If you’ve ever listened to records like Heather Green‘s Your Last War, Jenn Grant‘s The Beautiful Wild, or Gabrielle Papillon‘s Little Bug, you’ve likely fallen in love with them and understood why Daniel Ledwell is consistently named Producer of the Year by the ECMA, Music Nova Scotia, and The Coast.
What you may not have realized, though, is that those albums were all produced in Ledwell’s living room.
After years of the “take over the whole house” method of recording, Ledwell and his wife Jenn made the decision almost two years ago to move outside the city and build a studio of their own.
“I’ve been working out of our house– literally our living room and bedroom for five, six years. And doing drums in the living room for two days is pretty invasive,” Ledwell explains. “So it’s really nice to have a space to just be able to do that. A space where Jenn can come and go without me noticing, whereas before I’d have to stop recording. Or if something was really loud, she basically couldn’t be in the house. And if I was recording something very quiet, it was hard for her to be in the house, ’cause you could hear everything. [It’d be like,] Oh– we got pots and pans on the vocal track.“
“I mean even when we lived in the city we were like, talking about how we could make it happen or talking about renting a space,” he continues. “But I didn’t want to get in that situation where I was renting something because then you feel the need to just fill the studio with work, and now you’re just working to pay the rent as opposed to just working to be… artistic fun times.”
Being touring musicians, their house hunting journey was kept to a certain radius around the Halifax airport, but beyond that the biggest concern when looking for their new home was the ability to have a studio on the property, separate from the house.
“We were looking for a place with barns and buildings that I could turn into a studio, [but] the more I looked at barns [the more I realized] it was gonna be really expensive. It’s almost harder to work with an existing structure. So we found this property that had a second– like this used to be a whole second plot, but the people who owned the house before us had bought this,” he says of the piece of land where the studio now sits. “It’s nice to put money into something where it’s just kind of giving you equity back too. It’s not like we rented a space and had to renovate it to get it going, it’s kind of like we built something on our property that adds value to the property.”
Designed by Ledwell himself and built by a crew of friends including Brad Goodsell (formerly of In-Flight Safety), Mike Belyea (drummer for Jenn Grant), and Kev Corbett, the studio, named Echo Lake, sits among the trees on a hill overlooking their house and the small lake on which their property sits. It’s an idyllic location with an inspiring view and at times a welcome distraction from the actual work of recording.
“There will be a deck all across the front, not a super big one, and possibly stairs down to the lake. And then I’m gonna build a new dock and extend the dock over to there…” Ledwell says, gesturing expansively toward the lake. “Yeah, Rich Aucoin came out here [last summer] to record but mostly we ate hamburgers and swam. We recorded some strings for a while, and then we ate hamburgers and swam.”
Already (unsurprisingly) quite busy, the studio has seen records from Jenn Grant, Gabrielle Papillon, Gianna Lauren, and Fortunate Ones come to life since its construction, with Ledwell sometimes working fourteen-hour days or longer, not even leaving the studio for meals. This dedication to his work is one of the reasons he’s so sought-after, and also one of the reasons he’s glad to finally have a dedicated, separate studio space.
“It’s really nice to be able to divide, to be like, That’s where home is, and I can’t work when I’m in there,” he reflects. “I’ve also noticed not having a laptop is really– it’s awful and it’s amazing. ‘Cause we’re on the road so much that it means that you can’t work when you’re on the road. Which I used to do all the time. And I’m glad I don’t do that anymore.”
In high demand and finding himself better positioned to produce outstanding albums than ever before, Ledwell hopes that Echo Lake will allow him greater focus and the ability to simplify.
“I hope to just simplify my life a little bit. It’s been like, eight years of not having a day off, and doing too many things at once. And you can burn yourself out,” Ledwell explains thoughtfully. “And I feel like I have been burning myself out, and your ideas don’t come like they should.”
A multi-talented musician and producer, it’s clear through even the briefest observation that Ledwell puts great passion and dedication into his work. The opening of Echo Lake is a big step forward in his career as a producer, and one that will only be beneficial to the musicians fortunate enough to record with him.
“I don’t want to open a studio [for other people to come in and use]. I don’t want to set up mics and press the spacebar. I want to make records with people, not for people.”