Our Stories: Benjamin Colbert

Tom Aston

Benjamin Colbert is a busy third year. Currently finishing off his degree in Sound Engineering and Design, Ben also runs his own record label, and works part time at dock10. 

We sat down with Benjamin for our ‘Quarantine’ series to chat about what drew him to Sound Engineering as a career, how he snagged his current position at dock10, and the club nights he used to help run through CULT.

Thanks for chatting to us Ben. To start, what drew you to Sound Engineering as a career choice?

I’ve always had an interest in audio. I studied music and played instruments throughout my education, and then continued music production as a hobby. I’ve always been highly engaged in music, and audio for visual media. 

I think the interest in sound engineering arose as I started to experience better systems through DJing in Manchester. I can be quite geeky with my interests, so audio was this never-ending rabbit hole of discussion about technique, equipment, theory, quality and design. When I looked through the modules of the course at Spirit, it covered all bases of my interest for a career – studio recording, mixing, mastering, sound design, 5.1 mixing, and system design, so I decided I wanted to try and make a living out of it. 

And so, why did you decide to study at Spirit Studios?

Originally I studied Architecture, but after my first year I decided to take a different direction. I realised that if I wanted to commit to something, I had to be really passionate about it. I started looking into music production courses, but I wanted something which was a bit more technical and varied in subject. 

I was chatting to a friend and he spoke very highly of Spirit Studios, so I started looking through the modules and couldn’t find any other course that fit so well with what I wanted to study. I liked that it had a smaller student count, so you really have the time with tutors to develop your learning. I was never a fan of sitting in a hall with 400 other students listening to a lecturer for 3 hours without being able to ask any questions.

Quite the change. For your Work Based Learning module last year you worked for Rabble Post. How did you find this experience?

I wanted to try and get into a dubbing suite for my placement, as it was something that I was really considering pursuing, but I found pretty quickly it’s hard to get your foot in the door. I started sending out emails and being persistent, and was lucky to get the timing right. I got to spend some time in the 5.1 studio at Rabble and learnt a lot about how a post-production company runs day to day. My tutor Stuart really emphasized to not look at it as just a module to get your credits for your degree, but really as an opportunity to start the foundations of your career.

Ben Colbert Sound Engineer

Building on that, you’ve been working at dock10 for a while now. Firstly, congratulations! How did the job come to be? 

The dubbing mixer at Rabble passed on my details to another engineer at dock10 to see if there were any opportunities for shadowing. I got to sit in for a day, and tried to make the most of the experience. I started chatting to the front of house administrator for the post-production department and just put myself forward as eager and enthusiastic. They seemed to like me and offered me some running shifts. After a few months of these I got picked up by the media management department and have been working there for the past few months. I ingest rushes from shoot days and tv shows, do basic editing, and file prep before things go out on TV. 

How are you staying productive right now with everything that’s going on?

One of the few positives to come out of this situation is that by locking creatives inside all day they usually produce lots of good stuff. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy with getting involved in ‘isolation projects’ as much as I can. My very talented friend Bobo has released 4 EP’s on his isolation series, and I’ve been doing all the mastering work for them – alongside a few other bits of mastering work. He produced the first vinyl release on my label – Jerk It. The label has definitely kept me busy as well, with us not being able to viably press our upcoming record and get it in the shops, we’ve decided to release digital EP’s. To keep costs low I’m also doing the mastering for all of them, so I’ve got quite a lot on actually!

Wow, that’s impressive! Tell us more about your label, Jerk It. 

Jerk It is my record label that I run with some friends. We started as an extremely small ‘club night’, and we hosted parties at Indigo, The Peer Hat, Aatma and Stage & Radio to name a few. We always intended to develop into a record label but wanted to build some momentum behind our name before we did so.

Eventually we started the label, and got chatting to our close friend Bobo, who sent over 10 demos. We spent a lot of time back and forth and narrowed it down to 4 tracks we really loved. Me and Bobo had several sessions at Spirit Studios getting the mix right, and then it went off to get mastered and pressed on to 180 units. We distributed a lot of them ourselves to Manchester record stores – I think Eastern Bloc sold around 25 in the end! Piccadilly Records listed it as record of the week and Matt at Kickin Pigeon did a wonderful review for us.

You used to run a club night called ‘CULT’ starting in 2018. Tell us about it. 

CULT was a club night I was running throughout 2018/19 where we ran monthly soup kitchen events in the basement, booking artists such as Pearson Sound, Sherelle, Joey Rebelle, Jensen Interceptor, and DJ Python to name a few. 

I really enjoyed getting involved with CULT. I joined the team late 2018 and got to learn a lot about promoting events. I felt a lot more involved in the Manchester scene through this and I intend on starting the night up again later this year.

What tips do you have for people right now to stay productive and inspired?

I suffer from procrastination and it seems to come on very strong when I’m locked inside all day staring at the tasks I need to complete. I guess you just have to try and be optimistic and attack things in bite-size chunks. Try looking elsewhere for inspiration. I think it’s especially important to stay connected during this time as well, keeping tabs on your friends and people who might be really struggling with their mental health. I always find the most inspiration from seeing other people being inspired. If I connect with someone online and they are making the most out of the situation I think, “yeah I’m going try to get that thing done”.

Tell us, who are you listening to right now?

There’s so much good music being put out right now. My friend Bobo is making some really interesting stuff which I highly recommend, and I’ve been using my free time to dig for new records online. The new Adam Pits EP – International Wafter is great. The new Four Tet Record is killer (Sixteen Oceans), and I’m really enjoying the new Shouts/Rhythm Section record (Vol. 2). It’s a great VA with some amazing tracks. ‘Zoë’ by Duke Hugh is particularly bliss.

Ben Colbert Home Studio

Before you go, what advice do you have for people looking to get into the same career?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given was from my tutor Stuart – “There’s no replacement for doing”. If you want to get involved in music, film, tv, or sound engineering, you just have to start making those small steps. For me, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, so I started the course to let me study the most aspects of sound engineering so I could decide. Start speaking to people, be friendly and generally polite, and eventually someone will help you out. 

Thanks for chatting to us Ben! We can’t wait to see what the rest of 2020 brings for you!