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‘If These Walls Could Sing’: A Look Back at Capitol Studios On Its 60th Anniversary

Hollywood's iconic Capitol Studios opened in 1956 with Frank Sinatra conducting the orchestra for his Tone Poems of Color album. While millions have enjoyed the music made in the famed wood-paneled studios by artists ranging from The Beach Boys to Beastie Boys, few have stepped inside. On May 21 and 22, Capitol Studios will open its door to the public for tours to commemorate its 60th anniversary. Billboard talked with vice president Paula Salvatore, who has run the studio since 1990.

What is your most memorable session?

Frank Sinatra's Duets [in 1993]. We had to put him in the middle of an orchestra because he didn't want to be in the [vocal] booth. So we built a nice booth within the band and put a roof on it, but he said, "I'm not going in there," and left. [Producer] Phil Ramone had to coerce him to come back. I wrote in my schedule: "It's Frank's world. We just live in it."

Have any artists not been welcomed back?

I have a tendency to make friends and make do, so even for the ones [who] didn't leave a good taste in our mouth, it's forgiveness and COD.

When did the studio open up to non-Capitol artists?

Probably in the early '70s. That's when [Grammy Award-winning engineer] Al Schmitt came to work on independent projects. He has been here since 1972.

Salvatore at the board in Studio A.
Salvatore at the board in Studio A.  Paul Moores/Capitol Music Group

What was the most challenging session?

We had the orchestra for the Oscars here. They couldn't fit under the stage at the Dolby Theatre, so we ran an AT&T fiber-optic line to Capitol from a mile-and-a-half away. The producers put a production booth in Studio C with their own videos, and they brought in their own power so we'd have a generator in case anything happened. We did the orchestra live here [from 2013 to 2015] while all the singers were there. All the walk-on/walk-off music was live too.

So many professional studios have shuttered through the years. How do you keep Capitol competitive?

We stay on top of technology by [keeping up] with the highest resolution of Pro Tools; we're constantly upgrading Studio C. Vintage is a hot item too — we maintained a lot of stuff over the years. We still have the Neumann brand U47 and U67 mics [from the early sessions] and the original podiums and mic stands that they used.

You have worked here a long time. Do any ghosts roam the studios?

The ghosts had enough of a career. They're resting now. It's all there in the walls. I [don't] say, "If our walls could talk," I say, "If our walls could sing."

This article was originally published in the May 28 issue of Billboard.