- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

In the days when Georgetown had a bustling music scene, at places such as Dylan's Cafe and the Bayou, John Alagia was a favorite local performer.
Now he's fast becoming one of the music industry's top producers.
Tomorrow night at the Grammy Awards in New York, Mr. Alagia will be on hand to support one his most successful discoveries, John Mayer, who's up for best new artist and best male pop vocal performance for his ubiquitous radio hit, "Your Body is a Wonderland."
Long an admirer of big-name producers such as Rob Fraboni (Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt) and Steve Lillywhite (U2 and the Rolling Stones), Mr. Alagia is clawing into their elite company.
"Now, I'm actually friends with all my heroes," Mr. Alagia says from his studio on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Mr. Alagia, 39, graduated from Georgetown University in 1986. During his senior year, he met incoming freshman Doug Derryberry, with whom he recorded three albums as an acoustic duo.
The pair, dubbed Derryberry & Alagia, played colleges and clubs across the country and, in the early '90s, started dabbling in four- and eight-track production in the basement of their house in Georgetown. (They would later move to Arlington.)
Ace concert promoter and founding member of the Washington Area Music Association, Mike Schreibman, served as their manager and booking agent. John Jennings and Bob Dawson, two of the region's most sought-after recording engineers, schooled the young duo in the politics of the music business.
"They were like big brothers to us," Mr. Alagia says.
As a songwriter, performer and a budding engineer, Mr. Alagia had all the tools it would take for him to become the sherpa he is today someone who can relate to artists from a musician's perspective as well as help them navigate the commercial byways of the industry.
"By the time we started getting somewhere, I started losing interest in playing and became more interested in producing," says Mr. Alagia, who, since his childhood in Louisville, Ky., has played a variety of instruments, including piano and guitar.
As a teenager, his interest in the technical aspects of recording was stoked by reading behind-the-scenes accounts of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the Beatles' 1967 masterpiece that inaugurated a more experimental approach to record-making.
In 1992, Mr. Alagia was on the cusp of attending law school at Vanderbilt University, where he hoped to keep one foot in the music arena.
"I talked to the Vanderbilt dean, and he said, 'If I were you, I wouldn't even bring your guitar to Nashville for the first year,' because I'd be so busy studying," Mr. Alagia says.
Then he got a call from Ross Hoffman, the agent for an unknown band from Charlottesville. . They were called the Dave Matthews Band, and they were looking for a producer in the mid-Atlantic region.
Mr. Alagia and Mr. Derryberry caught the Dave Matthews Band at the Bayou and, the next night, at a private party at La Nicoise, an erstwhile Georgetown restaurant.
"I walked in there and was completely floored by what I heard," Mr. Alagia says. "I was thinking to myself: How could I record this band?"
Soon after, he was traveling to Charlottesville every Tuesday, attempting to capture the band's galvanic performances on tape.
In 1993, Mr. Alagia produced the Dave Matthews Band's self-released first album, "Remember Two Things," which was reissued by RCA four years later.
But he was diffident about taking the band to the next level and encouraged Mr. Matthews to seek a top-shelf producer like Mr. Lillywhite, who assumed the helm for their 1994 major-label debut, "Under the Table and Dreaming," as well as two subsequent studio albums.
"This band was so overwhelming to me that I was very shy about it, and shy with them," Mr. Alagia says. "I was basically this green little thing. I had nothing under my belt to speak of."
He has kept up his working relationship with Mr. Matthews, however, and is credited with mixing "Busted Stuff," their 2002 multi-platinum blockbuster.
Mr. Alagia has also worked with artists such as Ben Folds Five, Edwin McCain, David Gray, Vertical Horizon and several other acts.
All of which has gotten him over his shyness.
He recalls his first tongue-tied meeting with Mr. Lillywhite, when he screwed up the nerve to ask a technical question about what kind of microphones he used to record a drum kit.
His reply, which Mr. Alagia delivers in a mock-English accent: "John, I don't remember what I had for breakfast this morning."
"I felt like an idiot," he says.
These days, he counts Mr. Lillywhite as a colleague, and together they ushered Mr. Mayer into a major recording contract with Columbia Records.
Mr. Alagia discovered the 24-year-old singer-songwriter when Mr. Mayer's then-girlfriend, an entry-level assistant at the New York-based American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, handed him a demo-tape.
"We get demos all the time, but after listening to it you could tell he was for real," Mr. Alagia says.
He recently produced albums by O.A.R., a reggae-influenced rock band from Columbus, Ohio, and Jason Mraz, a singer-songwriter some predict will be the next … John Mayer.
If it seems improbable that artists are coming to the Baltimore-Washington area to record albums rather than, say, leaving the region for New York or Los Angeles Mr. Alagia says we have digital recording software to thank.
"With all this new technology, you can make a record anywhere," he says. "I mean, I'm on the Eastern Shore. You don't have to go to those places to make a really great record."
Look for Mr. Mraz, then, at next year's Grammys.
There's a good chance John Alagia will be there, too.


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