Six-time Grammy nominated producer and musician Steven Wilson is most well known for being a founding member of progressive rock band Porcupine Tree, but is also now a successful solo artist. His most recent album The Future Bites was released in January 2021 and was a top 5 album in the UK, Germany, and all over Europe. He has also become an in-demand remixer of classic albums, specialising in immersive surround audio. Currently sitting at over 900 pages, Steven's full discography is somewhat overwhelming to say the least.
I work as both writer / producer / performer on my own projects, but also increasingly I’m involved in remixing classic albums, particularly into surround sound / spatial audio. I’ve remixed classic albums by artists as diverse as Tears For Fears, King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Roxy Music and Rush.
Like many people I was introduced to music through my parents' record collection. I was lucky that they had pretty cool taste! My mum liked classic disco music like Donna Summer and Bee Gees, as well as Frank Sinatra. And my Dad liked the more conceptual rock music of Pink Floyd and Mike Oldfield. My initial fascination was with the idea of taking the listener on a musical journey across the duration of an album.
The way that an album like Dark Side of the Moon was constructed was a very important factor for me, I loved the idea of music being analogous to watching a movie... But also I liked “auteur" artists that seemed to be outside of any classification. They created their own genres and every album could be different to the last, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Prince... etc. Also film makers like Orson Welles, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick were role models.
The main obstacle I had to overcome was the fact that nature didn’t bless me with a very flexible or expressive signing voice. Early on this meant developing a bag of production tricks that helped me work with what I had - which included processing my voice in various ways, but also learning how to build harmonies and overlapping vocal parts.
I love working with plug ins, I’m definitely a child of the digital recording era. But I also love an organic sound, so I favour plug-ins that emulate analogue sounds. My favourite is actually one called Sketchcassette, which simulates the old lo-fi sounds of cassette, down to choosing brand, and the amount of hiss, saturation, warble, and flutter. I might say that I use it too much, on everything! But I especially like it on pianos, and keyboards.
Do it because you love it. Seems like an obvious thing to say, but these days having any aspirations for a career in music have to be tempered with the fact that it’s a completely overpopulated area - there’s already too much music and too many people competing for the same listeners. Also don’t make generic music. The world really doesn’t need any more death metal bands, gangster rappers, or Ed Sheeran soundalikes. Try to find what’s different about what you do and accentuate that, even if it makes it harder to get attention at the beginning. In the end it’s what makes you different that will make you stand out, not what is the same.
I’ve been working 80% of the time on headphones for the last 7 or 8 years or so, ever since I really got into remixing classic albums, because I was constantly referring to the original stereo mixes and trying to pick up up on all the tiny details, like stereo placement, volume rides, subtle reverb… etc, things that are easy to miss on speakers. And I’ve found headphones are now my preferred way to work.
A lot of my work these days is remixing classic albums from the 70’s, 80’s and beyond, usually with the goal of creating a Dolby Atmos or 5.1 immersive / surround audio mix. My first task in doing any of these projects is to create a recreation of the stereo mix, and I’m very committed to getting as close as possible to all of the original mix decisions, down to EQ choices, stereo positioning, reverbs, volume rides… etc. This requires a forensic attention to detail, and working with the LCD-5s has revealed things that I might previously have missed, especially in terms of EQ choices and ambience around a particular instrument or element. The transparency and clarity of the headphone is really astounding, it’s given me a much great degree of accuracy in judging and recreating the sonic signature of these original mixes. This gives me the perfect starting point to go on to create the surround versions.
Unfortunately I can’t reveal any of the back catalogue albums I’ve been working on until the label and artist officially do so! But suffice to say some classics, usually for 30th, 40th or 50th anniversary editions of these albums. The increased profile of Dolby Atmos has led a lot more of these kind of projects, and a lot of them will be coming out throughout 2022. Unfortunately, I got the LCD-5s just too late to have been able to use them while I was mixing the forthcoming Porcupine Tree album last Summer, but I will definitely be using them for all my creative projects from now on.