Walking into Halo Recording, Rehearsals and Music Lessons, it really is a little slice of music heaven perched above This Ain’t Hollywood on James Street North, one of Hamilton’s best live music venues.
Halo is a space where music is taught, rehearsed, performed, and recorded. Founder Roman Marcone describes it as “a space for artists. Somebody who wants to immerse themselves in whatever they do.” The key is music-making and artist development.
The ideal space serendipitously came to be when Marcone ran into This Ain’t Hollywood owner Lou Molinaro after Marcone had just left his previous studio and was seeking a space of his own. Lou let him know about the upstairs vacancy, which they were looking to turn into something interesting. “I made a plan, designed it all, and we made it happen,” remembers Marcone.
Two and half years ago the construction began which led to the official open on February 13th, 2016, a date that Marcone remembers extra fondly because it was also his son’s first birthday. They celebrated with a family party in the new space with acoustic performances by Tomi Swick and Joel Gunther.
Prior to launching Halo in 2016, Marcone has about 20 years experience in record engineering under his belt. Beginning at a Burlington studio in the late 90’s as a co-op student led to his career. Never forgetting that valuable experience of getting his first start in high school, Marcone now takes on co-op students at Halo. “Maybe I can inspire somebody else,” he muses.
From there Marcone worked at various studios and also spent some time in the U.K. Locally, Marcone learned a lot through his time at Catherine North Studio alongside a mentor, the late Dan Achen. After that he spent some time running the former Porcelain Records space.
At Halo, Marcone records the bulk of the sessions himself while also having the help of a great team: Sarah Hardy (engineer and studio manager), Ronson from Hamilton band The Reason (also an engineer), Corey Stevens (business partner since the beginning), and musician Ben Rispin of the band Rules, who is also currently recording at Halo. Ben also runs his Misfit Island headquarters in the space, producing a podcast, events, and more content creation.
At night when recording sessions aren’t happening, the space is used for jamming. “Almost five nights a week we have bands in,” says Marcone. “You get to hear all the new music that’s going on in the city; I love it.” Ellevator, formerly The Medicine Hat, were one of those bands who used the space for some time, before moving on to the next major phase of their career.
Some up-and-coming artists Marcone recommends to watch for who have been recording at Halo: soulful songstress Holly Smith, Joey Vinegar, and rockers Billy and the Crystals.
Music lessons are also part of the model at Halo. Nick Blagona, an amazing producer and engineer, also uses the space for sessions, and Halo’s audio production and music engineering course is run through Nick. An opportunity to learn with hands-on experience in a space like this is invaluable. The course can be customized based on time commitments and experience, but is geared toward people who want to get out into the workforce and pursue music as a career.
The newest feature at Halo has garnered the studio international attention. Marcone acquired the mother of all mixing boards, an SSL, in November 2017. “It’s like, the one,” emphasizes Marcone, “as far as ability, ease of use, quality of sound, it does everything to the best possible outcome.”
The process of getting it to Hamilton, however, was nothing short of an adventure. Marcone first came across the console for sale online while he was in Calgary. The console had been used at a famous studio in Atlanta and is a piece of music history.
Marcone took a chance and reached out to the owner about purchasing the board. Marcone offered $1000 to hold it and would send the rest of the money in three weeks, and a deal was made in good faith. The next challenge was physically obtaining it – the console was being stored in Alabama. Marcone and a friend flew down, rented a U-Haul in Atlanta, and drove to Alabama to pick it up.
Another wrinkle – getting the money in cash. If Marcone had wired the funds, he would have had to wait in the U.S. until the money cleared. Once safely over the border with the cash, it was no easy feat to carry around that kind of money, especially in some seedier parts where the U-Haul was to be rented. Of all times, the U-Haul system was down nation-wide at the time they needed it, which resulted in killing hours of time, still with all that cash in tow, before they could even rent the vehicle.
Once back in Hamilton, getting the board upstairs to Halo was yet another challenge, which resulted in building a rig to get it up the back alley and into the studio. Then there was that simple task of assembling it.
It was all worth it – the board fits the space beautifully and is another piece of the puzzle that makes Halo the destination that it is.
After the console earned Halo a lot of press, a gentleman came by unannounced wanting to check it out. The connection was pretty mind-blowing: “He was an engineer in Atlanta and had worked on this board, and now he lives in Hamilton,” recounts Marcone. The man had pictures of himself working on it, and all the facts checked out. “He told us stories about the Stevie Wonder session and Aretha Franklin, Aerosmith, TLC’s ‘Waterfalls,’ Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Bruce Springsteen… just had some crazy stories about having worked on this.” Marcone continues the epic list of artists: “Kanye, Akon, Jay Z, Beyoncé… insane amounts of people.” It’s overwhelming to think about the music that has been recorded with it.
What does it feel like to take in the energy and history of this beast? “Its presence kind of does something to you. It demands a respect, in a way,” describes Marcone. “It makes you want to achieve something to a different level. That’s my connection to all the special things that have happened on it.”
The console has proven to be a major draw not only to Halo but to Hamilton’s music scene. Without having to charge the prices of other studios with this same sought-after model, Marcone can welcome indie artists to Hamilton, keep their budgets in mind, and still provide them the use of the highest quality gear.
Looking ahead, another service to be offered from Halo is live recordings. Being directly above a venue results in an opportunity to capture the amazing shows at This Ain’t Hollywood on any given night. The console can pick up the performance onstage, with Marcone at the helm, engineering in real time as the show takes place.
If a band comes through and is interested in creating a live record, Halo has the ability to make that happen at the same calibre as any professional live record. Halo started this by recording Teenage Head’s double show at This Ain’t Hollywood and has more in the works from there.
The live recording element is an incredible perk for artists at any level, from a touring band coming in from out of town to play This Ain’t Hollywood, or for a young local band starting out. “You come in, and you have a venue where you can get a live recording of your show, on top of the great venue it is downstairs. It’s a good marriage of the two concepts.”
Sky’s the limit for what you can do at Halo – the place is also an intimate one you can rent out for events. It has the perfect house party vibe which is ideal for a small show or private bash.
Halo feels like a warm haven; it’s easy to see why musicians feel so at home there. “That was the idea,” agrees Marcone, “make it a place where I feel comfortable. The last thing you want to do is go somewhere that doesn’t feel right. And if it feels right for me, I’m going to attract people that the space feels right for them too.”