Phil joined Leeds Beckett University in 2014, writing a PhD thesis which shares the secrets of his decades of success in producing ‘manufactured’ pop. His study, ‘Stay Another Day: A reflective and oral history of the culture and technology of the ‘manufactured’ pop and boy bands of the 1990s’, includes his tried-and-tested framework for the perfect pop songwriting and production team and 12-step mixing programme.
Reflecting on the ‘manufactured’ pop and boy band scene, Phil has written mainly about the 1990’s but also considers the current marketplace. He breaks down the technology of the recording studio of the 1990s and reflects on his ground-breaking work during that time.
“It’s been very inspiring to reflect on the work I did in the 1990s. Additionally, I have broken down and analysed some of the records I engineered, such as East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’, and it has been interesting to revisit them. I also break down the number one single, ‘Words’ by Boyzone, alongside the original 1960’s Bee Gees arrangement, to show what we did differently.”
The study includes interviews with some of the key players from the 1990s pop and boy band music scene, such as Tony Mortimer from East 17, the songwriters behind 911, boy band managers and a specialist pop journalist from the era. “The boy band explosion in the 90s was a phenomenon. The term ‘boy band’ didn’t really come into media use until this decade. People said you could have called Bros, the Bay City Rollers, or even the Sex Pistols, ‘boy bands’ when you looked back, as they were all manufactured bands. However, it was only in the 90s that the term really came about”.
Whilst studying at Leeds Beckett, Phil also shared his skills and experience with music students at the University, running masterclasses and lectures. Getting masters students at both Leeds Beckett and the University of Oslo to try out his methods and theories, Phil developed a new service model for pop music creativity and commerce.
Phil explained: “A music producer navigates a specific role in between the creative artist and the commercial industry and I have developed this into a new theory. Beginning in the 1980s, songwriter and production teams became very much established in the 1990s and have remained so ever since. For example, with acts from Boyzone to Katy Perry, when you look at their songwriting credits, there won’t just be one name but a whole team of songwriters. This might be a set of names or a production team name.”
Working with his production partner, Ian Curnow, at the Pete Waterman Entertainment (PWL) studios in the late 1980s, Phil began the groundwork for his service model idea, which begins with a team leader at the head of a flow chart. In P&E Music’s case (Phil and Ian's team at The Strongroom Studios in the 90s), this was manager Tom Watkins, who had previously managed the Pet Shop Boys and Bros. Phil then goes on to set out the ideal combination of team members for the perfect pop songwriting and production crew.
Phil has tested the framework and formula with student group projects to prove that it is a successful and repeatable model. He said: “The results have been really interesting. I set students the task of working in teams to write and produce a song. I set the tempo, arrangement and key, but each team produced a completely different result once human interaction came into play.”
12-step mixing programme
Working with undergraduate students at Leeds Beckett, Phil also shared and evaluated his ‘12 step mixing programme’, setting the students the task of using this in their own degree projects.
Phil said: “The programme is the reverse of what has been industry practice for a long time. Normally, you start by mixing the drums and work up to the vocals; however, my system starts with the vocals and works down to the drums – ‘top-down mixing’.”
Following the successful completion of his PhD, Phil is now officially Dr. Phil Harding and graduated in July 2017.
Phil said: “I am delighted to have been awarded my doctorate after three years of intense study and reflection. The experience as a postgraduate student at Leeds Beckett has been second-to-none, and I would especially like to thanks Professor Karl Spracklen and Dr Robert Davis of Leeds Beckett University for their guidance and supervision throughout. I feel that I’ve just started my research journey. I’ve now been presenting my service model theory at conferences and I have been motivated to continue with my research work.”