Production Techniques used by The Beatles producer George Martin

Nothing will quite change the trajectory of a band's music, and career,  like a great producer.   This can be seen with Radiohead after teaming up with Nigel Godrich for OK Computer,  and with a slightly less positive but even more tidal shifting collaboration of Mutt Lange and Shania Twain(which ruined country music forever more.)  Then there is Dr. Dre.  and the list especially in Hip Hop, Rap, and R&B goes on and on and on.   However, one relationship stands out above all others: 

The classically trained producer George Martin teaming up with the rock and roll band The Beatles in 1963, producing every Beatles recording from "Love me Do" the first single released to "Abbey Road" - the last album that The Beatles recorded (With the exception of Phil Spector's post production on the Let It Be album).   Martin recorded the first album stereo in eleven hours beginning his legacy as the fifth Beatle.  I would venture to say that without Martin's orchestral arrangements, instrumentation choices and the general use of the medium of recording, The Beatles would have just been a British Band imitating the music of American artists like Buddy Holly.    So where better to look for inspiration than this very fruitful relationship?

What techniques were used to attain the sound ?(miking, mixing, etc.) 

Tips from Geoff Emerick the engineer
Geoff sees audio as color, high treble as blues and silvers, with treble being green,  and bass as browns and golds.  He also chooses to place a small amount of EQ in the recording chain before going down to tape when multi-tracking.

Separation is really important  for the purposes of presence.

Tracking should start with the rhythm track  and he generally won't mike the hi hat unless its a featured part because there will be enough in the snare and overheads.   He also doesn't like taking a direct in from the bass because he sees it as lazy and prefers hearing the interaction between the bass and rhythm guitar.  In the studio he would also record piano stereo and add leads later.  It's best to go for a great performance here than to worry about perfection with the exception of really bad mistakes.

Next overdub a guide vocal to show where to fill in the instrumental overdubs and in the end re-record the final and harmony vocals, double tracked,  if you want orchestral overdubs do that also.

Tips From George on being a producer.
Diplomacy is your first requirement to be a record producer the second is good judgment.   He believes in a firm rapport  but questions his place in actually shaping the song.  but also feels that every one needs to listen to another voice to question and strengthen the creative process

Its up to the record producer to figure out before hand how the recording will go.  It is good to know:
     The arrangement and if there will be orchestra.
     If you want to get people together and the studio and play heads. 
     How many tracks are going down. 

Martin likes the separate roles of Engineer and Producer. 

You must be able to know how far you can go creating the sound you are looking for with out making it muddy or having your sounds run together.  The most important part is that the voice be heard and the song must have a clear interpretation 

Be careful not to take out to much or mix too mechanically when using multi-tracks and close miking techniques

Multi-tracks are a blessing from god, but coming from a limited background where you are mixing from one four track down to another to get more tracks gives you a great sense of forward thought to not get serious degredation problems.

Sequencing is important also once every thing is recorded. Figure out the best order for the songs to be played in to create interest in the listener.  Allow the whole thing to flow together well to sustain that interest then leave them feeling amazing with a last track.  Be conscious of the silence as well. 

Another important ability of a producer is getting inside of the artists head to understand their desire Mcartney was always very definite in his ideas and came up with most of the creative ideas
Lennon didn't like dealing with detail and bringing his ideas to fruition and he wasn't easy to please.  George referred to working with John as an archeological dig.

Example pieces

Yesterday - 1965 Paul recorded his vocal in two takes to his own guitar accompaniment.  George Martin offered the suggestion to add strings and with that Martin's relationship with the beatles began. 

In my Life -1965 George Martin played a piano solo in the middle of the track and then sped it up to twice the speed, acheiveing a baroque sound.  This was the first time that the beatles used tape manipulation to create a special effect

Strawberry Fields Forever -  used tape speed to make the George Martin string and brass composition be in the same key as  John lennon's original song which were then merged together to create the song starting with johns intro and ending with the orchestrated part.

Tommorow Never Knows -  John Lennon wanted a chorus of a thousand Tibetin monks chanting from a mountain top.  Lennon didn't like the sound of his voice and wanted the words but not him to be heard. Martin rose to this challenge by sending Lennon's voice through a revolving leslie speaker.

All you need is Love -  for the world wide live broadcast entitled "Our world"  the Beatles were chosen to represent Great Britain.  george martin played the basic rhythm track through a four track machine while the fab four  overdubed vocals and instruments live with an orchestra playing martins score which started out with  La Marsellaise, the french national anthem,  and closes hinting at Bach's Greensleeves  and glen miller's  in the mood

I am the Walrus - 1967- parts of Shakespear's  King Lear are being fed in from a live radio broadcast during the mix session

A Day in the LIfe - 1967- Paul suggested that there be a 24 bar section of a orchestra gone wrong.  Martin asked each of the forty members of the orchestra  to start on a predecided note and ascend to the highest note that their instrument could play starting softly and finishing loudly playing seperately from their neighbors.  They recorded it four times onto four tracks of a four track tape.

Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite - 1967- always had the spirit of an appropriation piece.  John took the lyrics almost directly   from a victorian promotion poster printed in 1843 for Pablo Franque's Circus Royal.  John initially wanted a hand opperated steam organ but couldn't find one George Martins fix was to compile a tape of steam organ recordings from  sousa marches and othe circusy sounding tracks.  then he had Geoff Emmerick to cut the tape into about sixty foot long pieces and then toss them into the air and reassemble them at random.  George Martin "any that sounded too much like original were turned around and added backwards until finally I arived at a whole amalgam of carousel noies which we used as a background 'wash' to give the impression of a circus"   for the swooping swirly sound that john wanted organ sounds had john play the organ part on one piano at half speed and an octave lower sow that Martin could play chomatic runs fast enough to get the desired effect when the tape was sped up.
 With all of that John had the swirly circus sound that he  was looking for.

George said of production, (from eleven hour records to three week records to records that take years)"What's most important is that a recording have soul.  It must lift the emotions of the listener and come from the heart."

Martin G.  (1983)Record Production.  G. Martin.  Making Music,  New York,  N.Y.  William Morrow and Company (257 - 265).

Emerick G.  (1983) Recording Techniques.  G. Martin.  Making Music,  New York,  N.Y.  William Morrow and Company (257 - 265).

1 comment:

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