By Cindy Atoji Keene
The pride and joy of the Q Division recording studio in Somerville is a piece of vintage equipment: a Neve recording console that creates a warm, dynamic sound. Music engineer Ed Valauskas, 46, who has produced records for musicians ranging from Juliana Hatfield to Howie Day, said that the studio is known for such classic gear as well as great ‘live’ rooms that achieve optimum acoustic sound, and a professional but fun crew. “We all have a certain aesthetic here, and that’s to bring a musician’s vision to life and enhance the sound till it’s worthy of a final recording,” said Valauskas, who is also bassist for the local band, Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents.
Q: It’s not that difficult these days to set up a home studio – why not just record in a garage or basement?
A: It’s true that a lot of professional studios have closed down in the last 10 years. Dinosaurs like us have been falling by the wayside for quite a while. But the general saying is that you can only get it so good in your house. We’ll see people who have spent the last four months trying to mix it on their own and ultimately not being happy and coming in here. And any guy can have a plug-in that models itself after a five-thousand dollar compressor, but it’s preferable to have the real thing, like our Neve console.
Q: What separates a good record producer from a bad one?
A: Producing a record takes a lot of planning, focus, time, and money, as well as creativity. It all starts with the preproduction – rehearsing, critiquing and choosing songs. Then foundation of the album is laid out by tracking or recording the songs, then overdubbing, laying additional parts like vocals over the basic tracks, and mixing all the parts together. The last part is mastering, the last stage where each song gets a final polish. Mixing and mastering is an art. A bad producer is someone who tries too hard to put their own stamp on something, versus helping the artist express his own inventiveness.
Q: What’s your studio horror story?
A: The key for any band is to have a really solid drummer, and I was working with a super young band that had a drummer that couldn’t play very well. I even had to sit in the studio and mimic the drum kick and snare pattern as a way of showing the drummer how to play. Six hours later, at 10 p.m., I pulled the singer aside and said, ‘This isn’t going so well – can we get a different drummer?” We ended up having another drummer come in. A whole day of this isn’t fun.
Q: You’re raising money for The Gravel Pit on a Kickstart-type website, PledgeMusic. Is this the new model for supporting up-and-coming musicians?
A: The Gravel Pit is a band I played in during Boston’s underground music scene about a decade ago. We’re trying to raise $10 thousand to make a new album. PledgeMusic allows artists to generate support while engaging their fans in the process. When a fan pledges money, they can get special benefits, like free album downloads and exclusive behind-the-scene updates. Going directly to the fan for the support benefits all of us.
Q: In your opinion, who’s the best record producer of all time? A: My favorite producer would be Jim Dickinson, a Memphis musician and record producer who worked with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. His sound was very raw and real – he believed in capturing the moment. I was lucky enough to do the first Gravel Pit record with him back in ‘93. He’d turn up the happy accidents – mistakes that weren’t supposed to happen. Instead of saying, ‘Dude, that was wrong,’ he’d use these raw moments to create energy.
Q: You play in Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents with your wife, Jen D’Angora. What’s that like?
A: It’s amazing and challenging all at the same time. It’s wonderful to be creative with your significant other but also can be complicated at times. If vocals are off, for example, you need to be diplomatic instead of just blurting out, ‘That was really bad,” because that’s inviting trouble. And when you have a two-year-old at home, every time we play a gig or do a recording session, it costs us money for childcare. Such are the realities of family life.