The only thing better than music? Solar-powered music! Think about how great it would be if The Beatles had recorded “Here Comes the Sun” with electricity produced by the sun.
In the past three years, Sam and Melanie Monaco have converted an 1840 farmhouse into an energy-efficient home and music studio, powered by the sun. Sam grew up in Portland, so after a decade working in the arts in New York City, he and Melanie moved back to the area in early 2020 and found their dream house in Falmouth where they have established Monaco Studios.
“We really lucked out finding this place,” said Sam. “The previous owners had converted the garage to a music studio and we’re both musicians, so this was really a dream come true.” The COVID-19 pandemic hit immediately after they purchased the house, so for months they stayed at home focusing on making the building more energy efficient. The existing heating system combined an oil furnace, electric baseboard, and a propane Rinnai heater. In addition to being extremely inefficient, the system was reliant on fossil fuels, which Sam and Melanie were trying to avoid.
“We wanted to go all electric, and use solar to power it,” explained Sam. They worked with ReVision’s Solar Design Specialist (and fellow local musician!) Calen Perkins on an air source heat pump system powered by rooftop solar. They now have 7 interior heat pump units, one of which heats the music studio, with 4 outdoor units. Their 49-panel solar array, installed in 2021, generates electricity for much of their electric demand, but not all. Melanie also runs her own business, a women's empowerment organization, out of the home. They are currently looking into a share in a Community Solar Farm to offset the remainder of their electric load.
Sam is working to make the music studio as community-based as possible. He’s been a drummer since he was 10 and went to school for audio production and live sound engineering, so he understands the roles of both performer and producer. He is working closely with Portland Arts and Technology High School as well as Maine Academy of Modern Music to make the studio accessible to high schoolers.
“A goal of mine is to work with younger artists in the studio and be open to any genre or project," says Sam. "Some of the kids want to record something that they can then share with people, and there are also students who want to learn how the studio works from a production and engineering perspective.”
Part of that involves making the physical space feel welcoming to people of all ages and backgrounds. Sam has emphasized the open-concept nature of the studio, which creates room for collaboration (in addition to being perfect for a heat pump). Typical recording studios have a control room where the engineer mixes at the console while performers record in the live room, but Monaco Studios does it all in one large space (although several other rooms are available for isolating vocalists and instrumentalists). They are also renovating the second floor of the studio to add an apartment for visiting artists; ReVision installed the heat pump for this space just last week.
"It really encourages a lot of collaboration between who’s at the mixing board and who is performing, so it’s more of a partnership between producer and performer. Everyone who comes here says it’s cozy and feels like home, which is a great vibe that we want to maintain.”
Interested in following along the solar-powered music journey? Check out Monaco Studios’ website and give them a follow on Instagram.