AMS Sound Production tutor and bassist for Pattern Pusher, Ben Green joins us for this instalment of Many Hats, our career focused interview series, exclusive to the AMS Blog. Read on to find out more about Ben and his journey in music so far.
Hey Ben, introduce yourself!
I’m Ben, I’m a tutor at AMS Exeter teaching production and I play bass in a band called Pattern Pusher. So those are my main things! We’ve just finished our autumn Tour, where we sold out a few dates around London, Bristol, and Exeter, as well as playing loads of other places as well. We were on Radio 2 a while ago and we’ve just had a song get used to the advert for Young Sheldon on E4, which is cool! I also record all our stuff. I run the studio in Exeter, called Studio 54. Which is the studio where the Academy does sound production lessons too, but I run the commercial recording side.
That’s cool! Sounds very busy.
Yeah, it is! [laughs]
I would be interested to hear how you got into music in the first place. What planted that seed in your head of “I think this is what I’m going to pursue?”
My mum taught me piano at a really young age. I didn’t do a lot of music when I was growing up until I got to secondary school. When I was 13 or 14, I picked up a guitar for the first time, because I thought it was cool [laughs]. I just always, always wanted to do it. I was just writing bad songs with my friends; I’ve always just had that bug I suppose.
Did you study music through secondary school?
Yeah! I did a GCSE in music and went to college. It was always my goal to study the popular music course where I went. I didn’t want to do music tech, for some reason, I thought it would be rubbish. And then I got so into it. My friends did it and they were like “Ben you would love this.” And it was nice the college somehow allowed me to do the first and second year of music tech in one year. So, I was basically doing a whole A Level in one year. I was doing math’s as well at the time, which was kind of stupid, really. You could kind of see my interest in math’s like go RIGHT down and the music go right up!
Yeah. “Goodbye arithmetic, we’ll see up later” [laughs]. So, from there did you then go on to do any other higher education?
Yeah, I went to Bath Spa University, to do their commercial music course. I did a BA in that. And that was really fun. I liked the production side of things. That was my focus. I was a typical guitarist and was like, “No, I don’t want to learn about computers”, and then recording and then realized, “Wow this is really fun. And I can make a career out of this.”
And you thought “this is probably actually a practical choice”.
What pushed you in the direction of being a tutor alongside being a musician?
I was working at the bar in a venue in Exeter, but I wasn’t really using any of the music stuff. I had that feeling of “I know, I can do all of this. So why am I on the wrong side of this?” But then, I got introduced to the Academy, through my brother who studied there and Alex, the singer in my band, he was a teacher there. And then they had an opening come up for a tech position, which I was like, “Wow, that’s what I do now.” And it all landed nicely. And ever since I got into teaching, I just loved it. As a career, being part of the Academy works well to go alongside developing an artist’s career, because it’s a lot more flexible. And certainly, a lot more understanding about needing to go do things like touring! And, just getting to talk about music all the time is a bonus [laughs].
Yeah, that’s interesting how it just all fell together. In terms of Pattern Pusher, how did that come together? How long have you guys been together?
When I moved to Exeter, I didn’t have a project. I was looking for something, looking for people to play with. Alex was running a jam night and my brother just said, “Oh, come along to this jam”, it was a good chance to meet some people. And it was weird because I’ve done so much music but never done anything like that. It turned out to be really fun.
I learned a lot from playing with random people and the fact that it’s okay even if no one knows what you’re playing! If you’re heading in a random direction that’s fine if you’re enjoying it. But in terms of the band, we got on and we played a bit more and talked more and then got to know a bit about each other and now we’re all looking for a similar goal. Alex was looking to play some music but to do it seriously, we just wanted to treat it like a job. We had those kinds of serious conversations. Pattern Pusher has taken shape in quite a few different forms, my brother was in the band originally. We got someone else in, who was also an ex-student of the academy as well. So, very Academy focused without really being intentional either. But yeah, now we’ve got a manager, we’ve got an agent, we’ve got a publisher, so it’s like, become a proper thing.
Yeah, you’re at a point of “Oh, it’s the job we wanted now!”
Yeah, exactly! [laughs]. I’ll tell you what, it is a job.
My dad told me “Play every show you do like, it’s your last. If you died tomorrow, would you be happy that you did it?”
You’ll obviously have picked up a variety of knowledge from your degree and throughout your time in the industry. Do you think the skills you utalise are similar between being in the band and being on the production side of things and being a tutor? Or that you use a different skill set in each role?
Oh, yeah, they’re all really linked! For sure. In lessons I’ll be talking about a concept for miking a drum kit or something. And a student will say something in the lesson and put a spin on it or we’re looking at a random technique and I’ll think “that sounds really good, hold on a sec let me record that.” So, all the different jobs are connected.
That’s interesting as well. Because not only are the students learning from you, but you’re also learning from the students as well, you’re all picking stuff up from each other all the time.
Exactly, exactly. I think the moment you close down and think that you’ve learnt it all is the moment you stop growing. You may as well stop all together at that point.
Can you tell me some of the most important skills you think you utilise within your work?
Oh, I think listening. That has got to be the most important one. It’s so obvious, listening. Not listening and hearing what you want to hear but hearing what’s actually in front of you. For both social interactions, as well as music. And being happy to make mistakes, that’s a good one. Because I see so many students that think, “I’ve got to get this perfect. It’s got to be right.” And I’m in reality, it’s like “it doesn’t matter, if you make a mistake.” You made a mistake, and you learn and can just do it again.
Yeah. Absolutely, that’s so valuable.
I think the people that are just out there really doing well are just okay, making mistakes, they accept that’s part of the journey. I’m just covering myself there for the mistakes I make [laughs].
Do you find that in your local community it’s a big thing to just get out and speak to people and network? Do you find that those opportunities are valuable in Exeter, or do you think there’s something that could be developed in that area?
Oh, definitely. I mean, I was really introverted. Even through University. I was really introverted, quite shy. It really took a long time to learn partly that’s okay. If you’re naturally that way, that’s fine, but also, I had to learn how to kind of interact with other people get that confidence. Because you’re right, your network is so important. And I know that’s going to annoy everyone that hears that, but it is really one of the main things. And being nice as a person. Being interested in other people is so important. The people that I meet that are doing really well, and seem to make a career of it. I’ve met them and gone; I would love to meet them again.
I think working in bars and cafes really helped me. I was working in a train station cafe and had to get up and be at work for 5am. And was dragging myself to work. You think that’s not going to give you any area there to grow or learn, but I was speaking to people all the time. And I had to go out of my shell to meet people. Actually, looking back, even though I hated those times, I probably learned a lot from them. They probably developed me into who I am now and then working in a music venue bar. That helped even more. Maybe there’s a little note of positivity there or something.
Hindsight, it’s a beautiful thing. You can realise things you learned are connected years after learning them.
You’re right and all the skills you learn are transferable.
I think taking stock of what’s going on around you while it’s happening is also valuable.
Yeah, you’re exactly right there otherwise, you’ll never be happy.
What is the best advice you were given when coming into the industry?
My dad told me “Play every show you do like, it’s your last. If you died tomorrow, would you be happy that you did it?” Especially when you’re starting out, you’re doing terrible gigs where there’s a sound person in the audience and no one else. We’ve all been there. I’ve heard examples from our manager, for instance, where they’ve driven miles to do that, and they played for no one. But the one person that was there actually was someone that could make things happen for the act. You don’t know who’s in the audience, you don’t know who’s watching. And I think that’s the thing that you’re always on. You’ve got to be memorable and present yourself as professional and serious.
And then maybe from a business point of view. I guess it’s always remembering that music is the most important thing. No matter what you do. If you haven’t properly figured out what it is you’re trying to do, who you are and your identity, then it’s never going to land. If it is good and truly good, then people will come on board and people will be interested. I see it with a lot of people, they’re looking for a shortcut, which I understand because I was looking for that shortcut. We all are. But there isn’t one.
Encouraging people to stick with it is so valuable. Because we never know where someone might come from, or what they might come out with.
Just to quickly build on what you were saying as well, I think you’re totally right there. It’s about perseverance. But it’s also about not waiting for it to come to you. I guess you get a certain level of arrogance, sometimes with music. And so, some people might think that success is going to come to them, and it won’t. You’ve got your go there. Take it.
We’ve discussed loads of positives. What would you say is the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome?
I think the hardest thing is knowing yourself and knowing what you want to do. We’re at that point now where you can do everything. You’ve got unlimited decisions. So, I’m trying to always be more decisive with everything I do now with music. Production that’s a big thing, trying to commit to things because, you know, there’s so many things now that back in the day would have you would have had to make decisions.
Technology is a blessing and a curse at the same time [laughs].
Exactly that. But great creativity comes from dealing with those decisions. That’s kind of interesting. Trying to be a little bit more like that bit more decisive and sticking to what you really want to be doing.
It must be important to have people around you who keep you on the right track and move towards what you really want.
That’s another thing. I know it’s okay to have people involved but it must be the right people. You can’t just grab your mates and get their opinion. It’s tricky, because we’ve had it with songs where we’ve suddenly opened the discussion that probably shouldn’t really be discussed. And sometimes you are getting opinions, but it’s not necessarily the right moment for their opinions, because they’re not involved in the production or the journey. If I played you a song and said, “What do you think of the vocals?” Now you’re all you’re going to listen to is the vocalist and you’re going to find something wrong with that vocal. You will, I’ve told you to. And that’s what happens at the same time, you have got to be okay with letting people in. If they’re working in your best interest. It can be hard to let go of all that stuff, but you must think “actually, this person knows what they’re doing. If they’ve done it. It’s good.”
You just have to trust that it’s going to be fine.