Grammy award winning American producer Howard Benson (pictured with glasses) began his illustrious production career back in the mid-’80s and has since amassed an extensive body of work. As a producer he has worked with some of rock and metal’s biggest artists, which run the gamut from Hoobastank, P.O.D and Papa Roach, to Santana, Three Days Grace, Bon Jovi and Daughtry to name but a few. Here Benson shares with Audio Technology his five essential studio tools.
1. Sony C800 Microphone
For vocals, I really can’t live without my Sony C800. I’ve been using it for about 15 years now. It became my go-to mic after the Hoobastank The Reason sessions. Prior to that, I wasn’t impressed with the vocal sound I was getting, especially when I’d hear my productions on the radio. I said to my engineer, ‘what’s the most pop-sounding vocal mic I can get?’. At the time, the rock guys were using Neumann U87s and U67s and I just didn’t like that sound. I wanted something much more hyped and more active sounding — which led me to the Sony C800. I don’t believe they’re manufactured anymore — more like a special-order mic. And they’re an unforgettable mic to look at. With its big tube on the backside it resembles a spaceship.
2. Tube-Tech CL 1B Compressor
Here’s how I like to record vocals: we try to lay the vocals down as hot as we can with as little compression as possible. We will actually ride the Tube-Tech compressor as the vocalist is singing. We don’t use compression as a crutch, it’s mostly used to tame some of those stray crazy notes that come out of singers at times. I always tell my singers to just get up on the mic and don’t worry about anything; let me deal with it. That said, we’ll give the artist a highly compressed vocal for their headphones mix — I wind the compressor all the way up, to the max, like 72dB, and they’ll hear that. That way they can scream as loud as they want and the compressor will just hold it evenly. I also like to give the singer a mixer to control the balance of their vocals with a stereo mix of the music. Without my vocal system setup that I have, I don’t think I could make records.
3. Neve 1084
I can’t live without my Neve 1084. Being a vintage model Neve, it gives me that warm sound. The Sony C800 is a very hyped mic, and the 1084 preamp tames that sound in a beautiful way. It’s a lovely combination.
4. Howard Benson Vocals Plugin by JST
I had this vocal channel developed with Joey Sturgis in response to the social media artists I was seeing who were crying out for a quick vocal recording and mixing solution. It’s been a big hit, and mostly because it’s simple and easy to use in the DAW. It combines a compressor, an EQ, a stereo widener, a delay, a reverb and a limiter, and a vocal multiplier. The vocal multiplier emulates the sound of a whole gang of people in the studio singing in unison. There’s a level of natural-sounding unpredictability there, thanks to a sample & hold generator that messes with Pitch, Timing and Spread settings, as opposed to just a bland ‘pitch and timing’ which is done by sine waves — which has no vibe. We’ve actually got a second multiplier coming out soon. I always flip my EQ and compressors around so my EQ is usually before my compression when I am mixing. This is a SSL trick I learned from some mix engineers.
5. My Dog ‘Bear’
My dog, ‘Bear’, is very important and always sits around and listens. Bands love hanging out with my dog because he calms them down a lot. It’s very therapeutic and has a psychological effect on the musicians during their sessions. I think in human years he’s like 91 years old. Years ago, I recall doing the Bodycount and Motorhead records with some of those engineers, they always had dogs, and I realised early on that those dogs were a calming influence. Bear also makes for a good parlour trick: I play something on the piano and he sings along with me.
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