Phish Engineer Hones Pro Tools Chops Through PMT Training To Improve His Technical Tackle Box
In Pro Tools, and audio engineering in general, there's more than one way to get something done and it's all about figuring out what method(s) work for you.
Ben Collette had already been assisting Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio on various live and studio recording projects including all Anastasio's solo albums, when he decided to enroll in ProMedia Training’s Digidesign Pro Tools Certification Program. As a Pro Tools user, he was adequately equipped in using the software, but wasn’t as skilled, or efficient, as he or Anastasio would have liked. Upon PMT training and certification, Ben has found that the training improved not only his workflow, but his precision and speed, as well.
When Phish regrouped in early 2009, Ben had the opportunity to collaborate with famed producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Peter Gabriel), engineering album pre-production sessions at The Barn—Trey’s 200-year-old converted studio in rural Vermont. Selected recordings from those sessions comprise a new CD, Party Time, which is included in the box set of the latest Phish studio release, Joy.
Ben currently lives and works in Burlington, Vermont where he has partnered with bassist/engineer Rob O’Dea, whose estimable resume includes touring with Phish keyboardist Page McConnell’s band in 2007, to forming The Tank, a non-profit recording studio serving the local Burlington music scene.
When did you know you wanted to be in the (music/digital audio production or post) industry?
I grew up in a household that had a passion for music. My dad's a music-lover who has been writing about music since he was in high school. Early on I was interested in recording, whether it was making 4-track cassette tapes of my friends' bands or recording live concerts. It was just something that came naturally to me and I always enjoyed. When I started working with Phish, doing basic 2-track editing of live shows in Pro Tools, it really piqued my interest in the engineering end of things, and from there it's just been an organic process that's constantly evolving.
How did you find and choose to study at ProMedia Training?
When I looked into Pro Tools training, ProMedia Training stood out as having a solid curriculum as well as a schedule and location that allowed me to complete it in a timely manner. I had become very involved in the production of Trey Anastasio's solo albums and he and I both agreed that an intensive course like the ones ProMedia Training offered would bump my skills up to a new level, while still allowing me to keep working on projects. I actually had to leave a class early one day to do a recording session, so the schedule flexibility of the course, in addition to its practical applications, was key.
What specifically have you learned at PMT that you’ve found to be the most helpful in your career?
The most helpful thing I took from the training was that there wasn’t just one way to do things. In Pro Tools, and audio engineering in general, there's more than one way to get something done and it's all about figuring out what method(s) work for you. I learn new things everyday and am constantly trying to keep up on my skills. But to me, a consistent workflow method is essential because it allows the technology to become transparent and creativity to flow—especially when working on deadline driven projects—which is pretty much every project I do!
What was the progression from graduation to starting your career? Did you feel prepared and properly trained?
Absolutely, in fact I was working on an album with Trey (The Horseshoe Curve) while attending the training. I'd been using Pro Tools for a number of years and could get around and do what needed to be done, but I wasn't very efficient. After the training, I felt like I knew the program inside and out. Trey likes to work at a fast pace, so the training really improved my workflow, in both speed and precision. Every once and a while I'll remember a shortcut or trick I learned in the classes and go back to my course materials for a refresher; the intensive experience with the course material has really stayed with me through the years.
Can you speak to the quality of the teachers at PMT?
My teacher, Terron Darby, was great. He really made an effort to adapt the curriculum to each student’s needs and learning style. He answered a lot of complex questions and anything he didn’t know off the top of his head, we sat down and figured it out together. The small class size and diversity of students in the class really helped as well.
What are you working on now?
I just finished working on Party Time, a full-length bonus CD that is included in the box set of the new Phish studio album, Joy. I’m also in the final stages of preparing for “Festival 8”—a 3-day Phish festival at the Coachella site in California over Halloween weekend. We’ve partnered with ProMedia to offer mobile Pro Tools mixing stations in our “House of Live Phish” at the event, allowing fans to remix prepared multi-track live recordings from the summer tour. And when I get home after the festival, I’m finishing up mixing album with my friends, Blues and Lasers, a psychedelic Delta blues band from Burlington, some of whose members belong to Grace Potter's Nocturnals. It is their first full-length studio album and a follow-up to an EP we collaborated on a couple years ago