Five Quick Questions with Howard Benson

EQ: How do you pick the band that you want to work with? What’s your first step? HB: I usually look for two things: “Star quality” and vocals. As long as the songs are mostly there, I can deal with them — but the thing that I cannot fix is the “star.” EQ: How much time do you spend on a rough mix? HB: To
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EQ: How do you pick the band that you want to work with? What’s your first step?

HB: I usually look for two things: “Star quality” and vocals. As long as the songs are mostly there, I can deal with them — but the thing that I cannot fix is the “star.”

EQ: How much time do you spend on a rough mix?

HB: Tons. I do most of the rough mixes in the box — which I consider the most important part of the record. I sometimes spend days working on them.

EQ: You work a lot with Pro Tools. When using it, are you making verses and choruses to put together, or are you taking the traditional approach?

HB: It varies. Sometimes it’s very traditional — I use it like a tape machine. But then some songs have to be moved around a lot. Most people don’t understand why their mixes don’t sound good, why things don’t match up when they come back to record at another time, why things are out of phase. Pro Tools is a very deceiving piece of equipment; unless you really understand what’s going on there, in a very fundamental way, you’re screwed.

EQ: When you’re producing, how much psychology are you using to get the take you need?

HB: A lot. For example, people always ask what was going on during that vocal performance on Hoobastank’s “The Reason.” Honestly, the Lakers were in the playoffs, and Doug is a huge sports fan. Every time we would stop the tape I would tell him the score. That’s what we were talking about; we weren’t talking about the song at all. In some ways, that’s the thing to do. When you’re so focused on the song, you can make it melodramatic. It’s not like “The Reason,” all this kind of like goopy stuff where if he starts overstating it, it sounds really bad. I use this a lot on my singers: “hey, just sound bored.” Sometimes that will keep the edge off of the vocals.

EQ: How do you get that perfect take?

HB: You have to let it come to you. You’ve got to be open to let it hit you. Sitting there trying to change things constantly sort of defeats the purpose. Look, you need to put in the work, but there’s some magic that has to happen in the studio. Sometimes people listen to “Helena” from My Chemical Romance or the Rejects’ “Move Along” and ask me “how did you do it?” I don’t really know — I just do it.