Rock ‘n’ roll as rocket science?!? Well, depends on who you talk to about it. Producer Howard Benson? You mean he of the degree in aerospace engineering who had a hand in building high-tech widgets for the space shuttle? The one whose minors at the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts were music theory, composition, and jazz piano? Well, yeah, of course he might say so.
Enjoying a career trajectory that parallels the acceptance of Pro Tools in the industry as a viable music recording medium, Benson has been both a long time evangelist of and creator in the system, even notching a notable first: Sepultura’s 1998 Against being one of the first hard rock albums to be done “in the box.”
And it’s that affinity for technology that undoubtedly helped bring Benson together with his regular engineer and fellow traveler, Mike Plotnikoff (Kiss, AC/DC). The pair has worked together for five years now, racking up hits for the likes of P.O.D., Papa Roach, My Chemical Romance, and now Hoobastank’s The Reason, their Grammy nominated multi-million-selling sophomore album.
“The only mic I use on guitars is a Shure SM57 and I run that through a Neve 1073 pre amp, then into an LA2A and out of the LA2A into a Pultec and onto analog tape,” explains Plotnikoff. “We used the Studer A800 with BASF tape aligned at +9. I like the compression it gives. We’re basically running all the drums, guitars, and everything through a sidecar of 1073s, not using the main console.”
“I put the mic right up on the speaker, it’s very close, pointing straight at the cabinet,” says Plotnikoff. “Sometimes it’s off to an angle, but it depends. We’ll see how it fits in the track. If we want it a little brighter we’ll point it straight on, if we want it a little darker, we angle it a bit.”
“I still like the old school stuff even though now we end up in Pro Tools HD on everything,” Plotnikoff confides. “I still like the vintage gear, LA2A’s, Pultec, I just like the way they color the sound compared to digital stuff. My setting for the LA2A is about 7dB of compression at the most. The Pultec I’ll tweak the bottom end a little bit. I like to roll out a little bit and add a little bit at 100 on the EQ. Then I usually boost a little around 8k and I leave everything else on the wide setting.”
“Mike [Plotnikoff] absolutely knows what I want, and he delivers. Usually, we don’t go into the studio unless the guitar player knows what he’s going to do. I’m talking about the basic parts. A lot of the cool parts, like the overdubs, that’s stuff that I absolutely trust Mike to do. It’s very important to me that Mike and Keith [Nelson, guitar tech] and the guitar player feel ownership of those parts and don’t have a producer hanging over their heads every second.
“I love to layer guitars and make them so they’re big, fat, and wide. We use a lot of things we’ve developed over the years to put guitars into songs. We do a lot of guitars that are tuned up an octave. We do a lot of baritone guitar stuff. But that’s basically in the choruses; big, powerful guitar parts that add to the power of the choruses but stay out of the way of the vocals. During the verses there’s usually just a single melody line. I usually try to go for real textural stuff that adds a vibe to things, makes it sound emotional.”