Next Generation Spotlight: Benni Dumville

Audio Media International, in association with Genelec, is delighted to present our latest Next Generation Spotlight. Today, producer, mixer and engineer Benni Dumville talks about carving out his own space in the industry, and why putting people at ease in the studio is so important…

What is your name and what do you do?

Hello, I’m Benni Dumville. I work from my studio, Roadhouse Recording CO. in London where I produce, engineer, and mix records.

What inspired you to get into studio work?

I began to make electronic music about 12 years ago. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I loved making music on my own, using a machine to sculpt out ideas that were living in my head. It was all about just having fun and figuring stuff out as you went along. I was also a massive fan of guitar music, too. I remember seeing a studio diary of one of my favourite bands, Reuben, making their third album with Sean Genockey. I got to see a little glimpse into their experience, which made me really interested in the process of actually creating a record, not just dialling stuff in on a computer, which is what I was familiar with. It all slowly stemmed out from there really.

Tell us about your route into the industry?

I started working in studios about five years ago. Steve Sears took me in at his place in Watford, Titan Studios. It was a creative hub for the local area that drew in an array of talent across the rock, punk and metal spectrums. Both big successful touring acts and bands just starting out would pass through the doors. I helped Steve with the day-to-day running of the studio and its rehearsal rooms, and occasionally assisted him in sessions. I started running my own sessions and establishing clients amongst the pool of smaller acts who used the rehearsal facilities, and began building my career from there.

Titan sadly closed in summer 2018, but I look back very fondly on the time I spent there. I learnt much of my craft there, and made so many talented friends.

Tell us about some of the key projects you’ve worked on recently?

For much of 2019 I was out of work due to a broken my leg. Before that, I had been assisting in several studios around London. I had worked with some big names, and learned some useful new skills, but I wasn’t really getting hands on with projects in the way that I used to, more just helping keep the studios and sessions running smoothly. I was keen to get back behind the console (or computer) once I was able to start working again. At around the same time, my friend Mike was contemplating the next step in his musical career after the band that he had fronted for the last decade, Lower Than Atlantis, came to an end. We were both in a position to make fresh starts, and decided to start working together at my studio on what would become Mike’s new musical outlet, HEADACHE.

HEADACHE is a mix of lo-fi hip-hop and electronic production, but Mike’s voice sits front and centre, carrying the tracks with pop hooks and harmonies, and of course his distinctive lyrics. I really wanted to pursue that super tight, polished sound of modern vocal production, so was often pushing Mike to get the best performances possible, then comping, tuning and editing takes to a meticulous degree in order to reach that standard. There’s a few other engineering techniques and fun tricks I do with gear to chase that sound, but a lot of it just comes down to putting in the groundwork and making sure you’re recording a great vocal that fits the track.

2020 started strong. Mike signed a distribution deal with The Orchard, and HEADACHE was unleashed upon the world in March via an exclusive first play of ‘broke’ on Annie Mac’s Radio One show. A few months later the first batch of songs we made together was released in the form of an EP called ‘food for thwart’. Covid-19 has obviously disrupted plans this year, but a second EP has been completed and should be released soon!

What is your approach to work in the studio?

Whether I’m engineering, producing or mixing, or doing it all, I think every decision that I make should be to best serve the end product and exceed the expectations of the client. My approach is that you should always be focused on the bigger picture, rather than the sum of a record’s parts. It’s so easy to get side tracked chasing small details that don’t matter. I see people do this all the time in mixing, trying to EQ tracks in solo and make them sound a bit more “generic-descriptive-word”, when you should instead be putting that effort into making the entire mix sound great. How the end product sounds is much more important than how the kick or snare sound when isolated with no context as to what they consolidate together into. Furthermore, if your kick was supposed to sound a certain way, then you should have addressed that during tracking and production.

Part of this outlook involves committing to sounds on the way in, recording with compression, EQ, and shaping sounds during tracking. I like to try new ideas on the fly, and add meaningful parts and extra layers that add up in worthwhile way, again to help serve the bigger picture that is the finished recording.

In order to try out new ideas, you need to be able to provide solid direction without dictating, and in order to do that it’s really important to create a comfortable environment that enables creativity. Putting people at ease allows you to bring out the best of their talent, but it also means you can more easily sway them to explore new ideas that are maybe outside of their comfort zone.

Who/what have been some of your biggest influences in your career to date?

My biggest influences are my peers and those on a similar journey to me within this industry. It’s so easy to connect over the Internet these days. I’m in a few Facebook groups comprised of producers and engineers of all levels, and it is really inspiring being able to get real-world meaningful advice on a particular problem, share experiences and techniques, and make friends with like-minded people who may have had success in areas where you are yet to.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the industry?

Just existing as a freelancer. Trying to carve out your own space in an industry like this is a challenge enough in itself, but obviously 2020 in particular has been pretty tough too. Starting the year, I felt like I had some momentum behind me. I had some cool projects lined up, but most of those opportunities failed to materialise as lockdowns and social distancing became our new reality. I’ve been working when I can, and keeping busy with other stuff; redecorating the studio, making gear upgrades, and launching my own sample packs called DRUMVILLE. Things are starting to pick up again and I’m ready to get going.

What projects do you have coming up?

A third HEADACHE EP was started a few months back, but like many things this year it’s currently on ice. Hopefully we can move forward with that soon. I’ve also been taking on more mixing jobs lately, which is something I’d really like to continue doing, and I’ve got some plans to work with some new acts in 2021. I’d really like to continue working on that super tight, polished pop sound, but it will be fun to apply that process and style to the production of rock music. It’s been a while since I’ve worked with a full band, so 2021 should be exciting!