carefully tailor-made, and we guarantee complete coverage of all the project’s phases, from the preparation of the parts and setup, through to the stages of recording and post-production. We also provide extra services such as hospitality in our little Tuscan paradise, photo shoots and video making.

Can you reveal the names of some of your clients?

The studio has had the great honour of carrying out projects with esteemed national and international artists, who have often been jazz, classical and pop musicians. These have included Enrico Rava, Paolo Fresu, Hank Roberts, Seamus Blake, Joe Sanders, Jim Black, Leonora Armellini, Giovanni Guidi, Negrita, La Rappresentante di Lista, Karima, Michel Godard, Cristina Zavalloni, Shake Stew, Gabriele Mirabassi, Mirus Quartet, Orchestra da camera di Perugia, Jeff Ballard and many others.

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How is your studio business going in general?

The client base is very mixed and expanding both in numbers and type, and in where they come from. Many jazz, classical, and pop musicians are doing recording projects at Cicaleto Studio, and we have also had the pleasure of hosting some of them occasionally for live performances.

The studio is constantly investing lots of resources into new equipment – although we're already technically advanced and well-stocked – and building other projects that could become as important as our main work of recording, mixing and mastering. The studio is also developing further in its essence as a space for artistic residencies, projects dedicated to the highest level of artistic and technical training with important masterclasses and, not least, the idea of creating a short-but-structured season of live performance.

Who was involved in building your studio?

Though first conceived by myself in 2018, Cicaleto Recording Studio was designed "with 8 hands" by professionals from our acoustic design partner Studio Sound Service. The 4 designers gave life to a truly one-of-a-kind studio, each of them bringing their own specific contribution.

As Founder and CEO, I made an important contribution, taking a very active part in the creative process and making sure that the studio was modelled on my own artistic needs and sensibilities. Studio Sound Service's Luca Ravagni also played a pivotal role, putting together the wiring and customisation of our Studer 900 console, which now features a central frame integrated with Avid's S3 controller and screen for DAW operation. The console has been completely rewired, with a section designated for accommodating 500 Series modules, making it perfect for our studio both in terms of sound and functionality.

Were there any challenges in creating the studio?

The main challenges were primarily in finding the most suitable craftsmen and ensuring their effective collaboration. It was all about bringing together a diverse array of professionals, each with their own specialised skill set and ensuring they worked together harmoniously. Coordinating numerous individuals with distinct expertise and making sure their efforts aligned was quite an intricate task. Juggling multiple aspects simultaneously demanded meticulous attention to detail and seamless communication among all the team members.

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What equipment is most important in your studio and why?

In my recording studio, I have a wide range of essential equipment covering every aspect of audio production. When it comes to monitoring, I utilise Genelec 1238As and Genelec S30s to ensure accurate and detailed sound reproduction, and Yamaha NS-10s to complement the setup. As for preamplifiers, I rely on a variety of models such as the Studer 903A, AML 1173, Millennia M2B and many others to capture sound in the cleanest and most faithful way possible.

I've chosen Pro Tools HDX interface hardware to take care of recording. For session control, my setup includes the Avid S3 controller, offering intuitive and precise control of my DAWs. I've carefully curated my equipment selection to ensure the highest quality and versatility in my music production.

Who recommended Genelec for your studio?

Genelec 1238A speakers were recommended by Studio Sound Service CEO and Acoustic Designed Donato Masci, and the entire control room was built around them. According to Masci, his recommendation stemmed from his extensive experience and expertise in audio engineering, coupled with the renowned reputation of Genelec monitors for delivering exceptional sound quality and accuracy.

The decision to base the studio around the 1238A monitors was driven by the desire to ensure that the studio's monitoring system provided the highest level of sonic fidelity and reliability for critical listening and mixing tasks. They're now soffit mounted 240 cm away from the listening position in a control room of approximately 30 square metres.

What else made the 1238As the right monitors for your studio?

Several reasons. Firstly, the specific features of the Genelec 1238A, such as their advanced DSP capabilities and precise response calibration for the room, ensure optimal performance in our studio's acoustically treated environment. Moreover, the ability to soffit-mount the speakers helps maximise space utilisation and maintain an optimal listening position, contributing to an enveloping and accurate monitoring experience for the engineers and producers working in the studio. Overall, the 1238A main monitors were the perfect fit for this project due to their exceptional sound quality, versatility, and ideal suitability for professional studio environments.

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So, our GLM calibration software was probably very useful?

Yes, GLM software (Genelec Loudspeaker Manager) was an important factor in us choosing the 1238As for this project. The software allows for calibration and optimisation of the monitors based on the specific acoustic characteristics of the room. This ensures the most accurate and consistent possible sound reproduction.

Did you have previous experience with Genelec monitors?

I've had the opportunity to listen to Genelec monitors in other studios, and I've always been drawn to their sound. They consistently deliver exceptional audio quality, accuracy, and reliability, which has turned me into a big fan over the years. My positive experience and familiarity with Genelec's sound played a significant role in my decision to incorporate the 1238A monitors into my studio setup.

What difference does Genelec make to your workflow?

The Genelec monitors make a significant difference to my workflow and end results. They are indispensable for both the tracking and mixing stages. Their precise and accurate sound reproduction allows me to make critical decisions confidently during recording sessions, ensuring that I capture the best performances from the start. Additionally, during mixing, the Genelecs provide an honest representation of my mixes, allowing me to make informed adjustments and achieve professional-quality results. Overall, they've elevated the quality of my work and contributed to a smoother and more efficient workflow from start to finish.

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What is it like to listen with your Genelec monitors?

The 1238As are particularly outstanding in their stereo imaging capabilities. Thanks to their precise soundstage, I can easily distinguish individual elements within the mix, aiding me in making informed mixing decisions. Overall, I'm highly satisfied with the results achieved using these monitors. They've exceeded my expectations and contributed significantly to the quality of my work. Credit also goes to Studio Sound Service for their expertise in optimising the control room for such stellar performance.

What are your plans for the future?

In addition to continuing to record and work on artistically significant projects, which gives meaning to our studio work, we've embarked on an educational journey in collaboration with Siena Jazz over the past year. This initiative aims to provide musicians with training focused on studio experience, helping them become aware of the vast possibilities within a studio environment. We're excited to further develop this educational programme and empower aspiring musicians with valuable insights and new skills for their careers.

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