Time+Space customer Steven Williams owns The Chapel Studios in Wimbledon, London offering a variety of services from production, recording, mixing and mastering commercial release hits to voice-overs and overdubbing as well as soundtrack composition for film and TV. Knowing that Spectrasonics and Synthogy software features amongst The Chapel Studios’ extensive equipment list, we got in touch with Steve to find out more…
Hi Steve, first up, how and when did you originally get into music?
Wow, that was some time ago. My dad said I had to play an instrument and I said I wanted to play the drums. He said, I can’t get you a drum teacher so you’re going to have to play the piano. So having given me a choice, he then took it away and said I had to play the piano, so I played the piano first. He then brought a drum kit home for me, four years later. So I loved the drum kit and played that as well as the piano.
When I was 18 I went to the Royal Academy of Music and studied Orchestral Percussion there for three years. I then stayed on to study Jazz for a further year. Following this I went to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and studied Jazz there for another year as a postgraduate. I then left and went into the big wide world of session drumming, I toured with Midge Ure, recorded on a couple of albums with him and then went on tour with lots of other artists.
You opened ‘The Chapel Studios’ in 2004, how did that come about?
Well, I had several studios before where I’d owned the buildings. I basically decided to sell the two I owned and to buy another property. I built a new recording studio on the land that I bought there, so that I didn’t really have to pay much ground rent.
I designed the building, it’s a room within a room construction. It has a big live area which also houses the desk and there are two booths. There are lots of combinations of different recording situations available. It took about 11 months to build and treat acoustically. It’s not much of a story really, but the guy who helped me to design and build it also helped build Sarm West Studios. So it’s actually quite amazing, the sound is just stupendous. It’s the best environment I’ve ever mixed in, it’s very comfortable.
What clients have you worked with and in what capacity?
Gary Barlow – Programmer, performer, live
Chrissie Hynde – Co producer recording, programmer
Sting – Producer remixes, programming, performing, and recording
Lisa Stansfield – Musical Director, programmer, performer, recording, live
Rolling Stones – Mix engineer, recording
Eric Clapton – Recording, performer
Human League – Programmer, recording, performer, live
London Symphony Orchestra – Programmer, recording
And many more including Nigel Kennedy, Seal, David Attenborough, Paul Young, Jason Donovan, Roxette, Michael Ball, to name just a very few.
You know what, anything that I write for myself or perform by myself, will always be my proudest. I always feel more satisfied with these than anything else simply because it’s essentially me and I’m a very honest writer. I write from deep within about my thoughts and my opinions in a manner which is extremely involved in my own psyche. For example ‘Venus’ and ‘Metronica’ are two tracks which I wrote and produced, these are both available on iTunes, so it’s an odd answer.
Tell us about your studio set-up – what are the key pieces of gear in there?
The SSL Duality is the key piece of gear, it’s absolutely amazing, its sound is pristine and it’s very responsive to you when you get to work it and use it as an instrument, that’s the best piece. I recently bought a Neve 33609 compressor which is outstanding as a mix buss compressor and also a Massive Passive EQ, that is fabulous, very silky and also hard when you want it to be. I also have some 1176’s which are amazing and some distressors, my U87s for vocals are fabulous. I have 4081 and 1073 preamps as well as SSL super analogue and API 3124 preamps which are all incredible, especially applying them in different contexts.
I also use a Prism ADA-8XR, which is excellent as are the Eventide H8000 and the outboard Bricasti’s. I can’t do without the Bricasti reverbs, they’re just fantastic. I have ProTools HDX 2, you can get an unbelievable sound from that. I use Lowden Acoustic guitars where I have a couple in the studios for artists to use, each with its own gorgeous tone. They seem to sing through when recording.
Which host/sequencer do you use and why?
I use ProTools 10, it is the industry standard and it’s the best piece of software I’ve ever used. I used to use Logic but I switched over and found it so easy and pleasant on the eye, it leaves you a lot of room to think creatively. I feel that other sequencers, Logic in particular, tended to be a bit cramped and make me think too technically and not creative enough.
Moving onto plugins and virtual instruments, which do you rely on most frequently?
I used to rely on an MD3, which is from TC Electronic, but that’s not AAX compatible with the HDX system for ProTools 10. I’m now using an ML4000 which is a McDSP mix buss compressor which is amazing. I love their EQs too especially to automate sweeps etc. There’s also a Brainworx mix buss MS/Stereo widener which is very nice just to add at the end of the chain.
I use the Oxford ‘Limiter’ and the ‘Inflator’ on the mix buss occasionally as well as the 2007 Mastering Limiter from Massey. All these things go together to make, in the right context, a great mix buss. I tend to use the desk for track compression and EQ, but I do use the H3000 Eventide plugin for effects. I used to use the Echofarm delay all the time but that’s not AAX compatible so now I’m mostly using the SoundToys Echo Boy delay. I use my outboard reverb effects as much as possible and the H8000 for other kinds of effects and delays. Flux plug ins are fabulous as are the Fab Filter set. iZotope have a superb range too, where I like Ozone and Alloy 2.
The virtual instruments I use most are Trilian, which is just outstanding for bass – all the sounds are there, and Omnisphere, and when I need drums, I use Stylus. It’s all Spectrasonics actually, they’re my favourite. I also love the Synthogy Ivory, incredible pianos, as well as the East West piano, which is outstanding as well.
I always use Native Instruments sampler Kontakt, which is so flexible and intuitive to use. PSP have some excellent plugins too and Steven Slate has so many interesting plugins especially Trigger, the drum replacement software.
I love the way that you can adapt the huge choice of sounds and the way that they are catalogued, that’s really important, so that you can choose the type of sound you want. It will even give you some suggestions and you can find your sound so much quicker because of this cataloguing and the editing facilities within each them. I’m not so bothered about the extra effects that you can add because I generally use external effects processing or plug ins.
I usually use the catalogue instruments, whether it’s a glassy pad, a warm pad or some kind of funky sound or a specific kind of bass type sound, it’s always good to use something new. I wouldn’t try to put the same sound in a mix unless it was suited so that each production sound more original.
I edit and customise the sounds a lot, I listen to what’s needed within the context of the track and adjust it accordingly and so I’m very au fait with the editing controls within each of these plugins.
Synthogy’s virtual pianos also feature in your set-up including the latest release – American Concert D. What are your impressions of this piano so far, particularly in comparison with the other Ivory pianos?
I think the American D is outstanding, Steinways tend to suit many different styles and genres. In comparison with the other Ivory Pianos it just seems a little fuller, more apparent and can cut through the mix if necessary but it’s also outstanding on its own, so as a solo instrument it’s quite a force.
Of all the Ivory pianos, which is your favourite and why?
My favourite is the Steinway D, however the Bosendorfer is also fabulous because it’s brighter and definitely cuts though the mix and can have a bit more energy to it. I also find the Bechstein very useable for the same reasons as the Bosendorfer.
There’s a track I wrote called ‘Fabian’ which is just piano and voice. I’ve just recently finished producing a couple of tracks with a band called All of Winter who are fabulous, they’re incredible. One of the tracks is called ‘Honest Side’ and that features the Bosendorfer from the Ivory Selection. Turnstile by Vegar Neset is another production I did featuring the Ivory Steinway, sounds beautiful.
Finally, what have you got coming up this year – any big projects you can talk about?
Well unfortunately I can’t talk about any projects in detail, sorry. I’ve probably got some more work with All of Winter, something with Geoff Smith album – he’s amazing, I’ve just finished mixing a Columbian album from an artist called Julius who’s very big in Columbia and I’m doing some 5.1 mixing with him too, probably for the rest of the album.
The trouble with famous people is that they don’t want you to talking about their sessions when they’re in the studio. Not good for business to be seen as untrustworthy. You can also end up with fans turning up outside the studio.
Thanks for your time Steve.