Next Generation Spotlight: Dani Bennett Spragg

Today, Audio Media International, in association with Genelec, is proud to shine our Next Generation Spotlight on MPG award-winning engineer Dani Bennett Spragg.

As one of the brightest talents in the professional audio industry, Spragg’s client roster boasts some incredible artists and projects. Winner of the 2019 MPG Breakthrough Engineer, she has been mentored by world renowned producers such as Alan Moulder, Flood and Catherine Marks and has worked with the likes of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Ed Hardcourt, Baxter Dury, Palace and the Rolling Stones.

Here, Spragg tells us about her route into the industry, the barriers many have to overcome and her plans for the future… 

What is your name and what do you do?
My name is Dani Bennett Spragg, I’m a recording engineer and mixer. 

What inspired you to get into studio work?
I originally wanted to be a drummer, but found it really difficult to find musicians to play with in my circle of friends. I think I let go of the drummer idea and shifted my focus towards studio work after watching a documentary on Joe Meek. It never crossed my mind that you could have a career working in studios before I watched that film but afterwards I was pretty much set on that that’s what I wanted to do. 

Tell us about your route into the industry?
I was lucky enough to get my foot in the door of Assault & Battery Studios when I was 17. Assault & Battery is run by two producers called Flood and Alan Moulder, and I’d been given Flood’s email by a family friend who happened to be his neighbour. I emailed him to ask if I could do some work experience at the studio, and he let me come by for a week during my half term.

To cut a long story short, 18 months after that first week, and a lot of assisting in other studios, I started working at Assault & Battery full time as an assistant engineer. I stayed there for two years, cutting my teeth and learning from some of the best in the business, before I moved to a beautiful studio in West Hampstead called Hoxa HQ, to be the in-house engineer.

Tell us about some of the key projects you’ve worked on over the past 12 months?

The months leading up to lockdown were some of the busiest of my career, and I was lucky enough to work on some records that I’m really proud of. Two of those are Blanco White’s debut record On The Other Side, and Malena Zavala’s second record La Yarará, both of which I engineered and did some additional production on. 

Making Malena’s record in particular was one of my favourite projects I’ve ever been involved in. Malena is incredibly driven and has a very strong idea of what she wants as an artist, and she also made her first record on her own in her studio at home, so she really knows what she’s doing in terms of engineering and production, but when we started recording the album she didn’t have a lot of experience working in bigger studios, so it was very clear what she needed from me. That understanding made the process feel very fluid because we both knew exactly what our roles were and how to get the best out of each other. It made us a pretty perfect team. We also recorded a live version of the album in Abbey Road Studio 2 back in February, which was hands down one of my favourite days ever. 

Surprisingly and thankfully, lockdown was also relatively busy for me. I’ve been doing a lot of work with a producer/mixer called Craig Silvey over the last year or so and we continued working throughout most of lockdown because we could work by ourselves. We did some work on the Rolling Stones’ reissue of Goats Head Soup earlier this year, mixing three previously unreleased tracks that were recorded during the album sessions in 1972-73, and four alternate versions of tracks that were on the original album. We spent a week working out of Question de Son Studios, just outside of Paris, with Mick Jagger and his engineer Matt Clifford. I never thought I’d get to work on a Rolling Stones track, and the first song we did happened to also have Ginger Baker on drums and Jimmy Page on guitar. The whole experience was pretty surreal and easily a highlight of my career.

What is your approach to work in the studio?
My general approach is to work with what you’ve got and try not to overthink it. I’m not an engineer who has a lot of specific pieces of gear that I take from session to session and use on everything, because I prefer to be out of my comfort zone a little. Every project is different so no single set of tools will be appropriate for everything. I love using microphones and outboard gear that I don’t know or haven’t used before, and although that can sometimes be a more time consuming process as you trial things, I think you’ll generally come out with more interesting results. 

Overthinking can be your worst enemy in the studio. You can get stuck in a serious rut if you focus too much on one thing that isn’t going quite as you want it to. We had a couple of moments like that in the early stages of the Blanco White record, where we’d lose hours working on ideas that we couldn’t quite realise, but then we made the decision to take a break or change song as soon as we felt that happening. The time you take having breaks to regain perspective is as important as the time you spend working. 

Who/what have been some of your biggest influences in your career to date?
I’d definitely cite Tchad Blake as a big influence. He’s probably my favourite mixer, partially based on all the Black Keys records that he’s worked on. I also really like a lot of stuff that John Congleton has done recently. I love the Sharon Van Etten record he did which came out last year, I think he’s one of the most interesting producers around at the moment. 

I also have to mention Catherine Marks. Catherine’s based at Assault & Battery, so I’ve known her since the very start of my career. She’s a huge advocate for women in the music industry, a really incredible producer, and has championed me from day one, so I owe a lot to her.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the industry?
The biggest challenge I’ve found has been balancing the long hours in the studio with maintaining my mental and physical health, as well as my life outside of the studio. As I said before, it’s as important to take breaks as it is to work hard, you’ll burn yourself out without them.

What projects do you have coming up?
I’ve just finished mixing a live album for my good friend Blair Dunlop and an EP for a new artist called Superego, and am about to start another project with the latter, whose actual name is Cam Potts. I’ve also been back at Hoxa HQ quite a bit recently doing some recording for an artist called George Cosby, and we’ve got a few more dates coming up which will be great. Beyond that, I don’t know. Sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing until the day I have to do it, so I’ll just see what comes in.