MAKING NOISE 004: Dani Bennett-Spragg
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Hi Dani! Thank you so much for answering my questions! How are you?
My pleasure & I’m very well thanks!
For people who don’t know you, can you give them a little introduction?
Sure. My name is Dani Bennett Spragg and I’m a recording and mix engineer from London.
I used to be the in-house engineer at a boutique studio in North London called Hoxa HQ, but currently I spend most of my time working at Toast Studios in Kensal Town as an engineer for producer/mixer Craig Silvey.
How did you know you wanted to work in music?
I feel like I always knew I wanted to work in music, to be honest. It’s been my main interest for as long as I can remember and ever since I’ve known you could have a career in it it’s been what I’ve wanted to do.
What made you want to be a recording engineer and mixer?
It was a bit of an accident I think. I wanted to be a drummer originally, but never really found the right people to play with. I luckily ended up getting a week of work experience at Assault & Battery Studios when I was 17, without any real idea of what I was doing or if studio work was what I wanted to do, but I loved it and have worked in studios pretty much ever since.
What was it like being able to spend time at Assault & Battery studios when you were younger?
Assault & Battery was a great place to cut my teeth. It’s quite an old school studio, both in terms of the gear and in terms of how they operate. People who work there generally end up taking the ‘traditional’ route through the industry- starting as a runner, then an assistant, then an engineer and eventually a producer or mixer, so I’ve very much gone down that road, which I think is incredibly valuable. It’s becoming increasingly rarer for people to take that route and I’m probably bias but I do think it’s the best way to progress through the industry. I think it’s so important for producers to know what it’s like to be an assistant or an engineer, so that they can fully understand the roles of the people working under them.
Did you always want to work in music production?
Not exactly. As I said before, it wasn’t really until I was in the studio for the first time that I knew for sure it was what I wanted to do. It was just a vague idea before that.
When working in the studio, is there a certain method you follow?
The process of recording varies so much from project to project that it’s kind of impossible to follow a method all the time. Having said that, there are a few things I always focus on during the tracking stage. One of those is using the room to the best of it’s abilities. In my experience, a lot of people think it makes very little difference where in a room you record an instrument, but I think it can change the the sound enormously if you put whatever it is in the different parts of the room, particularly if you’re recording something acoustic. Another thing I always try to do is get the sound of whatever you’re recording as close to what you want it to be as possible before you even put a microphone up. That goes hand in hand with using the room and playing around with placement of instruments and amps etc. Ideally, the only times I want to be using compression or EQ when recording is when I’m looking for a bit of extra character, not to ‘fix’ the sound.
How did you start working at Hoxa?
An engineer that I had worked with before had a couple of days booked at Hoxa and needed an assistant for them, and he asked me to do it. I did that session and really loved the studio, so I said to the owner, Jimmy Hogarth, that if he ever needed a spare pair of hands I’d love to come back. He got back in touch quite quickly as he didn’t really have an in-house engineer there at the time, and that was that. It didn't take long for me to become a permanent fixture!
Is there a studio that you would love to work at someday?
I’d really love to work at Vox Studios in LA. It’s supposedly the oldest independent studio in the world, I think it opened in the 30s. Currently it’s owned by a guy called Woody Jackson who does a lot of game soundtracks, and his collection of gear is insane. I went to visit the studio a couple of years ago with a friend of mine who knows Woody very well, and I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. The list of mics, amps, guitars, pedals, compressors, drums and anything else you can think of is endless. I think it’d be a lot of a fun to do a record there.
What’s your favorite record that you’ve worked on so far?
I’ve got a few for different reasons but Malena Zavala’s La Yarará is probably the newest addition to the favorites list. We recorded it last year at a studio in East London called Urchin, which is very sadly closed down now, and it’s definitely one of my fondest memories of recording. I made some great friends during that record and it’s probably the album I’ve worked on that I go back and listen to the most at the moment.
Do you have any favorite recording engineers and mixers?
Lots! Tchad Blake is up there for sure. I love all the Black Keys records he’s done. Am also a big fan of Dave Fridmann, his mixes on the new Haim record are great. You can always tell a Dave Fridmann mix apart from anything else. Philippe Zdar was also one of my favourite mixers. He very sadly passed away last year but Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which he mixed, has some of the best mixes I’ve ever heard on it. I’d also have to say Craig Silvey, even though I work for him… Some of his mixes on the Portishead and Arcade Fire records are incredible.
If you didn’t choose to work in the field you are in, what would you have chosen to do in music?
I’d like to say I’d be a drummer, but I have no idea if I ever would’ve been good enough!
Is there a particular moment in your career that you are especially proud of?
I recorded a live album of Malena Zavala’s last album, La Yarará, at Abbey Road at the start of this year. We did it in one day with a 9-piece band in Studio 2, which is the studio best known for being where the Beatles recorded most of their material. I’m a huge Beatles fan, so getting to work in that room was very special for me.
What’s your favorite thing about being a recording engineer and mixer?
Probably getting to see people enjoy records that I’ve worked on. Whether it’s at a live show or through social media or whatever, it’s always really fun seeing people react to a song or album that you’ve worked on.
What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about working in your field is?
I’d say one of the biggest misconceptions is that the engineer is the producer, or visa versa. A lot of people don’t understand what all the different roles in a recording studio are. The lines can be very blurred between the assistant and the engineer, or the engineer and the producer, or even the producer and the songwriter, which comes back to what I said earlier about it being important that the producer fully understands the role of an assistant or an engineer. If there’s an understanding between everyone on the session about what their role is and what is needed of them, then it allows everyone to do their job and makes it much easier to avoid people stepping on each other’s toes.
The music industry in general is seen as male dominated, especially in music production etc. Did you ever feel like it was a lot harder for you as a woman?
Very occasionally. I think in this industry, as a woman, you’re bound to come across some old school idiots who don’t treat you like a professional or with the respect that you deserve, but those people are few and far between now. I’ve only ever felt like it’s harder being a woman when you encounter people like that, but, as I said, it’s very rare now and the more normal it becomes to see women working in studios, the less that will happen.
What drives your determination and ambition when it comes to your job?
Probably the main thing is helping the artist realise their record. An artist’s record is usually a body of work that represents a period of their life, and them trusting you with it can bring a lot of pressure. I think the drive and determination to do great work primarily comes from not wanting to let down the artist.
As times change, do you think it’s a lot more easier for women to work in music production?
Yes definitely. I don’t necessarily think it’s been more difficult for women than for men for a long time, I just think it’s a question of women being encouraged to get into studios. As a young woman, trying to start a career doing something that you don’t see many other women doing is quite daunting, so they need the encouragement. The more visible female presence that there is in studios, the more women will enter the industry. It’s down to studios to employ more women and to balance out their rosters. I think it’s as simple as that.
I’d also just like to add, I don’t know so much about the studio industry in the US, but here in the UK it’s not only predominantly male, but it’s also predominantly white and middle class. I think part of the problem is that there’s an expectation that runners and interns will work for free. I worked for free for close to a year, and I could only afford to do that because I already lived in London, at home, and was lucky enough to be supported by my parents. It’s impossible for a lot people who want to work in studios to work for nothing, particularly in a city like London, so until all studios adopt a proper apprenticeship or internship scheme, the industry will continue to automatically exclude a huge number of people and seriously limit it’s diversity.
You’ve worked with artists such as Foals, The Rolling Stones, Palace, and so much more! Is there an artist, or band that you would love to work with?
Probably the Arctic Monkeys. I’ve always loved them, since their first album came out almost 15 years ago, and I sort of feel like their records have soundtracked my life. They’ve progressed in a super interesting way compared to lot of other contemporary rock bands, and every one of their albums is so different to the last. I’m excited to see where they go next and would love to work with them one day.
What was it like being a mix assistant for The Rolling Stones' newest track?
It was one of the best weeks of my career for sure. Being in a room with Mick Jagger was quite a surreal experience, let alone working on a Stones track with him. The thing that made it really special was that all the parts were recorded in Jamaica in 1972-73 and until then had remained more or less unheard and forgotten, so Craig and I knew that we were some of the first people to hear those versions of those songs. Hearing Mick’s vocal soloed was really amazing actually, it’s made me appreciate him as a vocalist way more than I ever had before.
What was it like winning MPG’S Breakthrough Recording Engineer of 2019 award?
Winning the MPG was great! It was a really nice bit of recognition from my peers. The Amazons, who I’ve done a lot of work with and are very close friends of mine, also got to present the award to me which was a nice touch.
What advice would you give someone who wants to delve into music production?
When you’re starting out and trying to get your foot in the door, say yes to everything. It’s such a competitive industry that you really shouldn’t be turning down work until you have too much. You never know who you’re going to meet on a session or what you’re going to learn. I’ve done countless single day sessions that have led to albums and new relationships with artists and labels.
If you could give me a recommendation on who to interview next for “Making Noise”, who would it be?
Phoebe Fox. Phoebe’s a really amazing photographer who works with a lot of UK and US bands.
We at Buzzkill would like to extend our sincerest thanks to Dani for working with us on the third edition of Making Noise. She can be found on Instagram, if you'd like to keep up with all of her work!