Howard Benson Rocks With Spectrasonics
by Paul de Benedictis
Over the past 20 years rock producer Howard Benson has produced dozens of albums by some of the most popular, chart topping rock acts, including My Chemical Romance, The All-American Rejects, P.O.D., Hoobastank, Papa Roach, Flyleaf, Three Days Grace, and recently three albums by the band Daughtry. These releases reveal Benson’s musical and creative abilities to transform a rock band’s raw energy and their passionate performances into hits across multiple Billboard charts.
The busy producer spoke to us from his car while heading to a session. He’s been a long-time Spectrasonics virtual instrument user and was an early adopter of the computer and Pro Tools. Benson has had many Grammy® nominated projects, and was himself nominated for Producer of the Year in 2007 and in 2008.
COMPUTERS AND ROCK?
When we asked Benson if he remembers a specific turning point about using computers in rock production he replied, “I remember exactly what it was. In 1997, I was in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We didn’t have a tape machine to do this band called Sepultura. The engineer in the studio said, ‘Well, we’ve got this other thing called Pro Tools. It’s a computer and it records music.’ I said, ‘Ah, come on, gimme a break. I’m not recording music into a computer.’ I was really against the whole thing. I didn’t think it was going to work. We were all very precious at the time about that kind of thing,” says Benson, referring to the use of tape machines and analog gear to get what everyone considered the way to end up with a ‘rock sound.’
“But because I came from an engineering background – I have an engineering degree in Materials Engineering from Drexel University – I knew computers really well at that point, and I said, ‘You know what, I’ll just give it a shot.’ So we started using the computer and five minutes into it I was sold, completely sold. I realized how much better and more competitive my records could be, on the limited budgets I was getting, because I wasn’t a world-class producer at that point.”
“So I started bringing the computer into the studio for rock bands. I knew pop bands were using Pro Tools at that point, but rock bands were not. I used it on little known bands like Zebrahead, then I moved up to Less Than Jake, then I was finally able to use it on my first major hit record – P.O.D.'s “The Fundamental Elements of Southtown.” When we had our first hit record, all of a sudden, I started getting so many calls. People were asking, ‘How did you get the band to sound like that?’ I said I was using a computer. And at first they’d put up an argument, but I would say, ‘Listen, I’m not interested in producing your band without using the computer. It’s just what I’m doing now’. Little by little, I started developing my own production approach. Soon I was one of the only guys in rock to do rock records fully in the computer. That was why I got so much work and it was a big turning point in my career.”
Benson is a longtime Spectrasonics user and utilizes Omnisphere, Trilian and Stylus RMX extensively in his rock productions.
“I've used Spectrasonics instruments on The All-American Rejects and My Chemical Romance. I’ve produced about 30 or 40 records since those projects, and I've used the Spectrasonics virtual instruments on everything,” he recalls.
Explaining how virtual instruments fit into rock music arrangements, Benson notes, “What I do is back up the guitar parts with keyboard sounds. So I stick to the stuff I know. I've always thought that Spectrasonics virtual instruments, as far as versatility, have a lot of different things I could get to quickly - big brassy sounds and lush mellow sounds, as well. Everything comes up sounding nice and in stereo - the presets are good and it's always easy to use!”
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