Sinking comfortably into his plush leather couch on a Sunday afternoon, Vancouver-based audio engineer and producer Ben McDuffie sits down to chat about his start in audio engineering and the album he is currently working on for local indie-rock band Dante’s Paradise.
Ben has been working in the local scene for several years and is the studio supervisor at SAE (The School of Audio Engineering). He also teaches some live recording classes, and On the weekends, Ben can be found supporting local artists and immersing himself in the music community.
KC: So let’s start at the beginning, how did you get into engineering?
BM: Well, I always loved music but I didn’t get into the creative side of it until after high school when I first got a laptop and started messing around with GarageBand and Logic. I began spending all my free time making beats and recording crappy guitar licks, and after a couple of years of that I thought, I hate my normal job, so I want to try to make this music stuff a career! That lead me to SAE which at the time was called HIT (Harbourside Institute of Technology), where I completed their Audio Engineering and Music Production program. After that, I bounced around interning and assisting at a few Vancouver based studios and from there started working with local bands.
How did you get connected with the local scene?
Well, I had a friend, James Andrew who runs Avant Garden, and I would help him set up for shows. So through that I started meeting bands and letting them know that I had access to a studio through the school, which lead me to do some engineering for a band called Wax Cowboy, and then connected me with Club Sofa for whom I did the engineering and production for their song “Birthday Party”. From there it was mostly word of mouth through the community. Really it just started for me by going to local shows and becoming connected with bands, introducing myself and kind of making those genuine connections.. It can be a nerve-wracking thing to start doing, but once you put yourself out there and begin building relationships you create a lot of opportunities for yourself.
Good Advice! Do you feel like you’ve developed your own sound through working with those bands since they’re similar in genre?
Kind of. I think since I started out making electronic, hip hop type stuff, I do bring that style into sessions with the bands, I want the drums to hit pretty hard and I want everything to be clean and sound well-produced, but also I love sounds that are dirty and textured, so I enjoy bringing both of those sides together to find a blend. One of my favourite indie-rock producers is Ben H. Allen who did a lot of stuff for Deerhunter and Animal Collective, he started out mixing hip hop and transitioned into indie-rock, so I find all of his productions are really full sounding but still with that dirty indie sound. He uses textures a lot, and that’s something that I drew inspiration from while producing the Dante’s album. I tried to throw interesting textures and weird sounds and blips into the tracks that catch your ear.
That definitely keeps it exciting as you’re listening.
Yeah for sure. A few of the songs on the album were just guitar and vocals during some parts, and they’re already beautiful songs at their core, but I also wanted to add an artistic sonic level to it so that these awesome guitar and vocal progressions are surrounded by a space of textures to give them more feel and depth sonically.
So what was the process like, did the band come to you with songs that they already had or were you a part of the writing process in the studio as well?
They had all the songs already written, so I did the engineering for the bed tracks with my good friend Charlotte Duggan, who works as an engineer at Monarch Studios, and we got the nine songs down in about two day. We only did the two guitars, bass and drums, the core elements to start, after that we did a few more sessions for all the vocals, and the horn section, keyboard and ah what’s that instrument called…
No, but close…
No…. like a xylophone but bigger… Vibraphone! That’s it. Yeah, so it was a big learning experience for me because I had never recorded anything like that before, especially the horns. But I have the luxury of using the studio at SAE and I’m able to get a hand from some of the more experienced teachers there, I ended up being super happy with how everything turned out!
A horn section is always exciting, is the album kind of jazzy?
I would probably classify it as an indie-rock album but there are definitely jazz influences. Justice Coté, the frontman and songwriter of the band is in the Jazz Studies program at CapU majoring in composition, so a few of the songs have jazzy progressions and melodies to them.
You sound pretty excited about this project!
For sure! I actually feel really passionately about the songs, which I think is super important if you’re going to take on a big project, like a whole album, you have to believe in it, and enjoy the music that you’re working with, because- at least for me- I would’ve gone insane putting this much time into something I wasn’t excited about. I definitely have to give the band credit for being fucking amazing.
That’s so true that in order to be willing to put that much time in you have to be interested in what you’re making.
So true. And it’s definitely been a learning experience. One thing I’ve learned too is that organization and deadlines are key. Having a timeline on a project like this sets you up to be able to get serious about getting the work done.
Sweet! So the album comes out March 27th ?
Yes the 27th, and there’s a release show that night at Red Gate which will be amazing. The aforementioned Wax Cowboy will be opening with a few other friends so it should be a lot of fun, good people and the full experience, everyone who played on the album will be there performing, all the guest vocalists and the whole horns section..
Even the vibraphone?!
(He laughs) Well the vibraphone is only on one song so I can’t guarantee they’ll be hauling the four hundred pound vibraphone on stage for that but, you never know.
Once the album is finished, Ben looks forward to devoting some time to his own music and getting back to finding his own unique sound and creative flavour.
Next week, I sit down with the band members of Dante’s Paradise to chat about the creation process of the album, the importance of community and their pyjama radius. ▧