SPARS recently announced the establishment of a new annual award, the SPARS Legacy Award, to be given each year to an industry luminary who historically has demonstrated outstanding leadership, vision and commitment to the recording studio movement in America and the professional recording craft in general. The SPARS Board of Directors is honored to select as its first recipient, industry pioneer, first SPARS President and one of the founders of SPARS, Philadelphia native and past owner of the legendary Sigma Sound Studio, Joseph D. Tarsia.
Congratulations to this awe-inspiring legend and a true-life SPARS Legacy…
Joseph D. Tarsia
Sigma Sound Studios
Breaking the Barrier
With a technical high school education Tarsia found his way into the Research Department of the Philco Corporation, where he spent 10 years as a laboratory technician. In evenings he repaired TV’s and anything electronic, anything turned out to be a tape recorder at AMS, a small independent studio that claimed connections to Dick Clark’s America Bandstand. Once inside the studio Tarsia never looked back, while maintaining his day job, Joe worked without pay rebuilding the studio adding disc cutting capabilities and whenever he got the chance, sitting behind the recording console. With a passion for recording and an insatiable appetite to learn Tarsia would often follow local producers to sessions in New York where he would observe and question.
Chief Engineer | Cameo/Parkway Records
Serving his apprenticeship at AMS Tarsia began doing projects for the local labels like Chancellor, Cameo/Parkway and Dick Clark’s Swan records. In 1962 Tarsia left his day job to take a full time position as Cameo/Parkway’s Chief Engineer where he managed the company’s studio operations. Once hailed as the largest independent record company in the world, by 1964, exacerbated by the Beatles and the British invasion and the move of America Bandstand to the west coast, Cameo’s dominance began to fade. In 1965 feeling his limited experience may be some of the problem, with managements blessing Tarsia left the business. It did not take long for Joe to realize he made the biggest mistake of his life. As fate would have it, after six month Tarsia was asked to return. Shortly after Cameo/Parkway was sold and then sold again. It was then that Joe decided to strike out on his own.
Sigma Sound Studios, Inc.
In the fall of 1967 Tarsia put it all on the line, his house, his car and all his savings, and signed a lease for the second floor of the 212 building. Wire by wire, knob by knob he built Sigma’s first studio. Eight months later on August 5th 1968 Sigma opened its doors. With limited funds and no staff. Tarsia booked and engineered the sessions, fixed the equipment and cleaned the lavatories. In a few short months Sigma was adding staff and running around the clock.
Sigma Sound Studios of New York
In 1977 Tarsia opened state of the art studios in the Ed Sullivan building. Sigma Sound Studios of New York quickly became one of the city’s premier studios attracting the cream of the music world that ran the gamut from Aretha Franklin to Z Z Top.
Sighted as being the architect of the “Philadelphia Sound”
No professional achievement is more meaningful to Joe Tarsia than his hand in creating the “Philadelphia Sound”. From the mid 60’s to the early 80’s the unique sound that came to life in Sigma’s studios dominated the world’s airways. The success of Sigma regulars, Gamble & Huff, Tom Bell, Tom Moulton, Bobby Martin and Baker, Harris & Young attracted a stream of top artists and producers from around the world, all coming to capture the “Sigma magic.”
Recipient of Numerous Awards and Citations
With some 180 or more gold and platinum records, Joe Tarsia and Sigma studios received awards and recognition from the Recording Industry Association of America, Billboard Magazine, Pro Sound News, 3M Company, The City of Philadelphia, The State of Pennsylvania, The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Black Music Association, The Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame and most recently, the Wildwood NJ’s Avenue of the Stars.
In the Top Five
In the 1981 edition of “The Rock Book of Lists”, a media guide published by Rolling Stone Press, under the heading “Great Engineers” (a category covering all pop genres), Joe Tarsia is listed fifth with the quote, “Joe Tarsia must be considered the leading engineer in the field of Soul and Disco.”
Sigma Sound, State of the Art
Always striving to be the best it could, Sigma constantly looked to adopt or developed new cutting edge techniques in art and science of sound recording.
Sigma was one of the first studios to offer 24-track recording and multi-track noise reduction. It was the first studio anywhere to successfully employ console automation. Working with Allison Research, Sigma helped in the development of an endless throw automation fade. Many of Sigma’s custom design features s were adopted by and incorporated in to MCI’s 600 series console. Sigma worked with Solid State Logic in improving the monitor functions of its SSL6000 series console. Sigma also developed and employed its own proprietary studio business, booking and billing software.
Founding Member and First President of SPARS
In 1978 fourteen of the leading US studios joined together to form The Society of Professional Recording Studios (SPARS), a trade organization representing studios and recording professionals. Tarsia was elected its first president and today holds the title Chairman Emeritus.
Founding Member and Past Chairman of PMA
Joe Tarsia is a founding member and past Chairman of the Board of The Philadelphia Music Alliance (PMA). Founded in 1986, the PMA and its “The Walk of Fame” were established to honor Philadelphia’s great music history, recognize its current music makers and to educate and encourage its future generations.
National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences® (NARAS®)
A long time member of the NARAS New York Chapter, in 1994 Tarsia was an organizer involved in forming the Philadelphia Branch of the Academy. He served as a member of the local NARAS Board of Governors and for 5 years served as a National Trustee.
Tarsia | Father of “Addzest”
In 1988, the Clarion Company of Japan, the world’s largest manufacture of car audio systems, came to the US to engage the services of Joe Tarsia and Sigma Sound Studios. Tarsia, a 10-year veteran of Philco’s Research Department was asked to consult in the development of “Addzest”, Clarion’s high-end car stereo system. For six years Clarion successfully utilized Sigma’s worldwide reputation for sonic excellence to develop and market Addzest products. Referred to as “The Father of Addzest,” Tarsia’s image and message were seen on billboards, national television, print media and on in-store videos, throughout Japan.
212 | Rock and Roll Landmark
Sigma’s 212 N 12th streets location has been sited as a national Rock & Roll landmark in A. M. Nolan’s “Rock & Roll Road Trip”, Dave Walker’s “American Rock & Roll Tour” and was featured in Jim Cogan and William Clark’s book “Temples of Sound.”
Community Activities and Service
Tarsia is a voting member of the Audio Engineering Society. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Variety Club, and Institute of Audio Research. He lectures at the University of the Arts, participates in the Grammy in the Schools Program and in Philadelphia Music Alliance educational programs. He has also lectured at Temples School of Communications and at West Chester College.
Additional article | Interview with Philadelphia Weekly…
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