1: You have been on tour with so many legendary artists can you tell us about where your journey began?
Let me dust off the cobwebs!…so I started playing piano aged 7 and just fell in love with it straight away. Your journey as a musician when you’re learning is that you just fill all your free time practicing and honing your craft, not because you have to, but because you love it. That has continued ever since and today is no different, free time is always spent working on something that benefits your career in some way. It’s not always practicing your instrument, but the other things that go into being an experienced musician; studio knowledge, promotion, learning new songs for upcoming shows, etc.
I did pursue the more standard path of A-Levels and then a BA at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts but all the time I was studying I was simultaneously working as a musician in the real world as it were. So then post-study it was more a case of taking all that training, building on it, and putting it to good use.
I’d say most session musicians can look back and pick out a few people who have been key at opening doors for them which helped their career progress. For me, I was very lucky to have a helping hand from fellow Northerner Dave Tench, who just after I graduated from LIPA very kindly passed some bits of session work my way with Lily Allen, Natasha Bedingfield, and Unklejam. Even to this day, we try to pass each other work when we ourselves can’t do it, so these relationships are very important to cultivate. From those early days, it’s then a case of building a reputation for yourself and hoping that new doors continue to open.
My mantra has always been that it’s very hard to make a door open, it does take a spot of luck… but when that door opens, it is 100% in your control as to what you do with it. So grab it by both hands and show it no mercy!
2. What gig stands out the most?
The first thoughts that spring to mind are the gigs where you are performing an artist’s biggest hit. You’ve heard it 100’s times on TV/radio, but now you get to play THAT famous piano part with them and watch the audience’s reaction. There’s a huge pressure to do that part justice, and the adrenaline just heightens the enjoyment. Obvious choices would be Can’t Get You Out of My Head (Kylie), Angels (Robbie Williams), Bleeding Love (Leona Lewis), Gold (Spandau Ballet).
So I guess it’s not necessarily the venue that stands out, moreover what that performance means in the grand scheme of my career aspirations from when I was younger. That said, doing a show in the Kremlin for President Putin and the KGB is a hard one to beat for obscurity!
3. You run a successful session musicians agency and 10dB Music. Can you tell me more about those two?
I wouldn’t really describe it as a new venture, more of an expansion of existing services. The session agency generally just focusses on sourcing the best session musicians for an artist or studio session…whereas 10dB Music is more focussed on the studio itself.
As well as working as a musician, I often work as a studio mix engineer, so this is creating an umbrella to offer those services. I found that when working as a Musical Director, along with the sound engineer, you are essentially in charge of ensuring the sound that reaches people’s ears is exactly as the artist intended…so you subconsciously develop strong skills at mixing, tonal balancing, and arranging.
4. Most people don't know what a mix engineer is, can you explain to our readers what you guys do?
Making a record is generally broken down into different stages, usually in this order: writing, recording & production, mixing, mastering. The mix engineer is the person stepping in after all the recording is done, who will take that raw audio, working their magic to make it all gel together nicely. They help to make sure that all the individual parts bounce off each other in an exciting way but allowing space for each of those parts to shine when needed.
A mix engineer is responsible for making sure that an artist’s ideas are conveyed in the best possible way to the audience. Bass that makes you move, vocals that make you cry, drums that make you want to dance. It is so easy for this stage to be overlooked and special moments to be lost or clouded, so it is my job to make sure that doesn’t happen!
5. If you could only listen to one album on repeat, which album would it be?
Stevie Wonder – Songs In the Key of Life.
Ok, I cheated and made sure I choose a double-disc album!...but it really is the top of the tree for me. So many ingenious moments; musical parts buried deep down that you only start to notice on the 100th listen, lyrics that have fun, enjoyment but also deep meaning and of course grooves for days!
6. What tips would you give up and coming musicians/engineers entering the industry?
This one is simple – treat every job with the same level of respect and dedication to your craft, whether it is a huge named artist, or an as-of-yet unknown name. You never know what doors can be opened by the people you meet on that job, so it is important they only see the best of you, and you don’t give them any excuse to try somebody else next time around.
7. What really winds you up about the music industry?
COVID! Ok aside from that, it is probably that it can be quite fickle. Personnel can get changed at the drop of a hat, without much warning or explanation as to why. I don’t have a problem with people wanting to change personnel, it’s just that more often than not it happens in an underhand way, with no clear explanation to the person involved. They have usually sweated endlessly to do what is needed for that job, so I see it as my responsibility to at least be honest with people, they’ve earnt that respect. It’s all very nice to do the fun jobs of hiring people, but along with that comes the responsibility of doing the rubbish parts too.
8. Because of COVID everything has slowed down. How do you see the future panning out?
I think it is a very scary time for the industry as a whole. At the best of times, we are all used to dealing with uncertainty, but this is now happening on a whole new level. Of course, everyone still enjoys listening to music just as much as before, our only hope is that we are still able to deliver it to them – whether live or in recorded form. As an industry, we will weather the storm, but I do think there will be casualties along the way; venues that close down, tours that can’t afford to happen, musicians that can’t afford to wait for gigs to come back so they pursue a different career.
We are all trying to stay positive, but you have to accept there are days when that is very difficult to do. It’s ok to write that day off, wake up the next day and things can look more positive again.
9. What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
HURTS are currently starting to promote their new album which is really exciting. Their first single Voices is already released with more tracks to follow, so hopefully as soon as touring is allowed to happen we will be back on the road and all this will be behind us!
The plus side of the lockdown is that lots of people now know what it’s like to work in a recording studio…minimal daylight, long hours looking at screens, and restless nights worrying if it will all come together in the end! So I have been doing a lot of that recently, some exciting new music on the horizon but that’s all hush hush for now!
10. If you could make a dream super band, who would you pick?
Prince on all the instruments!
Ok so if that’s not possible then;
Prince: Vocals and Lead Guitar
Stevie Wonder: Rhodes/Clav
Matt Chamberlain: Drums
Stuart Zender: Bass
Nile Rodgers: Rhythm Guitar
Maceo Parker: Sax
Find out more about Pete Watson and 10db Music