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Thursday, September 10, 2009

5 Recording Innovations By The Beatles

Since it's Beatles week, here are some interesting facts about their recording methods and the innovations that they (mostly engineer Geoff Emerick) introduced that are commonplace today.
  • Multi-miking drums. Until Emerick began to experiment, the drum kit was picked up by a maximum of two mics - one on kick drum and the other as an overhead above the snare. In order to get a bigger drum sound, Emerick introduced a mic on each drum as well as one underneath the snare.
  • Close-miking instruments. Once again, in order to get a different, fuller sound, Emerick violated the EMI standards of distance miking each instrument. Surprisingly, he almost got fired for this practice except for the great power of The Beatles. Emerick close-miked all sorts of instruments to the horror of the suited EMI execs, from drums to amps to brass to strings to Indian instruments. Of course, this is a practice that we take for granted today.
  • Padding on drums. A lot of the sound of the later Beatle records came from the fact that Ringo put light "tea towels" across the drums as well as a sweater inside the kick drum at the behest of Emerick to dampen the ring. While the towels never caught on, kick drums are routinely stuffed with all sorts of soft material today, and for a time during the late 70's and 80's, a wallet taped to the snare drum (which you can consider another version of the towel) was pretty routine as well.
  • Using a speaker as a transducer. A speaker and a microphone are basically the same thing - a transducer - except that they're designed for different jobs. With Paul McCartney always asking for more bass, Emerick got the idea of using a speaker as a microphone and it worked great, as can be heard on "Paperback Writer" and "Rain". Today, an 8 inch NS-10 speaker has become pretty standard for capturing the extreme bottom of a kick drum, but it took about 40 years after Emerick's experiment to become a standard.
  • Vocal double-tracking. This is more of a George Martin trick to cover up an iffy vocal track, but the boys (especially John Lennon) loved it so much that they used it whenever they could to make the vocal sound bigger. The Beatles might not have been the first to do this, but their influence was so strong that double tracking has become a standard procedure for generations of vocalists and their producers.
As you can see, not only was The Beatles music perhaps the peak point of pop music during the last century, but they influenced everything from fashion to the sound of records for decades to come. With the release of their remastered albums, it will be a lot easier to hear and study those sounds and techniques for a long time.

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