MCTC Sound Arts
Multitrack Tape Composition
First-Things-First: Les Paul
- From nearby Waukesha, WI
- Inventor of the electric guitar (!)
- Built the first 8-track tape machine
- Home recording in the 1950s, before it was a thing
Watch the marked chapters (or the whole thing!)
Expanded Creative Studio Use
- Rock/pop artists began to participate more in the studio process (The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, others)
- A move towards composing with the studio in mind, as opposed to capturing live performance
- Producers and engineers become more involved creative partners
- Increased amount of specialized equipment made with the studio in mind (reverbs, compressors, synthesizers)
- From 4- to 16-track tape machines in less than 20 years
The Role of the Producer
The producer's job is ultimately responsible for getting the recording made and delivered, to the record label and artist's satisfaction. They receive songs from writers, create arrangements, determine instrumentation, book musicians, and help make choices about what will be included or excluded from an album.
During the 1960s, the role of the producer expanded considerably, and some began to take on more power in the recording process. Although his musical productions were decidedly commercial, Mitch Miller was one of those producers.
The epitome of the producer-in-control was Phil Spector. Since it was uncommon for artists to write their own material at this time, Spector took almost complete control of the production, often sharing writing credits with the songwriters. His production decisions shaped the identity of the song, even more than the writers.
- John Lennon–Rhythm guitar, vocals, songwriter
- Paul McCartney–Bass, vocals, songwriter
- George Harrison–Lead guitar, backing vocals, occasional songwriter
- Ringo Starr–Drums
- George Martin–Producer
- Geoff Emerick–Primary engineer (1966-1969)
Memorize this– it's on the test!
From Howard Goodall's 20th Century Greats. Complete video also available
The Importance of George Martin
George Martin's contributions to The Beatles' finished product is inestimable. Remember that The Beatles were creative minds, not technical ones. Martin's background was as a classical music producer, and he would suggest using some of those instruments when they were looking for new sounds.
But The Beatles were not from that musical world, and that was a barrier. Most classical musicians are not comfortable improvising or taking verbal instructions; and The Beatles couldn't read music notation.
George Martin acted as the 'glue' to get the arrangements done. He could read music, and so communicated with both the classical musicians and The Beatles in their own languages.
Strawberry Fields Forever
This clip also discusses the track A Day in the Life– another multitrack masterpiece, available in the optional listening on D2L.
Engineers as Problem-Solvers
While The Beatles were interested in creative use of the studio, when it came to the technology they were "idea guys" more than hands-on engineers. They came with certain abstract images, feelings, and arrangement ideas, and it was up to Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick to invent a way to actually execute them (usually very quickly). The Beatles are a key example of the importance of collaboration between artist and technician.
Tomorrow Never Knows
First, listen to Tomorrow Never Know (1966) on D2L. Then view...
Read the chapter from Geoff Emerick's autobiography on D2L for his experience making Tomorrow Never Knows on his first day of work, when he was 19!
Multitrack Tape Composition