It was great to catch-up with Ben Watts recently and learn even more about his journey in the music industry, from country South Australia to LA to Nashville, as a record producer, audio engineer and musician.
The original interview with Ben Watts from March 2015 is available here: Totally brilliant. Totally creative. Totally free.
Ben is an Australian record producer, audio engineer and musician who has been blessed to work with many great artists such as Kelby Costner, Lee Brice, Paul Gilbert, Luke Combs, Terra Bella, Rudy Parris, Bobby Barth, Mark Pinske, Darin Warner, Dustin Huff, Morgan Lynsey and many more.
How did you get started in the music and entertainment industry?
I grew up in a small town in South Australia, around 4 thousand people. Life growing up for me was much more about playing sport and activities on the river. My parents have a beautiful old restored farm house and there is not another house for miles, but we always found a way to entertain ourselves.
I first picked up a guitar when I was around 12 but didn’t seriously pick it up until I was in my late teens. I’ve always had somewhat of a tunnel vision type personality that when I am interested in something I completely immerse myself.
I was lucky I had a great teacher in the area that inspired me, Joe Gallo. When I was 20 I moved to the city of Adelaide where I studied with Steve Williams who is still one of my favorite players to this day. By this time music was all consuming and I moved back to my hometown where I partnered in a music tuition business which had great success. At 25 after 4 years of full time teaching and playing in bar bands I decided that I needed a new challenge which is when I auditioned to study at ‘Musicians Institute’ in Los Angeles, California.
What was your experience like at Musicians Institute?
I had a great time there, I thought it’d be competitive but everyone was great, and we all encouraged and supported each other. I completed an arts degree in music performance, music production and audio engineering which I was lucky enough to win the award for the ‘Most Outstanding Student’.
When did you get your start in recording music?
There weren’t really any avenues for recording in my small town but it was something that appealed to me, my first foray into recording was buying myself a Pro Tools rig (recording software) I really had no idea what I was doing and there was not nearly as many resources available as there are today so I just had to dive in and work it out! I thought I’d be behind the curve when I started my studies in the US but quickly found that was not the case. While I love the creative side of music there is a technical aspect of the recording process that also appeals to me.
After finishing at Musicians Institute my first job was with ‘Henson Studios’ one of the most prestigious recording studios in LA. I of course was starting from the bottom there but the experience was great and most of the clients were A-list. I’ll never forget walking down the hallway on my first day and Mick Jagger was walking the other way! Although I was grateful for the experience I was quickly reminded that I’m not entirely suited to being part of corporate structure and left to play guitar for a California country band now based in Nashville named ‘Terra Bella’.
What was touring life like in the USA?
I’ve been lucky enough to see touring in the US from many different perspectives, from slogging it out playing the smaller venues and living in hotel rooms to living on a tour bus and waking up in a new town every day. I loved the travel, coming from such a small town it didn’t matter where we were I was always excited to go out and explore. I just need to check Hawaii of this list and I have seen all the 50 states in the USA, which was amazing to experience in such a short time.
I have the upmost respect for the people that are out on the road week in week out, it is hard to be away from friends and family. For me it was the realization that I wasn’t satisfying my creative side that inspired me to focus on the music production side of things which is what fulfills me most.
What recent projects have you been involved with?
The single ‘Hold On’ that I produced for Nashville based country artist ‘Kelby Costner’ (www.kelbycostner.com) was recently released, Kelby is an incredible singer and artist who has a very bright future in country music. I also produced a single for female artist ‘Morgan Lynsey’ (www.morganlynsey.com) I’m excited in what she has coming up in the future, particularly a song called ‘Magic’ which is a timeless throwback that I think can be a classic for years to come. I produced an EP for Nashville artist Dustin Huff (www.dustinhuffmusic.com) which was a fun project released late last year.
I also had a blast co-producing an album which is a personal project of mine with Jacob Barber in California. It’s an alternative rock band ‘Fuggly Muglets’ I got to play a bunch of instruments on and exercise my creative chops! it is due to be released February 2018. I was lucky to mix it with a good friend of mine Mark Pinske who is a Grammy winner most well-known for all his work with Frank Zappa.
What was it like working with a Grammy award winning engineer Mark Pinske?
I first met Mark when I mixed the audio for a DVD with him for 80’s rock band ‘Axe’. Mark is one of my favorite people to work with and you just need to try and soak up as much knowledge as we can. I think we work well together because he likes to work fast with many ideas but I can keep up with him, so we play off well together. His philosophies on mixing are unique and he’s incredibly knowledgeable about the technical side of things, but most importantly his passion and love for music is infectious to the point he still gets out of his seat in excitement when we feel like are onto something.
What to you constitutes a great recording?
I am without a doubt a huge fan of albums that I love sonically, however I feel the most important aspect of any production is the way it makes you feel. To me there is an energetic perhaps sub-conscious aspect to a great recording that affects the listener in a way that is unexplainable. It’s taken me a long time to separate the technical aspect from the performance side of things. But I think the greatest producers and recordings are the ones that capture the artist in whatever state they are in that time, as if the recording is an imprint of their emotion.
If you’re in a great studio, with great players and a great artist and have a clear vision of how you want the song to be at that point it’s just as much getting out of the way and letting everyone collectively do what they are best at. I think that part appeals to me that everyone is concentrating on their part individually and I get to sit back and listen to the collective piece and make the calls from there.
How do you find the difference in the music industry from Australia to Los Angeles and Nashville?
Australia used to have such a lively pub rock scene that really summed up Australian culture I’d love to see that return and be more supported, by not only the venues but fans too. LA was such a dream for me and it is still a town that I enjoy. So many of the famous rock and roll clubs are ‘pay to play’ these days which somewhat takes away the excitement for me, Nashville’s scene is exploding and much more condensed. It still is predominately country music but it really is attracting people and musicians from all walks of life so it’s becoming a melting pot of different genres.
Who are your some of your favorite producers and why?
He’s polarizing for some but had more hits than misses, and that’s Rick Rubin. I love the fact that he’s done so many varied albums over the years in just about all genres. He isn’t from what I can gather technical at all but he always seems to bring out an honest reflection of each artist he works with at that point in time. Mutt Lange definitely had a big influence at the other end of the scale for his incredible attention to detail and sonic masterpieces.
How do you see the future of the industry?
Undoubtedly there is massive change going on in the industry, I think it’s fair to say the musical landscape has changed dramatically but what will define it going forward is less clear. Perhaps that in itself is an exciting time as there is room for people to blaze a new trail and change the face of the industry. We can be down on the negative aspect of the fact that music has been greatly devalued as an art form but we’ve also never been so connected worldwide so you just need to shift with the landscape and love what you do.
If there was one artist you could work with who would it be?
That would be ‘The Boss’ (Bruce Springsteen) I’d have to do the album with the full E Street band like they did back in the day and capture that magic that they still have on stage. Plus, I’m sure he has some great stories to tell!
You can reach Ben through his website www.benwattsproductions.com
Live Your Dream,