I sit down to talk with famous Vocal Producer Howard Benson to talk about the do’s and don’ts of getting ready for a session or project. Great info and a must listen for ANY vocalist in the music business or contemplating a career. The more you know what the pro’s know and what is expected, the more success you will achieve!
Hi! I’m Mitch Seekins – The Vocal Coach.
Welcome to the ‘Sing Like A Pro Interview Series” where you find out from people who are at the top of their game, what they did to get there and what they do to stay there! And of course if you liked this please share and hit that subscribe button…I have lots more to come.
I recently had the privilege to speak with the amazing Howard Benson who is not only an overall producer but made a name as a great vocal producer as well! He has worked with people like:
My chemical romance
And my connection with him, 3 days grace…
The stuff he has produced has sold more that 100 million albums and over 20 billion streams! He has been not only a producer and musician but was also an A&R consultant for Giant, Electra and Warner bros records. All this work has garnered him multiple awards and nominations, including nominations for Producer of the Year in 2007 and 2008.
He has a vast wealth of knowledge to share …and he has also a plug in suite that you can access! I’ll leave a link below. So, if you have a home setup and want an easy way to have your vocals “POP” like in Howards mixes…it’s a one button click! I highly recommend checking it out!
We did have a problem getting his camera to work so I had to use a still pic of him….but it doesnt change any of the incredible info he shared with me!
The idea for the content is to actually just get good quality information for people to know how to prepare for recording a record and all that stuff you know?
That’s what it’s all about… you’ve done like a lot an awful lot, you know, from you know because i mean you started as a musician right?
uh well i started as an engineer actually and as my degrees in aerospace
oh yes that’s right so i started that’s right because yeah you started as an engineer but you were you were playing music through university is it is that right?
yeah yeah i was doing kind of both but uh yeah i came out to LA pretty much do both i wasn’t sure which one was going to work out yeah so yeah it did work as an engineer for Garrett yeah they make like airplane parts my job was like wings and wing actuary wing actuation systems and turbine blades and turbo engines turbine engines and just that kind of thing so but right that’s what my degree was in in college was materials engineering basically mostly aerospace stuff the musician thing was still happening all the way through university kind of thing yeah i mean i was always in bands you know i was always playing in uh disco bands and just all kinds of bands you know like uh i ended up sort of becoming the de facto arranger because i was the keyboard player so you just end up doing uh the arrangements and coming up with the parts and uh it’s the vocal parts were not really something i spent that much time on i mean that was something that i learned as i was out here in l.a about you know the importance of doing this the vocal parts the vocal parts no and not saving them for the last second so that was something but up until the hard knocks of trying to make it as a producer yeah you think everything’s important you know before you realize that none of it’s important except the vocals so you know yeah yeah i still think a lot of it’s important because the it has to complement the vocals yeah yeah well you can have really great music and shitty vocals and you’re gonna be screwed oh absolutely if you have really really great music if you have you know music that’s not that great but the vocals are incredible and the music the lyrics and the melody and the story is great you can still make that work absolutely absolutely but if you got both yeah well that’s what we try to strive for of course yeah yeah absolutely when did you when did you uh do the anr stuff because you were doing a r stuff for a while as well yeah i worked for um giant records in the 80s or the 90s and i worked for elektra um after i started having hits with uh warner brothers elektra hired me to be a vp of a r for them which is basically just an r guy right and uh you know that sort of now dovetails into their label that i actually have with neil sanderson from three disgrace that’s right he’s my partner yeah and uh so it’s like the i wasn’t that great of an anr guy honestly i was sort of more of a producer type but now after doing producing so long i pretty much have a good handle on the a r part of it it’s a different world though the a r plus not the way it was back then everything has changed everything has changed so much over the last even just the ten the last 10 years that the change is is incredible you know because yeah like i you know i never i never did the you know the the full-on recording thing but um i toured myself for 37 years and performed for for 37 years myself but working with all the people that i do i get to hear all because i know the performance side but i get to hear all the business side as well and it’s just completely anything you know but it’s i think it’s kind of cool now i mean maybe it’s just because i i’ve had enough hit records that i don’t really sweat it out as much as i used to yeah as a creator content provider it’s a lot easier because you have more of the control in your hands you know you can’t make things as huge as they used to but um i don’t know it’s still the same business as it always was stuff to make great music yeah the rest of it usually takes care of itself it’s just that there’s a lot more music there’s a lot of yes yeah yeah it’s because all those creators have the ability to just kind of put it online whenever that’s right you know yeah um and and it’s so much easier with all the all the technology there to actually make it at home without having to you know do the crappy little demos and get you know something behind somebody behind them to go in to do the real good demos to take it to a record company to get signed to have it go into the machine now it’s just well i’m in my bedroom the quality is fantastic i’m just going to stick it up on youtube and see what happens yeah no in fact that’s what universal just came out with something universal music that they don’t even want you to release music unless you put it on tick tock to see the reactions so they’re going to let the public ignore it yeah i can see why they’re doing it though oh absolutely i can see why they’re doing it but that’s that’s gonna be i don’t know how that’s gonna work we’ll just have to see well some of my artists do that already so they’ve already they’re ahead of the game yeah yeah so i can artists that is we put up all 12 of his demos online to see which ones reacted yeah you know yeah and that’s how we’re going to pick the songs yeah you know yeah i i i work with a guy out of l.a uh ali gotti um who does a lot of that as well like he’ll he’ll put up ideas on tick tock and go hey do you want do you want to hear me develop this even more and get the reaction and then yeah it’s the same same kind of thing i guess not sure how much of that actually goes into the decision of you know okay we’re gonna work on this and see where it goes i i don’t know i’d have to ask him i guess and find out yeah to see where it is so over you know over your your career i mean my god the people you’ve worked with like my chemical romance daughtry kelly clarks and rascal flatts you know chris cornell motorhead creed santana bon jovi adam lambert that’s pretty cool hailstorm pubescent billy talent three days grace guys you know um you know and like i was saying you know the the purpose of of this all is to really you know get the information on how to do this for you know particularly uh the younger the younger people coming up and in terms of like how do you prepare for a record what what do you what do you do you know what i mean you’ve been working with you know from rock to pop to to to country to gospel to all kinds of different styles within your career as well so you know your your knowledge is is going to be great was was the so you’ve been doing this since i like i read on your site like since 86 or something like that right that was the first one yeah that was like the first time i got a production credit right you know but it was like a punk band was just it was basically anybody who would hire me essentially well just like all the rest of us you got to start someplace you know and so was it did you did you find it was kind of a natural progression from not only from the musicianship but from the the materials engineering because you had that mechanical brain to to go into a studio and go okay this is what we can do to tweak this sound to make it good you know all that kind of thing did you find that was a natural step um i think i had to learn to think more with my heart than my head yep i had to unlearn how to be an engineer an engineer yeah but i still had that in me yeah so when i think my biggest sort of break was when the computer started becoming usable and i was with the pro tools way before anybody like way way before 1996 which was has to be about five seven years before it became really the end of something yeah and um i just really like got into the fact that whatever was i was hearing i could now make it happen right as opposed to spending all this money in the studio i could do it at home and i you know it was at the time so nothing people thought about you know so that’s where the engineering came in but yeah i had to unlearn how to like start going more with my heart about things uh sorry i either have a cold or i have covered i’m not sure which one it is i’m just hoping it’s not covered um yeah but but uh yeah i had to kind of like you know feel things and uh it served me really good to start be lightening up in the studio yeah about things and letting go and delegating to people more and so like i i think a crucial step to is working with a guy named keith olsen who was uh probably my biggest mentor he he produced like the scorpions and he did a white snake and he did fleetwood mac and he did uh he’s old school guy back that i mean when i met him he wasn’t old school but yeah he just taught me how to comp vocals and how to um think about vocals and just like it was just morally more of the sessions that we were doing more vocal centric than they were before and uh you know i started to kind of i know i was pretty good at vocals but i didn’t really realize it would become a brand thing and i think a lot of it had to do with the computer i was again being first on the computer being able to use auto tune being able to use pitch correction all kinds of effects a lot of guys weren’t doing that back then like the pod record i did uh the first one i did was full of vocal effects and the singer sounded way better than he normally sounds so i started getting a a brand of being a good vocal producer and i think i just ran with it you know it was like well that’s working you know like and i’m having hits and i didn’t have any hits up until then i mean honestly up until that moment i had had sold maybe 60 000 albums now i thought sold about 60 million albums yet up until that point i hadn’t sold any until i started rethinking my process and you know i went a long time without selling records so it was kind of painful you know like it was uh hard to see success like i had to think of alternatives to do with my life and all that yeah but once i had a huge record it’s kind of like uh a lot of things happened at once you know the vocal thing happened the computer thing was happening i actually hired a lot of canadians to be my assistants uh my and mike platinikov from little mountain studios yeah uh in vancouver became my primary engineer i worked with randy staub on some stuff um my pro tools editor was from canada my guitar tech mark van gool was from canada and um it was i really liked the sound of bruce fairburne’s records yeah and i would look to those bon jovi records and things like that for the vocal production yeah i got to work with desmond child and uh diane warren and some great songwriters i like i came about it you know the right way like i i learned from really good people and i hired really good people right i’m not really good at making things like i could care less about it right i don’t i don’t know like a drum mic pick one you know yeah so as long as it sounds good yeah so um so like i delegate a lot of that stuff right i think that also came from my engineering background just looking at how we would make airplanes you know like we didn’t make the whole airplane we just made one part of the airplane and the rest of it we delegated to other companies to do and we were part of that you know we made the wings the slat systems on the wings and all that so there’s a lot of things that kind of came together yeah you know and everybody makes records differently you know like rick rubin makes them his way and rob makes it his way gavin brown makes it his way yeah that’s how i make him you know yeah so uh
as long as the song is great it’s the song of the but to me again my world view is song and vocals yeah i think that’s why three days grace and me work really well together is that they think the same exact way yeah those guys so um but other bands i work with they don’t think that way anymore it’s weird like some of the bands i’ve worked with in the past it’s like i stopped working with them and they start working with engineers who don’t want they don’t want to be told what to do so they want to work with people that are yes men and their records start going like that you know yeah but it’s hard you know you want to be in control of your own art i get it you know yeah so i know and and it is learning you know that being creative is great but three or four brains is always better than just one i mean yes there’s anomalies you know of course it does it does depend but adding you know what you do and allowing your and it’s the same with gavin like allowing them to kind of get your fingers into the mix and go okay but if we do this this will be better and actually making the product better yeah it is that was interesting everybody’s concept of that is different you know like some artists don’t like working with me because they think that i’m a sellout hit producer that sells it out to make hits and i’m and they’re right i am i don’t care about that that’s not if you don’t don’t hire me unless you want hits like i don’t care about the rest of this yeah and you know i i never really got into the music industry to starve that’s not what i did it’s pretty great you need to be up front you got to be upfront with the artists though before you start projects of course like i i always say to them like if you want to make critically acclaimed records that are like amazing that your friends love and that get great press then don’t work with me not interested you know i want to make like you should be bringing all this intensity and integrity already yeah you know like that’s not my job that’s your job you know my job is to take what you’ve got and make it into commercially palatable yeah stuff which you know is if it’s if you got all the other stuff then why not work with someone like me if you want to get that little extra that makes it a hit record you know that’s what’s really there could be a lot of differences between hits and stiffs you know or or little differences very little differences too yeah yeah yeah i mean it’s every project’s unique like that yeah yeah yeah yeah um you know working with so many different vocalists uh over these have you noticed a difference between you know the singers who have studied and those who have not like if you the good ones don’t give me a lot of [ __ ] the good ones come in sing and leave seriously yeah they don’t they don’t ask about the headphone mix they don’t they don’t they’re they’re ready to go they come in it’s in their head five to ten takes i come up with the harmonies they go through the whole thing we maybe will punch in line after line um and if they want auto-tune i’ll throw it on their vocal but i don’t have to talk them into an emotion they’ve got that what i have to do is talk them into giving me the most of that like don’t like sell it to me like that’s i never talk about pitch and timing ever right ever never comes out like we never discuss any of that right you know what we discuss is like are you believing what you’re saying right and that’s what i want but like the singers that come in that are you know complaining about everything and they you know don’t like the headphone mix they can’t get this they can’t get that and you know i don’t know he don’t protest too much you know so um you know you should be pretty bored that’s the one thing you should do is be warmed up before you get there yeah if you have to warm up in the vocal booth you’ve just kind of like screwed up the session you know yeah so i encourage people yeah i’ve been i’ve been in your studio virtually helping matt warm up from three days grace yeah yeah that’s always prepared yeah the last the last two records like before every vocal session he does like his time with me i don’t know if he ever told you that but uh yeah yeah yeah i don’t know if he i don’t know we’re just that was such a bizarre record because we were so far away from each other it was very hard to do it you know we were just uh zoomed the whole time yeah but i think the first the first yeah the first one he was at your house your place the first record we were yeah this record half of it was done or i don’t know you know i don’t even remember actually what we did but i think the first five songs were done in in toronto and i was here yeah then the second five were done here i think yeah something like that yeah you know because a lot of singers will also have like a ton of natural talent like natural ability when you work with a singer do you ever ask if they’ve studied voice or not or or is it just let’s just go and no i always ask them if they’re taking vocal lessons right now though oh good yeah yeah yeah because some of them if they don’t have a warm-up tape or they don’t have a warm-up process then i usually send them to us guy that i use in town here named mark rank yeah who i’ve been using for a long time and he can get them in right away and just uh turn them around yeah for me and uh it’s just basic stuff basic warm-ups yeah um you know the inflames guy always goes to him before every single vocal session so i like it when a singer has a vocal coach they like you know and it’s i personally feel that vocal coach should go on the road with them i don’t know why they have guitar techs and drum techs i think that’s a kind of a waste of money some of them do some of them do uh bieber i think has his on the road with him or he used to anyway uh ally’s been talking to me i’m i ca i can’t go on the road with yeah i got little kids uh you know yeah and well they should have some way to do it absolutely yeah somebody’s talking to them through this yeah yeah i work with people while they’re on the road um a lot of time because because i set my guys up so well that they have their workout files and all that sort of thing i only really hear from them when they when they’re sick and then because there’s a different way to to to warm up and and what have you uh and i i take them through that get them through the show or the series of shows you know uh that kind of thing some of the thing is you know like like i was talking you know with natural talent and stuff um have you have you noticed the difference like the people that don’t have the coaches or haven’t done the studying the difference in in uh like endurance or control no i don’t really notice that i think it’s the ones that i it’s interesting the ones that have been around a while they’ve worn up their voices they’re the ones who i think need the vocal coaching the most yeah because they’ve been on the road a lot and they’ve trashed their voices and they need help with not getting sort of not you know just getting nodes and all kinds of stuff like that yeah yeah the newer singers like the 20 year old 21 year old it doesn’t [ __ ] matter they are so strong at that point they’re just like you know loose cannons yeah and in some ways they’re fun to produce but you you have more uh you don’t really need a vocal coach for them as much because they are strong and they’ve got youth on their side i find it someone’s who’ve been touring a lot that need the vocal coaches yeah yeah the the young ones um uh i like working because it is kind of fresh like you said it’s strong you know and if i can establish good habits at the beginning
they the voice only grows with age right and lasts so much longer you know and they don’t run out yeah yeah and it and they don’t run into the problems um uh which a lot of the other guys do and you know so much of what i do that the psychological damage that happens when a vocalist’s voice starts to decline it’s it’s so hard on your head man you know right but you know in terms of the studio yeah the young guys like you said they got lots of uh yeah they have all this energy yeah yeah they just go for it and sometimes that’s what you really want them to do they don’t have to be perfect or any of that stuff they just want to get emotion out of them yeah i found a couple times that vocal coaches have actually screwed it up for me because they’ve done the wrong thing with the singer they’ve made they’ve made them they’ve taken away what was special about them and smoothed it out and like i don’t want that sometimes i mean i i’d rather have you go to the vote if you’re young go to the coach after you see me like i want to capture what got you there got you here now got you yeah yeah it’s not like i’ve uh i remember there was one famous vocal coach in town i won’t be on yeah but everybody would come back from him and just be super like uh like i don’t know trying to sing from their diaphragm all the time and that’s not what got them signed unfortunately that’s not that’s not what got them signed in yeah it’s not like i can’t have that it’s not my problem that part of it yeah you know like i gotta capture what made them special now after they’re out of here that’s something they can do later yeah yeah you know you can learn to sing what we did in the studio but properly you know i find it a lot of times this [ __ ] we do here becomes kind of like a cover song to singers they’ll learn the song from here as a as if somebody else was singing it yeah and copy it but sing it better like live they will sing it without all the thrashiness and all the craziness you know be able to survive a live show yeah but i don’t want them doing that when they show up here like yeah that takes out the uh i want that intensity yeah i think the older singers needed more the older singer needed they god there’s so many singers i worked with ten years later their voices just aren’t what they are you could tell you could hear the road where yeah they can’t hit the notes or notes or at least i mean some of my guy singers could hit like a’s and stuff now they can’t hit above like a f-sharp and that’s a pretty big drop you know that’s a huge drop yeah i deal with damaged voices a lot and um it’s kind of what i’m known for up here is is dealing with damaged voices but the other thing is to you know when people come to me the last thing i’m going to do is change a voice that has sold you know a couple million records already that i’m not going to change that you know and i do know that you know i know exactly what you’re saying in terms of there’s some vocal coaches that will smooth out the rest rough edges and and that’s their calling card right you need you need that intact you know the best thing i ever worked with was probably kelly clarkson she was so the one thing i liked about her is that she always had this energy but she did her warm-ups between every take and i encouraged my artists to do that like yeah that one warm-up where you do the uh blubber with your mouth the lip trills yeah yeah between every take and it always kept her voice open yeah and i just thought that and she never lost her character or any of that she was really aware of what she was doing yeah that’s a person that came in saying and left yeah you know like it was a new effect totally prepared yeah you know yeah like every take was great and you just were looking for the special ones yeah you know that’s a total pro yeah and probably studied for a majority of her life i’m imagining i have no idea i have no idea you know idea what was what was it like working with uh adam lambert did you do vocals with him or yeah yeah um he was very very insecure about himself in the studio like yeah he had a posse of people there telling him he was great all the time so yeah this is very way in the very beginning though i didn’t work with him that much but he was sort of like uh it wasn’t really my cup of tea because honestly the label didn’t know what kind of record to make he didn’t know what kind of record to make nobody knew what they were it was right out of american idol and yeah like i’ve done a lot of american idols and like maybe two out of ten of them walk in the studio and know what they want to do the rest are just like it’s not their fault no they come from a game show they got to make a record almost immediately i know no and i know their whole life is yeah here it is they’ve been waiting their whole life for this and so many of them you know from from that format okay they can sing but they haven’t taken the time to actually develop as an artist to actually know like you said actually know what it is you’re doing what are you gonna do you know is it gonna be a rock cracker are you gonna be a rock singer are you gonna be that was the issue with him you didn’t know what to make a dance record or they brought me in to make the rock record then he had other producers making dance music with him and yeah you know uh i think he ended up right where he should have ended up which is being the lead singer queen oh queen yeah it’s a great gig for a great great big farm yeah it’s you know stylistically right up his alley you know yeah he’s a great showman he’s flashy exactly and works great yeah you know where daughtry came and got you knew exactly who he was right exactly like we didn’t have to even like like that wasn’t part of the process that was just finding great songs for him right you know absolutely were you there at the beginning or into into at the beginning wow even at the beginning he knew exactly who he was and yeah i did his first three albums oh nice any special advice for anybody coming you know wanting to get into the business as a vocalist any advice off the top of your head that you could make sure you pick the right material to sing right i mean like if you pick shitty material i don’t care how good a singer you are people just don’t are not gonna like you so yeah i mean one of the great things about this the old school singers like the tony bennetts and the sinatra is they always had the right material you know and they would do cover songs if they had to they would do whatever was hits yeah because that’s you know they already got halfway there because the song was great yeah you know if you if you write if you’re a great singer and you can’t write songs admit it so there’s nothing wrong with that plenty of singers are great interpreters yeah you know in some ways that’s actually a better place to be if you want longevity because you constantly keep doing great material all the time you know you can keep going yeah and have other people’s write songs for you but if you keep writing songs and you’re not agreeing there’s very few bruce springsteen’s out there tell me about that i know yeah rod stewart rod stewart look how long his career is he does cover songs now i don’t know if he was really that involved in the writing stuff he was just it was just such a great voice i think he wrote maggie may i think oh did he write megan yeah he was a good writer back then yeah but but he got smart you know he’s went for that at three days grace is like that judas grace always brings in outside writers yeah so right like gavin for example yeah you know gavin’s always writing with them so it’s just you know nobody cares about where the songs they really don’t the average public nobody gives a [ __ ] you know but if you’re caught singing shitty people gonna think you can’t sing well that’s it whether you can sing or not if it’s crappy songs it’s crappy songs that’s right nobody’s going to pay any kind of attention songwriting itself takes like it takes practice it takes you have to put your time in and that’s why the you know the guys coming in from you know the game shows like you said they haven’t necessarily done all that work they just got chosen out of a cattle call and away they go you know well i think chris chris was you know he was in a band a lot he did a lot of work chris dodger he was always playing in bands in north carolina and he was ready to go that’s why he did so well yeah but uh but some of the singers you know i mean they all to get to that point where you come in the top five of that show you’ve got to be pretty good yeah and you had to study pretty well yeah but that doesn’t mean you’re cut out to be a star you know at all in fact when’s the last time that’s even happened yeah on these game shows i don’t think ever i don’t think so either not the last 10 years yeah i actually don’t follow them that much because i’m too busy taking care of the guys who are actually doing it on the road you know right working at not not doing the the the game show thing this is for the tech guys have you found that you you have like a favorite mic that that you can use i and i know every voice is different and a lot you know most of the time like you want to find that that mic for that voice is there is there a favorite mic that you’ve run across that has been a fairly good catch-all for a lot of different different voices and styles yeah i’ve been using the sony c800 for 15 years yeah that’s all i use and once in a while i’ll use the uh sm yeah but the c800 is really probably 99 of it yeah yeah yeah uh ali ali gotti i think just bought one of those uh yeah just for his home studio because his voice sounds so good on it such it is a beautiful sounding mic yeah it’s hard to find yeah they are very hard to find and very expensive but very hard to find he he lucked out he was able to get one in like i don’t know four or five weeks or something like that totally lucked out uh i know that you’ve got a kind of a you’ve teamed up with a developer and you’ve got kind of a vocal sweet uh plug-in type of thing i’ll do uh i’ll do um you know youtube shout out shout outs just kind of doing doing some stuff and getting people to go check it out because i i checked it out to be very cool make things nice and simple you know if you’ve got a basic rig at home and just well it’s all the sounds i used i mean i didn’t hide anything i just gave everybody the compression and the delays and it’s sort of joey stir just makes it and uh so yeah it’s pretty it’s just compressor delay reverb you know left and right spreading stuff and vocal multiplier which we actually are going to put a separate module out with that right and just some limiting and things like that it’s nothing that crazy but the presets are great and yeah it’s really been a big hit for me that more than the other plugins i’ve put out yeah people really like it’s simple you just put it up you put on the hp one and it sounds amazing so yeah exactly that’s how i am about things i don’t like i use presets i never dial anything in um yeah it would be real handy to just go press a button and there’s a great sound you don’t have to fiddle with knobs and all the rest of that you know yeah you want to be a creative person not a tech person correct well thank you so much for doing this i really really appreciate it okay well it was cool man and say hi to matt for me i certainly will voice is an octave lower right now than it usually is yeah so well that that’s and again thanks thanks for doing it even though you might be sick hopefully it’s not coveted you know but it’s uh whatever it’s coming for us all i think eventually hopefully it’s just a week exactly what i think who cares anymore i know i know well thanks so much man nice meeting you all right bye-bye