Music — The view from the recording studio
The view from the recording studio

by Bill Copeland

Copeland: Bands are like dysfunctional families

Playing in professional working bands may seem like a cool job. Mark Levreault not only does that, he has another nifty job in the local music industry. Levreault, 50, operates a recording studio attached to his Londonderry home. As a producer, he turns the knobs on a huge console to help professional players document their songs for a CD.

“My primary function is to bring in musicians and singers and help them to shape their sound and their music and to present them in what I hope to be the best light,” he said. It doesn’t hurt that his Perfect Chord Recording Studio is equipped with everything from old analog equipment to the newest digital equipment.

“Today,” he went on, “not many people record analog, only because the cost of the media tends to be very expensive. Although most people will also agree that the sound quality of analog is superior to that of digital. It’s an ongoing debate.”

Yet, all this technology is no substitute for talent, the producer said. “Although I have very high-end professional equipment,” Levreault said, “at the end of the day it all comes down to the performances. Part of my job is to recognize when I’ve got a good performance. I strive for the highest-quality technical recording possible. But it’s not all about technical quality. It’s also about the emotion and the quality of the performance.”

Levreault works with a large format console SoundCraft model 3200. His studio looks as much like a high-tech production lab as it does a music studio. There are more electronic devices than loudspeakers and instruments.

Like many people in his trade, Levreault learned by doing. “My training is in the trenches, on the job,” he said. “I started doing this back in the early ’90s with some fair equipment and a desire to learn. Most of what I learned, I learned by doing and by attending sessions with good engineers, going to studios that were well-equipped, and learning from the people who were doing the good work, and by listening to well recorded commercial CDs.”

Levreault is a guitarist but also plays bass and keyboards and sings. “Being a musician has helped me considerably because I know the difference between a good performance and an average one,” he said.

His proficiency on several instruments works for his clients too. “Often times on some of the recordings I produce, if I’m working with a basic songwriter who only knows how to play guitar and sings, depending on the budget, I may play all the instruments other than drums. I hire studio drummers.” Levreault recently recorded a singer-songwriter from the Nashville circuit in which he had to play pedal steel guitar in addition to bass and keyboards. As producer, he has hired guitarist Tim Pike, singers Lisa Guyer, and Julie Dougherty, as well as Boston drummer Rick Forzese for studio work.

Leverault has recorded everything from solo classical singers and musicians to heavy metal to country and western, to folk, jazz, and blues. “Given a choice I’d prefer acoustic instruments,” he said. “The acoustic instruments tend to be a little more challenging to record and the results are much more satisfying.”

Working with heavy metal bands has increased his knowledge of technology. “The recording of a metal band and the mixing does tend to rely a little bit more on the technology because you’re going to create a wall of sound with an attitude that can’t necessarily be created in a single performance by the band. You have to double certain things and add some effects to improve the impact.”

His biggest chore at times can be dealing with the musicians themselves, since egos can get in the way of progress. The producer answered facetiously when asked if the musicians are ever difficult to work with.

“No, they’re the nicest people in the world,” he quipped, chuckling. “I’ve never had trouble.” Turning more serious, he explained it from the producer’s point of view. “There were times when there was enough tension in the studio that the resulting performances would not have been of the quality that we were looking for.”

“I have on occasion sent bands home,” he said. “Bands are basically dysfunctional families. They’re different personalities that are forced together with a common love of music.”

Computer engineering is his day job. He operates Perfect Chord on a part-time basis as a service for hire and he isn’t cheap. Occasionally, he’ll work with an artist who initially cannot pay for his services on speculation that there will be payback later.

“I try to use my best judgment,” Levreault explained. “If I find an artist who I truly believe has what it takes and does not necessarily have the resources to do the recording, then I might help them out with the hope that we’ll both benefit in the long run. The bottom line is there are artists out there who are great who may never get heard because they don’t have the budget or the connections or the resources to do a quality recording.”

The producer, however, doesn‘t like to get hung up on rates. “I get a lot of phone calls from people and their first question is ‘What are your rates?’ My response to that is, ‘Well, if that’s the most important thing to you, then you probably want to be working with another studio. I’m more interested in quality of the performer and the creation of something that’s lasting.’”

For more information about recording services, call Levreault at 603-432-3085.

- Bill Copeland

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