Ben Etter is a rock producer and mixer with credits on releases by Deerhunter, Hazel English, Cut Copy, St. Pe, worlds greatest dad and Kaiser Chiefs a.o.
"I want records to feel dangerous, like we're allowing ourselves to do things in ways that some might not consider correct or proper. Celebrating imperfection and idiosyncrasies leads us to the true identity of an artist. Once I have a vision for where a record wants to go, I just get on board, take whatever risks necessary to preserve that identity and refuse to water it down with conventional "best" practices. Some of my favorite captures and mixing moves in the studio have been serendipitous. The key is to create an environment where these things can happen."
Originally from Bern, Switzerland, Ben Etter migrated to Atlanta, GA to focus completely on making records after spending many years as a recording and touring artist himself. Very much a child of the 90's, his work has been tied to the decade less in style than in approach. The attitude of independent artists at the time created an environment in which making records was, perhaps due to technical and time limitations, unencumbered by fear or overthinking and instead driven by fierce confidence in the material and artistic vision. In an age of unprecedented access and scrutiny in music production, this is the kind of mentality Ben brings to every session. This is reflected in his creative, sometimes chaotic recording and mixing approach, rendering exciting and sometimes unexpected results.
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Interview with Ben Etter
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: Deerhunter's "Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared". I came on in the final third of the making of this record as a engineer/producer and, ultimately, mixer. I was lucky to be working with a group of such gifted and daring creative people who pushed me further than anyone else had before. I'd never worked in a less structured studio process and that record would not have happened any other way. Totally eliminating boundaries opened the door to a whole different dimension in the band's vocabulary for the record - it was liberating. I was just doing my best to keep up with the pace of the session and facilitate ideas, and this is what my role should be!
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: Probably mixing several records at the same time!
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: Both, depending on availability and sensibility. Gear rarely determines outcome, but often the process to get there.
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: I will live and die by your record just as much as you do, maybe more.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I get to do something that I truly love and see purpose in everyday. It comes with a lot of challenges and sacrifices, but that ensures that I will only do this for as long as I truly love it. Also, I get to bring my dog to work!
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: Know what your vision is and how far you're willing to take it. If all you need is a properly blended, "punchy" mix that otherwise sounds just like your demo or rough, some providers (and their rates!) are suited better to that than others.
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: I came up as a touring artist and fell in love with the studio world from that side of the glass. The transition came naturally to me. I quickly progressed from an intern sweeping floors at now defunct Glow In The Dark Studios, to staff engineer and studio manager at Ben H. Allen's Maze Studios in Atlanta, which is still my home base as an independent engineer today, almost 10 years later.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: I am a child of the 90's, so I came up hearing a lot of independent music that feels raw and unapologetic. Whatever the style, whether I'm dealing with a 4-piece rock band or an electronic artist, I still crave and push for that quality in every piece of music I work on.
Q: Can you share one music production tip?
A: Pay attention to the happy accidents. Does the guitar amp you're trying to record sound great through the drum overheads that you left unmuted by mistake? Cut it!
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: Different shades of independent rock, sometimes more electronic, sometimes more organic.
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: Only as much as it needs. I approach each project with the goal to understand the true, honest identity of the artist I'm working with and roll with that. For some projects, I need to stay out of the way and showcase the raw energy of the band, for others I need to create more of a journey.
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: Whether it's recording or mixing, I like to be prepared and get all the basics down first. This allows me to unleash everyone’s full creativity later on in the process. I want to minimize friction between an idea and its realization and stay as flexible as possible.
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: I do most of my work out of Maze Studios in Atlanta, GA, which is packed with great gear and toys. I also have a lean, but mean private mixing and production facility. In practice, the two flow together and I love oscillating between these spaces. This setup also keeps me nimble and able to adjust to most budgets.
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: Chris Walla is a producer who first made me realize how artistic the recording process can be and how instrumental it is in shaping how we perceive and connect with artists. I have also been lucky to have had incredible mentors throughout my career (Jason Kingsland, Ben Allen, Matt Goldman, Bradford Cox), who continue to inspire me.
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: I've worn most hats you can wear in a studio. Producer, engineer (often both at the same time!), and mixer. Recently I have been most excited and focused on mixing.