Swift rise to the Grammys: The tale of a Twin Cities recording engineer

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 25, 2014 - 2:00 PM

At just 24, Twin Cities-bred recording engineer John Rausch could share in Sunday’s most prestigious Grammy Award for his work with Taylor Swift.

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At 24, John Rausch already co-owns an L.A. studio, Valley High. “His skill level makes it easy to forget he’s in his mid-20s,” says Grammy winner Dan Wilson.

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When recording engineer John Rausch heads to work, he sometimes doesn’t know what his task is going to be until he arrives at the studio.

“I walk in and, like, Jason Mraz is sitting on the couch,” said Rausch. “OK, somebody’s here. Cool.”

Three years ago, Rausch took a flier and left the Twin Cities with his new wife to follow Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Dan Wilson out to Los Angeles. Now he is a Grammy nominee himself. If Taylor Swift’s “Red” wins album of the year, Rausch will get a trophy, too, for engineering Wilson’s contributions to the disc.

Sunday, Rausch will get “all snazzied up” in his brand-new suit, join Wilson and their wives in a limousine, and head to Staples Center for what the engineer calls “the Super Bowl of what I do.”

“I’m pretty excited. If I was just going as a bystander, I don’t think it would be as much fun.”

He’s never been to the Grammys, and only once to Staples Center (for an NBA game). He’s been too busy working.

Like Swift, Rausch is only 24 but has amassed a precocious résumé in a short period. He has worked on projects with Pink, Josh Groban, Keith Urban, Colbie Caillat, Gavin DeGraw, Swift, Mraz and lots of lesser known artists.

“I set goals for myself. I wanted to not punch another person’s time clock by the time I was 25. I did that by the time I was 20 — I was working for myself. And I was like: I want to win a Grammy by the time I’m 30 — or at least be nominated. And I did it by 24,” he said from his suburban L.A. recording studio.

Yes, he already co-owns a studio, Valley High, in Studio City, Calif. He’s typically there from 9 to 11:30 every morning. Then he heads to Wilson’s Ballroom West studio in Sherman Oaks, where sessions often last into the night. Eleven-hour days are commonplace, as are six-day workweeks. But Rausch doesn’t have to punch a clock. He’s on retainer for Wilson.

“He’s really into aiming high and making sure he understands what my vision is,” said Wilson, the Minneapolis-bred former lead singer for Semisonic (“Closing Time”) who has reinvented himself as a L.A.-based writer/producer, winning Grammys for hits by Adele and the Dixie Chicks. “He has that rare quality of constantly trying to figure out how to improve his game.

“He’s serious about his work but he likes to laugh. He’s conscientious. He doesn’t get stressed out. His skill level makes it easy to forget he’s in his mid-20s.”

Impressed on Day 1

In 2009, when Wilson was still living in Minneapolis, he needed an engineer on short notice for a recording session with Caillat. Eddie Ciletti, a veteran engineer who teaches at the Institute of Production and Recording in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District, recommended his student Rausch.

Rausch and Ciletti hit it off on the very first day of his electronics class at IPR.

“He came up to me and said ‘I need to be busy,’ ” recalled Ciletti, who has worked with Hall & Oates, Pavarotti and Live Aid.

He was impressed by Rausch’s mechanical skills and eagerness to learn — he showed up early, stayed late and soaked up everything in between. Before long, Ciletti asked the new student to be his teaching assistant for a class Rausch hadn’t even taken, and to work in Ciletti’s equipment repair shop in West St. Paul.

Wilson, too, was impressed by Rausch’s technical acumen and work ethic, but had to teach him about studio protocol with artists.

“There were small things, like I used to fidget, or when I was working and I’d be thinking, I’d speak out loud quietly,” admitted Rausch, who asked Wilson for critiques after every session. “Part of my job is being in the room but people don’t know you’re there.”

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  • Taylor Swift's "Red"

  • John Rausch worked with Dan Wilson, left, in July 2010 at Wilson’s studio in Minneapolis then.

  • GRAMMY AWARDS

    When: 7-10:30 p.m. Sun.

    Where: WCCO, Ch. 4 (CBS).

    With: Performances by Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Mackle­more & Ryan Lewis, Daft Punk and more.

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