Featured Story - Ben Langmaid, La Roux
Producer, DJ and songwriter Ben Langmaid has been making marks on the music industry since the 90s. The debut album from his latest project, La Roux, won him a Grammy award. Despite the duo's success, Ben remains largely out of the public eye, leaving singer Elly Jackson to take the spotlight.
Ben's career started as a DJ, “I moved with Rollo from Faithless, Judge Jules and people like that, we all went to school together, we all loved music and when we were at college we had our own club night. It was a really exciting time, just before the 90s dance scene kicked off. It started there with each of us trying to out-do the others and all of us working together and admiring each other's work as well”. The success of his friends helped Ben to learn his way around the studio “Rollo had a studio; he would sample all my records and I would get to use his studio. I learnt a lot about production and what makes a crowd tick”. This proved to be a gateway for Ben into the studio world, and Ben set up his own studio “the guy I worked with was an engineer, he decided he wanted his own time in there, and that we should work separately, so I had to get my head down and find out how to make a studio work. I really threw myself in at the deep end and worked really hard”. Ben also took this opportunity to learn how to use samplers in his music. “I was always a crap musician, I never had enough patience to learn guitar properly, even though I could play a bit and could play piano properly. So when samplers came into the scene it was like an instrument that you could play without being any good at playing”.
For La Roux's second album Ben and Elly had a UAD 2 Satellite system with them in the studio for mixing. “The UAD stuff came to my attention through a colleague about 7-8 months ago. We got a Satellite first and it was great, I really liked it. I was so surprised at how effective, and how real the plug-ins were in terms of what they did, whether it was a compressor or a Neve 1081. The plug-ins are all over the second album”.
Having used the plug-ins during the mixing of La Roux's second album, Ben has now added a UAD system to his own studio rig. “We have a La Roux setup and our engineer was very hands on with that so I didn't get to try them as much as I'd like to have. Now I'm back in my studio I'm using them a lot more”. Like many people who first use the UAD, Ben is gravitating towards the plug-ins which emulate gear he is used to using in the studio. “I love the Neve's. I've got real Neve's in my studio and I use both. I'll record through the real Neve's and add the plug-in on later”. Another trick Ben is fond of is using the UAD plug-ins on group busses. “The Fatso is great, I especially like it on grouped instruments, or the vocal buss”.
Despite not being a professionally trained engineer, Ben finds the UAD plug-ins enable him to bring out musicianship in the recordings he makes. “I'm not very technical, I don't profess to be anything I'm not. I just try to be strong in the areas I'm strong in. I don't want to be thinking about compression in terms of all the science of it. I want to be thinking about the song, the lyric, the melody and the production. The thing the Manley [Massive Passive plug-in] does is it brings so much presence. I had a vocal the other day that I didn't record very well, it was OK, but it could have been better, and the Manley really brought it to life. I didn't have to do much, I just put it through it and it brought it to life. I was really surprised by that”. The Manley Massive Passive emulates the tube EQ stages, transformers and inductors, which all have an impact on the sound even when all the EQ stages are set to flat. The smooth mid-frequency definition in this EQ makes it a favourite EQ of many engineers for delicate vocal processing, or subtle mastering enhancement.
Once you start mixing with UAD plug-ins it can be hard to stop, which is why the hardware is available in Solo, Duo or Quad configurations for powering different sized projects, and multiple cards can be used simultaneously to get even more power for your rig. “I don't have any criticisms about any of the plug-ins I've tried yet, my only criticism about the system is that there isn't enough power on the card I have to run all the plug-ins I want. But that's a compliment really, we want more power, because [the plug-ins are] that good. I think they're some of the best plug-ins that have come out in some time. They're a cut above the rest. They feel classy”.
Since finishing the second La Roux album, Ben has started working with a new young singer; Harriet Whitehead, who appeared on The Voice last year. “She's just turned 18 and she's got a lot of talent. Very different from La Roux, she's got an air of Kate Bush with a Christina Aguilera vibe. I've only just started working on that, it's early days but so far so good”. As with La Roux, Ben is working with Harriet in the studio and the UAD 2 plug-ins are going to be playing a key role in defining the final sound on the record. “I've always loved working with great artists and musicians, singers especially. Because I'm such an awful singer it's great to hear someone else do it really well. I like developing new, raw talent because it's more interesting. You get to explore music on a much deeper level because you're not being harassed by a label in the background trying to make you do certain things, or who are panicking about what's current in the top ten at the moment and trying to find something just like it. So I just try and work and find new talent myself”. “That's how it all starts for me, finding someone with that raw amazing talent that makes you think 'we can really explore this and develop it and see what happens'. With singers when they're really good, they often have no idea how to channel the energy and the talent they have, so they need someone to step back and say that's really good, we need that and that, but that's too busy get rid of that. It's a way of helping someone find themselves musically. It's really fulfilling”.