Tuesday, July 04, 2006

SteveAudio on The Beatles

Steve Audio's been around here some, and around Eschaton, but I admit I haven't looked too much into his stuff until recently. Apologies all around. But he's One of Us, no question. This is from hisHuffington Post piece "The Beatles Changed Everything."

1. Prior to the Beatles, and during a large part of their music output, artists recorded where record labels dictated. Labels all owned their own studios, including one of the most famous, Capitol Studios, where I worked for 5 years. And EMI, Capitol's parent company since the '50s, also had several studios in England, in the London Area, specifically, including one called Abbey Road. I'm sure the conversation went something like this: "All right then, lads, lets go 'round to Abbey Road, and make an album this afternoon."

By the end of their recording career, the lads had broken that hold, and were recording anywhere they wanted, even at some of the independent studios not affiliated with record labels.

Today, every band enjoys that freedom.

2. Prior to the Beatles, artists recorded when record labels dictated. Sessions were 3 hour blocks, called 'singles'. And for pop music, being recorded on only 3 or 4 tracks at that time, the single was enough time to lay down, at the very least, one 'single' side, or song (one side of a 45 rpm single.) In many cases, with good pre-production and session players, 2 or 3 songs would be finished in a single session.

Sessions ran roughly 10AM-1PM, 2PM-5PM, and 6PM-9PM. The Beatles broke down both of those walls in several ways. First, after their initial success, they started their sessions whenever the hell they wanted, including midnight, if that was their mood. And as the music got more experimental, and complex, and as more drugs were ingested, the sessions became longer, and longer, and longer. And that meant hours of recording, re-recording, and mixing for a single song. Was EMI freaked by this extravagance? Yes, but, as long as the records continued to sell, they agreed. Hell, these were The Beatles, who was gonna tell them no?

Today, most artists enjoy these freedoms.

3. Prior to the Beatles artists recorded with whom record labels dictated. EMI matched The Beatles with George Martin, which would have seemed completely insane, considering that the classically trained Martin's prior work was largely with comedy recorded acts, in other words, someone working a non-emotionally connected day gig. He largely hated pop music, and only agreed to work with the lads because...wait for it...IT WAS HIS JOB! He had no choice! "Right, George, we think these boys might have something unique, see if you can polish it up a bit." "Uh, righto, then, boss."

Engineers at that time were on staff at studio. You worked with whatever engineer the studio assigned, sometimes even different engineers on the same song from day to day.The Beatles were lucky enough to have some continuity, working initially with Norman 'Hurricane' Smith, and later with Geoff Emerick (worked with him, very nice man, still really loves to work, recently produced/mixed Nellie McKay-check her out). And by this time, they had enough clout to take the engineers with them when they worked at outside studios, which previously was not allowed.

Today, only smaller owner-operator studios have staff engineers. Major studios have Assistant Engineers, who work with the independent free-lance engineers that are hired by directly by the artists. And today, while the label still initially has most of the say in who the producer is, successful artists choose whatever producer they want.

Also, keep in mind that many classic pop/rock records had very few of the actual band playing. Virtually all the Beach Boys records used the famous "Wrecking Crew" of famous studio musicians, many of whom played on records considered epiphonal by such other artists like The Byrds, etc. The Beatles used a session drummer or two in the very beginning, and brought in musicians for instruments that were out of their experience, like trumpet, etc, but otherwise, they played damn near all the isntrument, snd sang all the parts.

All artists today enjoy these freedoms.

It goes on like this, but I think you can see where he's going here.

I grow impatient with those who sneer at the Beatles because they weren't the Rolling Stones or the Kinks or whatever. No, they weren't. They were doing something different and, in many ways, more important and more groundbreaking. They broke ground for others, and it's just snotty adolescent anxiety-of-influence stuff to dismiss that contribution. As SteveAudio notes, they changed everything.

Thanks, SteveAudio.

(For more ruminations on music and politics, and often both, here's Steve at HuffPo. *mwah!* And don't miss his ongoing correspondence with David Horowitz in the first link in this post.)

1 comment:

SteveAudio said...

Thanks for the shout-out (as the kids say)!