Phish Engineer Ben Collette - On the Road with the UAD-2 Satellite

August 9, 2011 10:50:01 PM PDT
Ben Collette, audio engineer for Phish.

Since their founding in 1983, the Vermont-based band Phish has grown into one of the most prolific touring acts on the planet. Known best for their eclectic musical style, extended onstage jamming, and legions of roving fans that trail them around the globe, Phish have carved a niche for themselves in a music industry that has all but ignored them. 

Of course, one benefit of successfully existing outside of the mainstream is getting to do things your own way. Case in point: Phish’s hand-thrown music festivals, the most recent of which, Super Ball IX, was held in July, 2011, in Watkins Glen, New York.

At Super Ball IX, Phish brought their fans a laundry list of eccentricities including a giant ferris wheel, a 5k road race, an onsite record store, a beers-of-the-word tent, an all-hours bar fashioned after a pinball machine, and a giant movie screen and A/V system showing everything from baseball games to Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense.

The crowning jewel for us audio types was the House of Live Phish, an attraction suited for musicians and audiophiles.

At the House of Live Phish, fans could download a wide range classic Phish tracks and videos, while remixing them via Pro Tools-equipped remix stations. Each station was equipped with Pro Tools 9, an Apogee One interface, and a Euphonix controller. Two “Super Stations” were decked out with UAD-2 QUAD Satellites, and the full library of UAD Powered Plug-Ins.

I had a chance to sit down with the man behind the House of Live Phish, Ben Collette, and find out just how perfectly Universal Audio fits into the mix.

Tell us about your role with Phish.
I'm an engineer for the band Phish — splitting my time between working at The Barn Studio as well as on the band members' various solo projects and CD/DVD releases with Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro. Recent projects including mixing two live albums (Trey Anastasio's Original Boardwalk Style and Mike Gordon's Live in Buffalo), collaborating with producer Steve Lillywhite at The Barn preproduction sessions for the album, Joy and subsequent bonus album, Party Time — the latter of which, half the songs I recorded at the Barn and one track I mixed at my personal studio in Burlington, VT [The Tank Studio]. I've also had the opportunity to work on a lot of Trey's orchestral projects including the recent Time Turns Elastic album, and have recorded live performances with Orchestra Nashville, the Baltimore Symphony and even the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall.

What UA products do you use? How do you use them with Phish?
I use the UAD Powered Plug-Ins a lot because I move from studio to studio and working "in the box" is key in the early stages of a lot of projects. We also have some nice vintage UA gear at The Barn — a pair of 1176 (modded by Alactronics), LA-2A, LA-3A, LA-4A compressors— all of which are staple pieces of outboard at The Barn along with our vintage EMT 140 Plate Reverb. Being able to go between the hardware and software versions of my favorite tools is incredibly valuable and important to maintaining a consistent workflow. It's also great to just have so many multiple instances at your disposal. I don't have to save the LA-2A Classic Leveling Amplifier for just the lead vocal anymore, I can slap it across the bass AND the backing vocals. I find the combination of the two — plug-ins and hardware — just the best of both worlds. UAD really delivers the tone of analog with the flexibility of digital. They really are my go-to plug-ins for every mix.

What was your role in this year's Super Ball IX Festival?
I headed up the House of Live Phish — a hi-tech tent filled with two dozen Apple computers (courtesy of our friends at Small Dog Electronics). Half of the computers were set up as download stations giving away exclusive audio and video content. Included in the fan’s ticket was a copy of the show for download, so we made each day's performance from the festival available the day after it was performed. We had the other half of the machines loaded with multitrack audio in Pro Tools sessions with Euphonix Controllers and Pro Tools 9 licenses, courtesy of Avid and Dale Pro Audio. We also had a video lounge showing various clips from the archives, official DVD releases, as well as clips from the recent summer tour.

Using the UAD-2 Satellite, Phish festival attendees
get a crack at remixing Phish multitrack recordings.

How did mixing stations end up in the House of Live Phish?
We tried them out at our last festival — Festival 8 in Indio, CA — and it was a great success. Phish's intricate music and the interested of their technically-inclined fans made it a really great experience. Fans were given free reign to do anything they wanted in the sessions. Everything from as simple as solo the bass and drums or turn up the guitar — to full on remixes with loops and software instruments. We had controllers set up with faders so even the most luddite of fans can try it out and walk away experiencing the band's music in a way never possible before. And if you're an engineer, or familiar with DAWs, you could have a blast playing around and tweaking the mix on some of your favorite live performances from the past year. It’s the exact mix from our live download mix engineer Jon Altschiller ( that is then subsequently sold on, so you really are dissecting the final product we deliver to fans within 24 hours of the band stepping off stage. 

How did UAD Plug-Ins fit into the mix?
We had two stations set up as "Super Mix Stations," with the UAD-2 Satellite QUAD DSP Accelerators and all the UAD Powered Plug-Ins. Anyone who came in and identified themselves as an engineer, or someone with previous Pro Tools and plug-in knowledge, was directed over to those stations. 

What was the reaction to the UAD Powered Plug-Ins in the exhibit?
The folks who made it over there and dug into the massive collection of UAD plug-ins had a ball, putting to use the compressors, EQs, and effects. We saw people experimenting with everything from standard compression with the 1176LN Classic Limiting Amplifier Plug-In to wacked-out tape delays like on the EP-34 Tape Echo Plug-In. In fact, I think it might have been a little overwhelming as a few asked if they could just hang out in the House of Live Phish all weekend experimenting with all the different plug-ins!

What is your favorite UAD Powered Plug-In and why?
Probably the Neve 88RS Channel Strip Plug-In; it just has so many useful tools in one plug-in, and they all sound great. Now if only you had an API channel strip I'd be in heaven!

To check out live Phish recordings visit:

Photos by: Ryan Mueller

— Dan Fulop