Phil’s spin on pop earns a PhD

Phil Harding with his PhD
Phil Harding with his PhD

Phil Harding produced some of the best known hits of the 1990s but has now had success after swapping a sound mixing desk for a writing one.

The man behind the sounds of bands including East 17, Kylie Minogue, Boyzone and Rick Astley, has received his doctorate from Leeds Beckett University.

Phil Harding in the 1990s Photo by Stan Shaffer

Phil Harding in the 1990s Photo by Stan Shaffer

Phil, who lives in Bury St Edmunds, began his music career at 16, in London’s Marquee Studios, engineering for bands including The Clash .

He went on to join the legendary Stock, Aitken and Waterman production team in the 1980s and 1990s, engineering and mixing their first number one single, Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round’.

Phil produced many of the biggest pop hits of the 1990s, with everyone from Bananarama to the Pet Shop Boys, Jason Donovan, Mel and Kim, Erasure and Sinitta.

He joined Leeds Beckett University in 2014, writing a PhD thesis which shares the secrets of his 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 framework for the perfect songwriting and production team and 12-step mixing programme.

He said: “It’s been 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 1960s Bee Gees arrangement, to show what we did differently.”

The study includes interviews with some of the key players from the 1990s pop music scene,.

While studying at Leeds, Phil also shared his skills with music students, running masterclasses and lectures.

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’.”

Phil continues to work as a music producer with PJS Productions.