It once was a late-1800s horse stable.
Now, the building is filled with fine-wood finishing and the Fleet Foxes play in the background. Across the street from a church in Fishtown, an unmarked door leads to Spice House Sound recording studio.
Alex Santilli is the man behind Spice House Sound and has been building his own audio equipment since he was 16 years old.
Santilli said he didn’t go to school for music or recording. He jokes that he attended “Google University.”
“I’ve always been interested in the recording aspect and reproduction [of music],” the Connecticut native said.
Santilli moved from Connecticut to Fishtown in Philadelphia when he was 19.
“I think Philadelphia is the most livable city, with an incredible artist community,” Santilli said.
Santilli didn’t grow up with music – he said he lived in a “pretty music-free household.” There was a CD-player that was never used in his childhood home. Santilli’s interest in music came out of nowhere, he said. He spent a lot of time listening, which shaped his interest in the way the listening experience works.
Santilli began working in a basement studio – a spice warehouse in the Italian market. It was in business for roughly two years before he was kicked out because he did not own the building.
“I decided that wouldn’t happen again and I would do [a recording studio] for real this time,” Santilli said.
The process of planning and building Spice House Sound took about three years and the recording studio officially opened for business this past August.
The Fishtown resident said he had a difficult time finding the perfect place to open a studio. He looked for spaces in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A big space with high ceilings and noise isolation was what Santilli was looking for in a place to create music.
Spice House Sound was just an empty building with a concrete floor. Now, Santilli says it is considered one of the only properly built studios in Philadelphia.
Santilli moved into the home next door to the studio and has lived there since the process of construction, to be sure that everything goes smoothly.
“It is pretty ideal – it was the only property that truly fit [my standards],” Santilli said.
The construction process took more than two years and was quite a project. Santilli compared it to “building four houses inside of another house.” There are different foundations from room-to-room and the walls are four times thicker than average.
“It is an unbelievable amount of detail. Every space has to be airtight,” Santilli said.
One of the earliest people involved in the creation of Spice House Sound was John Storyk of Walters-Storyk Design Group. The group is an architecture firm that specializes in designing studios.
One of Storyk’s earliest studios belonged to Jimi Hendrix.
“He had faith in our project early on and even before we had the property,” Santilli said.
It was just a simple phone call. Santilli found the phone number and was a hopeful, young entrepreneur. Santilli’s “cold-call” shocked Storyk, but they have been a team ever since.
Santilli said he expected it to be a while before anyone realized Spice House Sound existed, but he’s been “nothing but busy” since opening.
Since the end of August, Spice House Sound has recorded 40 artists, including local musicians and several international acts.
Santilli said the relaxed environment at Spice House Sound is something he believes stands out among other local studios.
Emily Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org