Full Sail University

Hall of Fame Inductee Benjamin Rice Works with Lady Gaga and Disney

The Grammy-winning Full Sail grad’s love of music has led him to production roles with Lady Gaga, Julia Michaels, Disney animated films, and more.

Hall of Fame Inductee Benjamin Rice Works with Lady Gaga and Disney - Hero image

Full Sail Hall of Fame inductee Benjamin Rice has helped write and produce songs for artists like Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, John Legend, and Julia Michaels. But it was his longstanding role as a producer for Lady Gaga – and his contributions to the soundtrack for her film A Star is Born – that led him to the Grammys.

“[Being nominated for my work on the A Star is Born soundtrack in 2019] was my first time going to the Grammys, and I sat in the first row right next to [Lady Gaga]. She was chair number one, and I was chair number two right at the very, very front, right by the steps… I didn't expect to be in the front row. So that was pretty wild,” he recalls.

I love being able to be a part of creating something that means something to somebody else, to move someone in some way."

Ben earned a Grammy win that night in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category for his work on “Shallow,” the soundtrack’s standout hit. The Grammys are a career high for anyone in the music industry, but they were just one stop on Ben’s remarkable journey in music.

A Lifelong Love of Music

Ben’s commitment to music kicked off at age 12, when he noticed the drummer playing in his church’s worship band. It was the first time Ben had seen the drums played live, and he started hanging out at the church and using their drum kit to play along to songs on the radio.

He continued playing music and started shadowing at a recording studio in high school, which turned into an internship. When he started a band called Pilotdrift in college, Ben discovered that working on the writing process and the studio recording process simultaneously with his bandmates led to superior creative results. That experience working on “both sides of the glass” gave him a unique perspective that helped him throughout his career.

“There's a lot of cross-pollination of learning how to engineer and record other people and then being in a band and trying to record and produce your own ideas,” Ben says. “Being able to capture tones, craft ideas, and produce, and have your fingerprints on all those sounds and ideas, was something early that I really felt drawn to. To be able to work both sides of the glass, to learn the engineering side, but also to be on the other side and to be a performer, to be playing, to be writing. And that's essentially what led me to what I'm doing now, is doing both sides of the glass.”

Ben wound up on the road touring with Pilotdrift, but he also wanted to explore other career possibilities. He joined the military, but after a few years he was discharged with an injury and decided to return to music. He used his GI Bill benefits to enroll at Full Sail and study recording arts.

During his time at Full Sail, Ben learned more about the nuts and bolts of the music production process and developed a noteworthy work ethic. Three months before he graduated, Ben connected with Full Sail grad and Hall of Fame inductee Josh Gudwin, which sparked a decades-long professional relationship. After Ben moved to Los Angeles, Josh helped him land an interview at venerated LA recording studio Record Plant.

“Josh’s recommendation for [Record Plant] just to give me an interview was the key that opened the door to that possibility,” Ben says. “And that's really the best gift anyone can give you. No one can really give you your path or give you the keys to the car and say, ‘Here's how to do everything,’ but they can connect you to people.”

Working with Lady Gaga

At Record Plant, Ben developed a rapport with the other producers and engineers in the studio and gained experience working with a variety of genres, from bands to vocal recordings to orchestral arrangements. Ben’s boss noticed his extra efforts, and when Lady Gaga came into the studio to work on her album Artpop he gave Ben a role as a staff engineer.

“I'll never forget being so immediately struck by [Lady Gaga’s] work ethic, her creative commitments, her insatiable desire to make things better, to push the bar, to push herself, to write, to produce, to record. And [paying attention to] every little detail from the mic selection to how we're mixing it… I had never worked with someone quite like her, and I just remember immediately thinking, ‘I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of this team in some way if it works out.’”

Ben focused on making a good impression on Lady Gaga and her team, and it paid off: He got the opportunity to work with her directly to finish Artpop.

“I stayed up all night [before my first day working with her],” Ben remembers. “I slept at the studio, going through all the songs on the hard drive, familiarizing myself with [them]. And [thinking], ‘If she wants to work on this song tomorrow and do vocals, what's my approach? Do I have tracks ready? Is this session prepped to start recording right away, or do I need to clean some things up? And is everything coming up on the board the way it's supposed to come up?’”

Ben spent the next few weeks working side-by-side with Lady Gaga and her producers until Artpop was complete. It was the start of an extensive professional relationship that took Ben from Record Plant to the Grammys.

“[Working on Artpop] led to years of work with her. I went from being the second engineer to her engineer to her vocal engineer to the vocal producer who’s comping and tuning and all those things. It just continued to grow,” Ben says.

A Star is Born

In 2016, Lady Gaga reached out to Ben and asked him to work with her on the soundtrack for her upcoming movie A Star is Born. The professional bond they’d developed in the years since Artpop helped them create the blockbuster album.

“At that point in my relationship with her, there's a comfort level that [we] had developed,” he says. “She's an incredibly talented artist, we all know that. But she's also very down-to-earth and very committed to her art and to the work, and so was I. I felt her belief in me, and I definitely believed in her. And we just started to have a rapport where we could discuss the sounds, and it felt like the same relationship I had with my [former] bandmates.”

The production process for the A Star is Born soundtrack was similar to the process Ben was familiar with from his time playing in Pilotdrift. Many of the songs were written at the same time as they were being produced, and Ben was working on both sides of the glass once again.

“It was two years of working with [the film’s producer and director] Bradley Cooper, coming into the studio on a daily or weekly basis. [Him saying], ‘Here's what's happening in the script. Here's what's happening in this scene.’ The musicians are there. We're all trying to shape these ideas for two years… That's where my relationship with [Lady Gaga] led. Ultimately just building that trust, building that loyalty, building that comfort, and proving along the way that I can be trusted to continue rising to the challenge, to do a good job,” Ben says.

Saying that the soundtrack was successful is an understatement – it sold more than 1.2 million copies in the US in 2019. It also earned seven nominations at the 2019 Grammys (including Record of the Year and Song of the Year for “Shallow”) and won in two categories (Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Song Written for Visual Media for “Shallow”). Ben accepted the Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media on stage. He’d get another opportunity to write an entire film’s soundtrack a few years later.

Wish

Ben’s working relationship with another musician, singer/songwriter Julia Michaels, got him in the door for Disney’s 2023 animated feature film Wish. He’d worked with Julia off and on for about eight years and they’d developed a strong foundation of creative trust. When Julia was asked to create songs for Wish, she brought Ben along as a co-writer and producer.

The collaborative production process on Wish was an extension of Ben’s experiences working on both sides of the glass. He was playing instruments in the studio and writing with Julia as he concurrently engineered and produced the movie’s songs.

“[Julia and I] had to keep each other inspired and we were able to constantly draw on the relationship that we had built… [If we’d been] starting kind of as two strangers meeting for the first time to take on this challenge it would be way more challenging, but we’d already built kind of that secondhand communication,” Ben explains. “There’s so many things we don't have to discuss that we just understand innately in each other… If she's singing, she likes to say that if I laugh, that means it's good. She'll do something really incredible, and I'll just chuckle and we’re both like, ‘Yeah, that's it. Let’s keep moving.’”

Working on Wish came with some exciting new challenges. During the recording process for “I’m a Star,” a song where wildlife and plants harmonize together, Ben had to help cast 28 singers and record them as they sang together at Fox’s Newman Scoring Stage.

“We're at the Newman Scoring Stage. It's a hugely historic scoring stage and very, very important. And it was just an experience all on its own to even be working there… [In our song] I'm a Star, where we have nature coming to life, it required a lot of voices that we had pre-assigned. This is recording a session where we have 28 people, so 28 vocal boosts, 28 mics, 28 GoPro cameras to capture facial expressions while they're singing in case that's used in animation later, all [of that] is in one take. We're doing the whole song top to bottom… we are recording 28 people at the same time in the live room at Fox.

“I think we even broke the record for Disney,” Ben continues. “They said this was the largest undertaking [they’d done] as far as a vocal recording is concerned.”

Leaving a Legacy

Ben has come a long way since playing the drums in his church when he was 12. The number of projects he’s worked on and the number of artists he’s worked with keeps growing, and his continued love for music and the production process is helping him build a legacy.

“I love being able to be a part of creating something that means something to somebody else, to move someone in some way. To be a part of making things that will be here when I'm not, to have a legacy, to feel like I've contributed something to the world that I was passionate about,” Ben says.

“[Music] is a language we all speak, that we're all affected by,” he continues. “Whether you're playing a song at a wedding or any other big moment in your life, music is always a companion to everyone's life as a soundtrack. So I love that I've been able to work with so many incredibly talented people, to learn so much, and to be a part of things that have had an impact in the world, that mean something to other people. And by extension, it means a ton to me.”