Ben Wilde has an impressive resume. At the age of 25 he is director of his own audio business with a solid reputation in the music industry, and a client list ranging from Take That to the Arctic Monkeys, and even PJ Harvey.
Hailing from Sheffield, for the first large portion of his career he was entirely self-taught, having been in and out of studios since the age of thirteen. Indeed, Sheffield was an ideal place to start, with recording studios lining every corner.
It wasn’t until Ben moved to Perth though, initially to be closer to family, that Sound Sauce became what it is now. Enrolling onto the third year of Perth College’s Audio Engineering course, he met many of his fellow collaborators at Sound Sauce here, including fellow director, Michaelangelo, who he describes as an “incredibly talented, creative soul”.
I got the chance to sit down with Ben and speak with him about his career, forging his own way, and Perth’s burgeoning creative scene.
What is your business, Sound Sauce all about?
“Sound Sauce is one of the UK’s leading mixing and mastering studios. When a piece of music is recorded I think a lot of people don’t know what happens to it between it being written and being played on Spotify. What we do are generally the most intensive and pivotal parts of the process. Recorded music tends to be in a very rough form and my team and I hone that down, and polish and balance it. Turn it into a commercial record, basically.
Music is a four dimensional thing: you have time, depth, emotion and feeling. The mixing process is mostly about finding balance, but our aim is also to create a physical reaction with music. If the music isn’t making you do something with your hands and feet, it’s not really effective. Often there’s a great song, or a great performance but there’s something getting in the way technically, or in terms of the sound.
When studios first started to pop up they used to build their own stuff and commission custom pieces of equipment. And that’s generally not done anymore. As I’m a software developer and engineer, most of the equipment we use in house is developed by us. We can do a lot of things that not a lot of people can do. Sound Sauce literally sounds like nobody else – in a good way!
We mix traditional ways of doing things with modernity. We’re modern and tech driven, while being grounded in musical heritage and tradition. We spend a lot more time than most recording studios Skyping and meeting with our clients if we can, because getting things exactly right is what we stand for.”
We mix traditional ways of doing things with modernity. We’re modern and tech driven, while being grounded in musical heritage and tradition.
Where did your interest in music begin, and how did you get started in this industry?
“I always trace my interest in music back to a couple of little moments. When I was 7 or 8 – my parents were 80’s/90’s ravers – I grew up with house music and techno in the house. People maybe don’t realise they love music at that age. You’re not really that self-aware. My parents bought me this toy – like a DJ Deck that made noises and played children’s versions of Outkast and stuff. It was just really good fun, and a little bit rubbish. You couldn’t play a song on it, but I just really loved it.
Later on I started getting into keyboard and piano, this guy came into school who was a drummer and so I had a go on the drums. I had this obsession with making stuff, with Play-Doh or drawing all the time. I realised fairly early on that music was something that I could make that I was actually quite good at. And that there were no limits. I don’t know if music was meant for me or if the right things happened at the right time. As a teenager I assumed, ‘I love music now but I probably won’t end up doing it’ - I could have easily ended up not doing it.
I was a DJ and had my own club night by the age of 17. My DJ-ing nights were a mixture of drum and bass and heavy industrial techno. A weird mix but my DJ-ing partner and I made it work. After someone heard my set I was invited by producer Carl Cox to be a resident DJ at Space, the biggest nightclub in Ibiza. I was there for six weeks - I don’t remember any of it but I’m assuming I had a great time – I’m too old for that now, though!
I started my first studio of my own about four years ago in Dorset and I really, really enjoy the business side of it. I’ve tried doing a few things in my life and music is just me. It’s a balance of creativity and the technical.”
Would you say it was a natural progression going from DJ’ing to starting your own business in the audio industry?
“I’ve always loved setting things up. There’s got to be a point where you start thinking about the future and how what you love doing becomes something that is sustainable. And if it isn’t sustainable then it’s a hobby. But for me, I found that it didn’t just have to be a hobby. That this could be viable.
When I first started my business I had help from Princes Trust. They assigned a mentor to me, Paul Stephenson who was at the time the CEO of Naim Audio, the biggest and most successful premium hi-fi manufacturer in the world. I also regularly Skyped with the marketing director for Proctor and Gamble at the time, who they put me in touch with.
I think people don’t think very much about what they do, and the skills they have and how they can easily become something amazing that they can make a business from. I think just that little bit of guidance, knowledge and a bit of a push can make it go.
It’s great that your business is creating opportunities as there is so much creative potential in Perth and particularly within young people. As you said, half of your team studied at Perth College.
Definitely. Myself and a friend are actually in the process of setting up a project that’s designed to give people the same sort of path and the same sort of help that I had. I think mentoring is such a big deal. It’s all about mindset and people realising that there is no difference between them and Simon Cowell, or whatever artists, designers, photographers or filmmakers they love. But it’s really hard to see the path from where you are to where you want to be sometimes.
It’s really hard to see the path from where you are to where you want to be sometimes.This project is going to be about mentoring and creating the resources to help young people in Perth who have creativity, or skill, or a talent or an idea, and helping them find the right path. It would be a free service. We are going to be reaching out to a lot of great creative business-people around the area, and matching people up with mentors.”
Have you found Perth’s music scene beneficial to the work you do at Sound Sauce?
“Perth is the ideal place for my business right now. Some businesses require a big city - I think if you start a business in a very big city it can be very difficult to get to the top. Right now in Perth there’s a real opportunity for people to really emerge, to really break out and in larger cities you can’t really do that. It’s very difficult – it’s a big pond and you’re a very small fish. I don’t want to call Perth a small pond because there’s some amazing worthwhile stuff going on here. It’s just that people here are so friendly and so open.
We’re trying to get into collaborating with local music artists now. Our clients are very international. Right now we’re working with someone in L.A, we’ve got a project coming up with someone in India, we worked recently with someone in Africa as well. We do want to get much more engaged and involved in local music competitions – Scottish based ones and reaching out more to local bands – I’ve reached out to a few already who I believe have potential. I’ve heard Tayside being described as the area with the best new music in Scotland.
When I was moving up to Perth a lot of people were like, ‘It’s a small city, right?’. I’ve come to realise that the driving thing with Perth is the potential. There’s a lot of young talent, creativity and skill and it’s really just about showing people that that can become something amazing. There’s really no difference between a great band in Perth and a great band in Glasgow.”
Tell me about working and meeting with acts such as Take That and Arctic Monkeys. What is that like?
“To be honest there are certain things that I just chalk up to being in the right place, at the right time. The first studio job I had I wasn’t being paid or anything but that’s often how it is in this industry. With Take That, I was in a legendary studio in Sheffield on a regular day but they were needing somebody more permanent at the time. So I ended up there for a whole year, working with names like Geri Haliwell. I did an album with PJ Harvey too at a different studio - that was one of the greatest projects I've worked on. It’s such fun when there's creativity flowing.
People often have these big experiences in their lives – the people I’ve worked with, the studios I’ve worked in – for me it’s just life. It’s just what happened and I forget there’s something actually quite amazing about some of these things. I think it comes from being so close to things – you’ve got to take a step back sometimes and appreciate it because it’s easy to just be self-critical.”
It is easy to be overly self-critical when you’re doing something creative.
“That’s the really important thing about having someone who can hold you accountable to yourself. Someone who offers an outside perspective. It might sound silly but my mum is so important to my business because she keeps things grounded, and helps me see what amazing things I’m doing with my life right now.
Different people in your life have different roles. My boyfriend Danny, who is a classical cellist in an orchestra, and is a business person, offers a very different perspective to my mum. He helps me realise that some of my ideas may be a bit too big for what I’m able to do right now! It’s a balance.
The driving thing with Perth is the potential. There’s a lot of young talent, creativity and skill and it’s really just about showing people that that can become something amazing.
He listens to everything I work on and hears things from an entirely non-technical point of view – all he cares about is, ‘Is this a good song, or not?’. He’ll tell me about any issues, he’ll say ‘It’s kind of boring’ or ‘I don’t really think anything of it’ and then I’ll know I’ll need to do something more interesting and creative with this. I’m so into the music; I’ll have been working on a track for six hours and I can only hear the tiny, delicate details. He’s able to answer: ‘Does this actually make me feel good?’. It’s important to have that: whether it’s a mentor or a colleague or a friend, or a parent.”
Can you tell me about a project in particular you’ve worked on, that stands out to you?
“The single ‘These Days’ by Take That. It’s not the thing that I enjoy the most to listen to, but it was the most satisfying project to work on. When something just clicks at some point and you know this is a killer track, there’s a realisation that this is going to do really, really well. And it did, it sold half a million copies.”
There is a quote by Björk where she says, “I find it amazing when people tell me that electronic music has no soul. You can’t blame the computer – if there’s no soul in the music, it’s because nobody put it there.” As an avid techno fan, and someone who also works with the technical side of music, what would you say to this?
“I have this fight with people all the time! I think in some ways there's more soul in techno music; that it’s all about incredibly subtle changes. It's all about subtlety between the sections - that's the beauty of it. That's just for me - some people just listen to it and say oh yeah, I can dance to this. When I'm at a club, I'm at the back just sort of listening to the way things move and switch around.”
What are your plans for the future?
“One of my biggest focuses right now is creating satellite studios. Sometimes I’m booked up for six months and I can’t take anyone on. So I’m collaborating with a bunch of other studios in the U.K. – it’s really important to build a team.
At one point I want to be fairly hands off and taking more of a management role, where I’m not so involved in the music - apart from some of the really big projects. I love travelling, spending time with my family, and it’s just getting myself to that point. And honestly, six months to a year I’ll be able to do that. Almost a semi-retirement at 26.
We’re all freelancers at Sound Sauce and we’re all trying to turn our hobby and our passion into something that can work for us, for our future. On different levels, but we’re all trying to do that.
I want to encourage and motivate people – I want them to use the resources that I’m creating. I may not be in Perth forever, but I want to set some stuff up here and be a part of what I see as the creative scene here growing.”
Ben will be releasing more details on his mentoring scheme for young creatives in Perth in the near future. To keep up to date with this, make sure to like Sound Sauce on Facebook, and subscribe to our Small City newsletter for future updates on this!
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