Dream of a studio recording? A Sax School member shares his experience.
When Sax School member Charles Benoit headed into the studio with his band to record their new EP, Better Together, he assumed it would be a fun and stress-free afternoon. After all, it was only four songs and there were no solos.
When his ska band – literally named Some Ska Band – did their first CD back in 2018, they recorded nine songs and Charles had three solos. This new session would be easy. “Yeah, that’s what I thought,” he says with a laugh. “The producer had other ideas.”
A Professional Studio
For their first release, Some Ska Band used the recording studio at a local college, with one of the students working the controls. “He was good, but our time was limited. We were happy with the results but saw ways it could have been better.” Two years later – and with a new lineup – the band was ready to record again. “This time we had the chance to work with a professional studio and an experienced producer. Big difference!”
The first change? Playing each song over and over and over. And over and over. And over. “I must have played the opening horn line to Suburban Jungle fifty times before the producer was happy. It was that way with every one of us.”
Knowing songs inside and out is essential, but it’s just the start. “Little things like playing along with a backing track while wearing headphones. I saw Nigel wear them in a video and I started doing it. So I was comfortable when I had to wear them in the studio.”
Familiarity with the equipment can help, but even superstars get butterflies when they step in front of a studio microphone. “Of course I was nervous, but it was an exciting kind of nervous. Like going up the big hill on a roller coaster. I kept reminding myself how incredibly lucky I was to be there with my band, making a studio recording of songs we wrote.”
“The most important thing is to be flexible. About everything. How you play, what you play, volume levels, recording order. The producer heard things in our songs we hadn’t considered, different ways of approaching a line or singing a verse. We tried out his ideas and most of them made the songs even better.”
Getting Started on Sax
Charles started playing the tenor sax with the elementary school band. He was second-chair tenor. And he was 40 years old. “My wife and I were teaching in Kuwait and I had a lot of free time on my hands. The band leader let me borrow a sax, but she said I had to learn alongside her students. Thanks to Fatima, the nine-year-old, first-chair tenor, I mastered the C scale.”
While his friends thought it was a bit silly, Charles saw it as the opportunity he’d been hoping for. “I love ska. The old stuff with The Skatalites, the 2Tone bands – all of it. I didn’t want to go my whole life just listening to it, I wanted to play it.”
Charles started taking lessons when he returned to the US, and at the encouragement of his teacher, signed up for Sax School. “When my teacher stopped giving lessons, that’s when I really dove into Sax School.”
Today, Charles’ band plays gigs around his hometown of Rochester, NY, and last summer they played the Supernova International Ska Festival in Hampton, Virginia. “If you love music, learn to play it. You’ll love it even more when you make it your own.”
Check out Some Ska Band’s new EP, Better Together here.
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