Collaboration is Key at Starlab Studios

Starlab StudiosLilia Volodina sets up a shot of Marc Valois. Photo by Richard Hawke.

Five thirty-somethings pool their resources, renovate a warehouse and attempt to create a sustainable scene that’s conducive to the artistic process—and, faced with the possibility of losing the space they’ve created, they band together to save it. That’s the story behind Starlab Studios (453 Somerville Ave.), and it’s one that encapsulates Somerville’s collaborative culture.

As a media production outlet, Starlab Studios isn’t just focused on one part of the creative process. They want to do it all, to “handle all aspects of a client’s creative project under one roof,” says Matt Price, the studio’s general manager. Their services are ideal for artists who have an idea but don’t have the team to back them up.

“For example, if you’re a band that wants to record a new album, we can track and produce the album, film and edit a music video and produce the promotional materials for your album release party,” Price says.

Starlab is a full-service music, multimedia and entertainment production studio. The extent of the crew’s services is stunning: they already offer video production, music composition and scoring, voice over recording, photography and space to host classes or rehearsals. And they’re looking to add even more to their repertoire. Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, either. In March the team was awarded a grant through the American Small Business Championship.

According to Price, Starlab “operates as a team of equal partners with varying responsibilities,” but the studio is at its most electrifying when its team works together. Rich Hawke, Starlab’s video production expert and photographer, works in his second floor office, surrounded by screens and equipment. James Lindsay supervises creative content, copy-editing and sifting through raw footage in his office, which is packed wall-to-wall with books. On the other side of the studio, Marc Valois, Starlab’s audio engineer, mixes a local band’s recording. Nearby, Price writes press releases and prepares to attend city meetings.

Starlab originated in 2009, when Valois and Price recorded albums and hosted punk and noise shows at Starlab’s first location in Union Square. Across town, Hawke and Lindsay managed their own studio for video production and editing. When Starlab’s first location was acquired by the City of Somerville in 2013 to facilitate the development of the Green Line, the four men threw in together.

“Thankfully, Somerville was helpful with our relocation,” Price says. “The place we chose had to be built from the ground up, so we’ve spent the last 18 months doing that. It’s only in the last few months that we’ve started to focus on establishing our business and our future as a company.”

The entire team credits Somerville for supporting the enterprise. “We’ve been very vocal about Union Square being our home base,” says Lisa Vidal, Starlab’s most recent staff addition. “If you can’t figure out how to do something, there’s always someone in a related field in this city who can help you.” Vidal works as the studio’s financial manager, and she’s tirelessly pragmatic. “I like when one plus one adds up to two, you know? You construct your plan, you work hard, and sometimes it pays off directly.”

Starlab Studios

Lisa Vidal, Starlab Financial Manager. Photo by Lilia Volodina

The team has hosted comedy nights and movie screenings in the past, and they still plan to produce their wildly popular Starlabfest Music & Arts Festival this summer. But Vidal says the company’s new emphasis is on products and creative services.

“We’ve figured a lot out, you know, the rules of the game, and now we get to watch something bigger come together.” Price agrees. “We’re finally at a point where we can effectively operate the business that we envisioned,” he says–not just as a venue for parties and punk shows. It’s an all-encompassing hub for creative work in Union Square.

That shared outlook for the future binds the Starlab team together. “I’m working with my best friends,” says Vidal. There’s no trust issues, there’s no ego, it’s just smooth sailing.”

Starlab sustains itself on the efforts of a small and talented team. It’s the dream of something more that drives them, the ability to please clients with meaningful work and set aside time to produce their own art. Lindsay enjoys a comedy career while Valois features prominently in several bands, including his infectious project Blinders. The entire team has won honors through the 48 Hour Film Festival, and Lindsay and Hawke produced Champions of Champions, a quiz night that won them attention from The Improper Bostonian and The Boston Calendar. The team is poised to deliver much more in the coming years.

It’s easy to see how much they admire one another. Earlier this year, at one of their monthly Stand-Up at Starlab shows, Vidal gave a warm introduction to Lindsay, who hosted the evening of comics while also delivering his own biting material. Seated among an almost sold-out crowd, Hawke laughed at his friend’s act between making adjustments to his recording equipment. When Starlab hosted Disasterpiece Theater, Hawke sat by the projector while Valois worked out an original theme song on the studio’s organ.

After the show ended and the crowd went home, Starlab’s core group of five gathered in the lounge. They debated walking over to A4 Pizza. Lindsay and Price moved chairs aside, preparing the intimate theatre space for the full line-up of bands that would rehearse there in the morning. “That was good, right?” Vidal asked, coiling cables while Valois steadied a ladder for Hawke. The rest of the team nodded, satisfied.