Here's our chat with Ben:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?
Part Chimp - IV was the first album I mixed that got daytime play on BBC 6 Music. It's a very heavy and noisy record, so getting that played on the breakfast show felt like quite an achievement. Another memorable one was when I engineered a record with Van Der Graaf Generator. They were all pushing 70. Some of the stuff they were doing with time signatures was insane. I hope I can still play that well at 70! It might be their last record so it was nice to be a part of it. Such an influential band, plus my dad had actually heard of them, which was cool. Recently got to work with Mark Lanegan on a song (The Mirror), and it was quite an experience hearing that voice come through my speakers. He’s someone I’ve been a fan of since my early teens so this mix will be one I always remember.
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on?
I mostly work with alternative indie and heavy bands, recording and mixing the whole thing. A lot of the noisy bands like to record in the room live with no headphones. It's quite a technical challenge but it can work really well. It's a buzz when stuff goes down well and everyone's in the moment. Not for the faint hearted!
I've started doing a lot more remote mixing projects recently which I'm really enjoying. A bit more chilled out.
How did you get started in music?
My Dad was a music teacher at a local college and I had drum and piano lessons from around the age of 6 or 7. There was a small studio in the town I grew up in. I used to rehearse there after school sometimes. PJ Harvey had gone to the local college and lived in the area, she did a couple of albums with John Parish and Head at the studio around that time. I didn’t get to see any sessions but just being around a studio at that age where real records are being made was really inspiring and I’m sure that's what got me hooked. Can’t remember wanting to do anything else from that point on. A couple of years later I drummed on a session with Head, he recorded completely differently to how we were being taught at college. Was pretty experimental and I've carried that experience with me.
Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles?
I spent 3 years just working freelance in other people's studios. It seemed like a good idea not having my own place, less stress etc.
But it was actually quite a stressful time. Dealing with various studio owners, each studio setup having its own set of quirks and control room acoustics. I learnt a lot about what works and what doesn't, so I'm glad I did it. I actually first bought my Audeze for a reference to take around with me but they ended up just staying at home in my mix room where they we're more practical.
Would you approach it differently now?
I wouldn't go back but I'm glad I did it and I still use other studios from time to time.
I've taken on a studio near the Glastonbury Festival site in Somerset called Axe and Trap. It's been really nice to set up everything how I think it should be and get sounds super quick. Means I'm more focused on the music.
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project?
My Audeze headphones have been used on every mix since I got them. I've been leaning on them more and more. I know the conventional wisdom is not to mix on headphones and just reference, but they work. I have some Unity Audio Rocks that are great near-fields. They're not ported like an NS10 so are super fast but go down nice and low unlike the Yamaha's.
Big fan of Prism on the digital side. That's what we have at the studio. The Lynx stuff is great too. A lot of the studios seem to have the Auroras.
Most of the music I record is pretty loud so I lean on dynamic and ribbon mics a lot. They're really useful in a 'all live in the room' scenario, if you play to the microphone’s strengths anyway. Been really getting into Shure Beta 58's lately. It's amazing how hifi that mic can sound going through some nice front end, on the right source. It's a mic most people have and you don't see them used that much in the studio.
What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?
Last year I got hold of one of Eric Valentine's Undertone Audio mic preamps. I've used nearly every preamp I can think of over the last few years and these Undertone Audio pres are something else. So they get used on nearly everything. Alex who I run the studio with has a pair of those Aston Spirit large diaphragm condensers. Been using them a lot on vocals and overheads. Sound great and are really affordable.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire to get where you are in their own careers?
Just keep busy. Even if it means working for free. I still will if things get super quiet. Sometimes a project or test mix seems like a complete wait of time but never know where it'll lead or what you might learn. It can be quite surprising .
How long have you been working with headphones, and what inspired you to start including them in your workflow?
I bought some Grado SR325's around 10 years ago. They're really great but I couldn't really mix on them. They are awesome for checking final mixes and giving yourself a pat on the back. Like I mentioned earlier when I started working in different studios and mixing at home I knew I needed something else. I tried some Audeze and never looked back.
How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?
I'd used my old Audeze EL-8's a lot during mixing but since getting the LCD-X's I've been able to mix without my studio monitors. Partly due to covid and the lockdowns, but I've been really happy with the results and so have the clients. Not something I thought would work but Audeze really bridge the gap.
I find you can judge frequencies and compression settings confidently. Even Reverbs levels, which can be tricky in headphones.
Can you tell us what you've been working on with them so far?
I've mixed the new Part Chimp album almost exclusively on them. Used my Unity Audio Rocks a bit, but they were just set up at home so I couldn't rely on them too much. I really like how well you can judge the low mids/hi bass area on them. Which Part Chimp have a lot of!
Pretty much everything I've mixed for the last 6 months has been on them. Partly due to us building a new control room at the studio and getting that right. But as I start mixing there permanently, I'll definitely have my LCD-X's with me. No going back now.