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Thinking in Sound: Ben Hauke

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Head of sound at Pitch & Sync, Ben shares his thoughts on happy clients, the annoyance of background music and his love of history

Thinking in Sound: Ben Hauke

Ben Hauke is head of sound at P&S. Formerly Mother London’s in-house sound engineer, Ben worked freelance at Scramble Soho and has an impressive list of credits for short films, animations and theatre productions. He trained under veteran Monty Python producer, engineer and sound designer, Andre Jacquemin. As well as producing for underground labels Church, Far Out Recordings and Nervous Records, Ben has also worked with artists including Nubya Garcia and Joe Armon Jones to name a few. 


When you’re working on a new brief or project, what’s your typical starting point? How do you break it down and how do you like to generate your ideas or response? 

I fundamentally work out what the client is really after. This is often down to a careful use of language – a music reference to a client can often reference many things for me. Music is such a subjective world and half the process is decoding the language used. My team are great at this and I will often have a follow up call with them to help... 

However, another approach is to create a few basic ideas that can generate a better picture of what they think they want. I make sure that these are created fast, to the point and are honing in on fundamental aspects of a musical genre or SFX style. 


Music and sound are in some ways the most collaborative and interactive forms of creativity. Do you prefer to work solo or with a gang? And what are some of your most memorable professional collaborations? 

I think it depends on expectations. If I go into a project knowing what I’m aiming for, collaborating can be frustrating, as ideas can clash and leadership can be challenged. However If I go in with a very open mind it can be very exciting. You almost have to switch your brain into a different mode, take a back seat and let it happen. Also, it depends on what the other artist can do vs what you can do. 

I have made a few tracks with singer and guitarist Oscar Jerome (released in May). This is great as I can create something simple and let him develop it with his guitar and voice. As I can’t sing or play guitar I have no ego in that aspect of the music whatsoever, so we are basically set up to win. 


What’s the most satisfying part of your job and why? 

Finishing the day off on time, after sending the final mix to happy clients. 


As the advertising industry changes, how do you think the role of music and sound is changing with it? 

I expect the turnaround times will become even quicker, but I think music and sound design will always be treated with the same importance. Due to technology more people are able to become composers and sound designers, so maybe this could devalue the skill… I’m not sure... 


Who are your musical or audio heroes and why?

This is hard and changes constantly. It sounds cheesy but pretty much every music teacher I've had (drum tutors to university lecturers) have given me an important nugget of confidence that is essential to my work and career. Another person may be Andre Jacquemin who did all the sound mixing for Monty Python. He is a great teacher and I love his carefree approachable attitude. Being around someone with that work history under their belt is very inspiring and encouraging. 


And when it comes to your particular field, whether sound design or composing, are there any particular ideas or pioneers that you go back to frequently or who really influence your thinking about the work you do? 

Too many to mention here. Recently I've been thinking about how much I admire Mica Levi as a composer. She has a distinct style and is an example of an original artist being allowed to demonstrate this with mainstream feature films. As often it feels like you need to know someone or work as an assistant to even get noticed. 


When you’re working on something that isn’t directly sound design or music, are you the sort of person who needs music and noise in the background or is that completely distracting to you?  

NO! I literally have no idea how people can work with music on. It's impossible for me to read or write with music or a podcast in the background. Don’t know why, but that’s just me… 


I guess the quality of the listening experience and the context that audiences listen to music/sound in has changed over the years. How does that affect how you approach your work? 

I once got feedback from a director after listening to my mix on their phone whilst on a set – this is just how it is and it's important to know that. I generally feel a good mix on great speakers will translate, so I don’t overthink it. If anything, when I AM overthinking a mix, I just remind myself that most people at home will be listening on bad speakers – and that helps me get on with it. It sounds cynical but that sometimes helps me be decisive. 


On a typical day, what does your ‘listening diet’ look like? 

On the way in I will either be listening to release radar on Spotify, maybe a podcast or new music by myself. Same on the way back. Once I'm out of a studio I don’t often play music, I watch YouTube videos... 


Do you have a collection of music/sounds and what shape does it take? 

I have a lot of vinyl, mainly stuff I bought to sample – so a lot of ’70s stuff. I have an extensive private playlist on Soundcloud where I upload tracks I've made. This is so I can share them with friends and listen on the go . I like this, it's a private collection of exclusive bangers ;). 


Outside of the music and sound world, what sort of art or topics really excite you and do you ever relate that back to music?

I'm quite into history. I will get into wormholes of random topics like the druids or cowboys and watch that for a while on YouTube. Likewise with film essays and documentaries about Art. I'm not sure how it affects my work, but it must shape me as a person – which must then affect my personality – and possibly then make into my work… who knows? 


Let’s talk travel! What are the most exciting or inspiring experiences you’ve had when it comes to sound and music on your travels? 

To be honest I’m not much of a traveller. I like knowing people and knowing where I am. I was born In south east London and the network of artistic friends is pretty crazy. So the only good thing about traveling would be that it would turn the creative switch off and reset the battery for when I'm back… if anything. 


As we age, our ears change physically and our tastes evolve too, and life changes mean we don’t get to engage in our passions in the same intensity as in our youth - how has your relationship with sound and music changed over the years? 

I feel the more I do it the easier it becomes, and the pressure is less intense, and I have more fun with it. I've become good at knowing when I'm inspired and when I'm not. I used to push myself to make music everyday – regardless of how I felt. This was bad. Now I just wait until I have the ideas and enthusiasm – that way two days in the studio are much more productive than seven days pushing myself. It feels empowering.


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Pitch & Sync, Tue, 06 Apr 2021 15:15:05 GMT