Posts Tagged ‘Beatles remastered’

A year in the life

January 4, 2010

This month marks the one-year anniversary for this odd little blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed stopping by half as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and linking.

If you’re new around here, MusicForMedia exists to explore the creation and use of music, especially in multimedia platforms like video and interactive web applications. And because I’m a Beatles freak, I find time to work in some Fab Four content pretty regularly. (And last year’s developments in Beatledom made that quite easy!).

We started small last January, with a bare handful of readers those first few days. But I’m happy to say that a few more people started dropping by. By year’s end more we had more than 75,000 visits.

The most popular post, by far, was my piece on the anniversary of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, which itself attracted more than 35,000 views. The post included the memories of Beatles’ Grammy-winning sound engineer, Geoff Emerick. I used the piece to argue that Abbey Road was the finest pop/rock album ever made.

Drawing a combined 10,000 views were two posts about the release of the remastered versions of the Beatles catalog.

Also popular was my initial post about my song, “Copy Editor’s Lament (The Layoff Song).” The power-pop ditty laments the state of print journalism today through the eyes of a laid-off copy editor. (You can see the recent video here.) Also, my reviews of music products by Cakewalk, IK Multimedia and other companies drew significant traffic.

So what lies ahead in the new year?

Well I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the latest news on music and its uses. I’ll continue to review products that can help you create or manipulate music and audio. I’ll share occasional tales about my own music-making adventures. And, of course, I will continue to write about the Beatles, as there’s no shame in revisiting the world’s best popular music now and again.

What would you like to read about in 2010?

Beatles to release music on USB drive, vinyl

November 3, 2009

appleThe Beatles’ Apple Corps and EMI announced today that they would release all the group’s remastered stereo albums on a special, apple-shaped USB drive. Interesting move… wonder if people who passed on the CDs will be tempted to purchase this. The music will be saved as 24-bit files — higher quality than CD — as well as .MP3 files, which are actually lower quality than CD.

Also, according to Mojo, it appears the remastered music will be available on vinyl, too. Woohoo!

Happy Beatles Day!

September 9, 2009
Apple Corps Ltd. 2009

Apple Corps Ltd. 2009

It’s finally here – 9/9/9 – the day the remasters and Beatles Rock Band are released. Apple Corp. also has revamped the Beatles website, which features this pretty amazing video. Check it out!

I am particularly impressed with the first few moments, which features the Beatles and the famous Abbey Road crossing mingling with modern folks. It’s almost unnerving to see John so alive, and I swear George is inspecting the Rock Band version of his Gretch guitar.

Beatles remasters: Engineer’s goal was to get back

September 7, 2009

Here is the story on the Beatles remaster project I wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com. If you’ve read my previous blog posts on the subject, you’ll recognize this as a much tighter take. It includes interviews with Abbey Road engineer Allan Rouse, the head of the four-year remastering project, as well as Geoff Emerick, the original balance engineer on Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s and Abbey Road.

You can also find by clicking above a quick guide to some of the differences between the mono and the stereo tracks. For those of you wondering which to purchase, I hope this helps. I reproduce it below:

BEATLES IN MONO

Wednesday’s release of the mono Beatles mixes allows fans to hear the mix that, in most cases, the band itself worked on. These mixes sometimes include sounds that aren’t on the stereo versions. For example:

• From “Revolver”: The liquid, buzzing, backward guitar starts early, when John Lennon sings “Lying there and staring at the ceiling” in the second verse.

• From “Revolver”: The tape loops — sped up or otherwise distorted sounds the group looped in and out of the mix — are considerably different, seeming to fade up and down more quickly. Also, the guitar solo sounds more distant.

• The entire “White Album”: By the time this album was recorded in 1968, the group was spending more time on the stereo mixes, and there aren’t as many different sounds in the mono mix. But throughout the album, the mono mix enhances the instruments, putting the lead vocals a bit farther down in the soundscape, according to Brian Kehew, author of “Recording the Beatles” and an engineer and producer himself. “The mono version has a more ‘rocking’ sound to it — louder drums overall,” he said.

• “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise),” from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Paul McCartney’s voice can be heard scatting over the final chords, as the song leads into “A Day In The Life.”

• “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” from “Sgt. Pepper.” Lennon’s lead vocal is treated to automatic double tracking, an effect that gives it a more ethereal, ghostly sound compared with the stereo version.

Beatles remasters: George Martin radio interview

September 4, 2009

george-martin-pr-207x300

Here’s a wonderful BBC radio piece that includes interviews with Beatles producer George Martin and an Abbey Road engineer who worked on the remastering project. It really highlights Martin’s considerable influence on the band and his contributions to the recording.

There’s some fantastic excerpts heard from individual tracks, including especially “She’s Leaving Home” and “Come Together,” as well as some pretty interesting, and humorous, stories from George Martin.

Beatles remasters: An expert’s view

September 3, 2009

Beatles fans might know Brian Kehew as the co-author of the groundbreaking book Recording The Beatles, an exhaustive and delightful look at how the Beatles and the Abbey Road staff recorded the group’s songs.

Brian Kehew and his Recording the Beatles co-author Kevin Ryan

Brian Kehew and his Recording the Beatles co-author Kevin Ryan

Kehew also is an engineer and producer in his own right; among his production credits is Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine” album, and he has mixed tracks for Aretha Franklin, Fleetwood Mac, The Pretenders and Elvis Costello, among others. Kehew also is a keyboard virtuoso who played on the The Who’s last tour, and he has a collection of historic, vintage keyboards at home.

Aside from Recording the Beatles, Kehew’s Curvebender Publishing also has published a high-end photography book called “Kaleidoscope Eyes: A Day in the Life of Sgt. Pepper,” a collection of photos shot by Henry  Grossman of the Beatles recording “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” during the Sgt. Pepper sessions. And Curvebender plans a second book of the best of Grossman’s Beatles photos.

Because Kehew spent a decade of his life researching “Recording The Beatles,” I wanted to ask him about the remastering project. At the time of our e-mailed interview, he had not yet heard the remastered versions – but he has spent countless hours listening to Beatles tracks in mono, in stereo, on vinyl, on tape and on CD.

Here’s a slightly edited transcript of our interview:

Q: You stress in several places in your excellent book (Recording the Beatles) the time and attention the Beatles themselves and key Abbey Road staff like Geoff Emerick and George Martin gave to making the mono mixes of their songs. The stereo mixes, by contrast, seemed like afterthoughts. Can you expound a bit on that contrast?

A: The world had mono systems at their homes and in cars, etc. Radio too. It’s kind of like 5.1 mixing now – how many people listen to a rock album in 5.1? Only a small fraction of a percentage do. So it’s not worth the time or money to focus much on it. When the Beatles records were mixed – up thought about 1967, they mixed the one record they thought everyone would hear. It also remind me of why the Stones thought stereo was bad – it “thinned out” the big sound they were getting in mono!

Q: Can you provide any examples of where the mono and stereo mixes substantially differ? (i.e., a couple songs where the instruments, vocals, effects or other sounds are different enough that even a casual listener might notice)?

A: Most of the changes are rather slight. I’d say Tomorrow Never Knows has most of the obvious differences – parts you’re not used to hearing. But most times, I’d say that it’s balances which are better – just more in place and together. If you’re used to the stereo, they stereo seems “normal”, but then you hear the mono of Rubber Soul or Revolver and you say “Wow – that sounds better now.”

Q: You guys no doubt have listened to hours and hours of Beatle tracks in a state much closer to original as have most of us. Do you think that the remastered versions to be released on 9/9/09 will capture some of the magic of those original or near-original-copy mixes that you’ve heard?

A: Well not that much different than we know – unless they add some crazy amount of bass or something. But the original tapes were mixed somewhat midrangey anyway – compared to classical or jazz. This was the sound, a rocking energetic style that we now associate with pop music. However, you can hear some of the original detail that may be lost in the original mixes and overdubs – just listen to the LOVE soundtrack; it has many isolated and clear instruments in beautiful detail.

It may be odd when listening to the albums in order – you might hear greater differences, at least unexpected ones, on the later albums. Basically, this is because there was often more mixing done on the later records. The early records have very few tracks which can be adjusted, so less could be done differently between the stereo and mono versions. Later on, there are crazy effects, panning, and multiple layers of tracks to work with – so the stereo version can be different in many ways.

Q:  It seems nearly every major artist has remastered their greatest works. With a few notable exceptions, heretofore the Beatles have not. What are you most excited about in hearing the remastered versions?

A: Well, in some ways, the long wait has killed off some of the excitement. Like someone who made you wait for dinner too long! But I think it may give us a new reason to “sit and listen” – which is unusual nowadays. Even if I played you the old CDs in that “sit and listen” detailed environment, you might hear new things. So, this chance is somewhat rare, to maybe take on all the Beatles music in one long weekend sitting, and follow the changes – because now you have a reason to listen again.

Q: Can you describe how the 1980s-era CD releases sound compared to, say, the original vinyl?

A: In the 1980s, most CDs were made by a simple clean transfer of the recording tapes to digital, and this digital file got printed onto CDs. It’s the same basic process now, but people have learned you can get much better quality by paying close attention to each step of the process: The tape recorder that you use to play it back can actually sound better than the one originally used. The machine that changes analog sound into digital is far more advanced than before, and it picks up much smaller details and little levels of quality that went unnoticed before. There is a step called “mastering” done on every album at this step – new or old. Mastering is to make some choices of volume and tone control – does this sound “as good” as it could, and how much should we tweak it to be better – before we lose the original sound intended.

It’s a big debate now – as modern CDs are heavily mastered and that creates a modern sound – so will these Beatles CDs sound modern, or classic? Most likely, somewhere in the middle.

Q:  Do you fear that the remastered versions, particularly the remastered stereo versions, will include too much compression? Are you in the camp that believes EMI should avoid all compression, noise reduction, etc. and simply get the cleanest copies of the original masters released? Or do you think the two-pronged approach – remastered stereo, near-original mono – is a smart one?

A: This is alluded to in my last statement. From what details we’ve been told – almost no noise-reduction was used – unless the noise was a real problem. Hiss is part of tape recording in those days – it’s the sound that tape makes by itself when there isn’t even anything recorded. There are tricks to taking this out now, and they work, but they do change the sound of the music a little – it’s a debate whether the noise bothers you enough to modify the music/sound as well.

Compression makes things sound big and full, but it’s a trick of volume. It’s why modern music jumps out of the speakers. But you lose the low-level sound when you do this trick, so it’s become another big debate. The Beatles records had – and will have – compression added to make them sound good. It’s part of pop music, but it’s like salt on food – how much is good and how much kills the meal. Everyone has different tastes, and I’m sure they won’t go overboard in either direction – a little bit of compression to make it louder and fuller, but not like a modern record.

Q:  What will you personally be most curious to hear in the remastered releases (if you haven’t yet heard the remastered sets, that is)?

A: I have a vinyl copy of “Magical Mystery Tour” from Germany that sounds amazing. Almost everyone thinks it’s different mixes, but it’s simply someone’s choices of tone and volume changes made when mastering it for the German market. So – if that’s any indication, it could sound very good to have these remasters – I would hope these new CDs sound different enough to justify buying the records all over again.

Q: What do you think are some things that Beatle fans will appreciate, or notice or be surprised at?

The documentary footage/interviews that come with each CD are nice. I saw a sneak preview. But they’re not amazing, it’s just that this shows some photos we’ve never seen, and a few old interviews that shed some light on things. But it’s not earthshaking – these records being reissued. If you had a magazine with faded pictures – it’s like getting an un-faded copy. Just nicer…

9. FINALLY…. for fans of the band, how big a deal is this? Why?

Medium. A big deal would be more “from the vaults”. We’ve heard and loved these records a zillion times already. And some days, you hear a Beatles song in a store or the car, and it has a “newness” or something that makes your hairs stand up on end, all over again. Hopefully, we’ll get a bit of a resurgence in Beatles interest. And maybe the remaining families will all agree that to release things of substance (not toy submarines or lunchboxes) do the Beatles’ legacy a better service. They have tons of photos we’ve never seen, film footage never used, plus instruments, documents and clothes that could be exhibited in museums… how about it?

Beatles remasters: First impressions

August 26, 2009
TheBeatles-StereoBox-productshot3

Photo courtesy Apple Corps Ltd., 2009

Yesterday I received the stereo and mono remastered Beatles catalog from EMI. I have had limited time to listen, but I wanted to share my initial impressions of what I’ve heard so far.

I had to start with the mono version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Pepper was my first Beatles album, given to me by my step-mother Aurora sometime in the late 1970s. It was vinyl, of course – and stereo. Now I listen to the 1987 stereo CD version. All of which means that I have never heard the mono mix, the one that producer George Martin, balance engineer Geoff Emerick and the Beatles themselves labored on. (The stereo version, as Emerick told me here, was an afterthought, mixed without the Beatles’ direct involvement).

Because my recording computer is in the shop, I couldn’t listen through my normal studio monitors and was forced to rely upon my garden-variety stereo. I was careful to place the speakers in an equilateral triangle with my head, to minimize phasing issues that might result from listening to mono recordings on two speakers.

At once, the good sergeant and his band burst into the room. Immediately I was struck by the new sounds only available on the mono version — different, seemingly louder roars from the crowd, Paul’s ad-libbed scatting on the fadeout of the title track, and, especially, the deliciously phase-y Lennon lead vocal on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” made more ghostly thanks to ADT that isn’t present in the stereo version.

The sound itself was rich — the highs seemed higher than I remembered, but without harshness, and Paul’s bass sounded full and daring. I could easily picture Paul sitting on a stool in No. 2, carefully playing those amazing lines on his Rickenbacker, each nuance picked up by the C12 that Emerick had set up a few feet from the bass amp.

Then I turned to the stereo version – which, unlike the mono version, has been treated to limiting by Allan Rouse’s Abbey Road team, to increase the overall volume and punch. I was a bit leary, I confess — I hoped the new engineers’ touch wouldn’t ruin what the original crew accomplished all those years ago.

I’m delighted to say that so far, I cannot detect any heavy-handed modernization in the remastered stereo version of Pepper. What I do hear:

* Yes, it’s slightly louder than either the mono or the 1987 CD release.

* The sound is even deeper, richer and crisper.

* I may be overly influenced by a lifetime of listening to music in stereo, but the songs just sound a little nicer with the tracks spread across the stereo field.

Compared with the 1987 version, the remastered stereo version of Pepper is clearly superior, based on my hour or so comparing them.

Just a few minutes of listening to other stereo versions have, so far, confirmed those impressions. Suddenly I hear detail I couldn’t hear on the 1987 versions, i.e. the distinct harmony part (from Lennon?) on the chorus of  “Eleanor Rigby,” or the slight creek at the end of the final “E” chord on “A Day In The Life” that, Emerick has told me, came from Ringo shifting on the piano bench he shared with Paul.

All of which is to say: I really can’t wait to listen more, both to the mono and the stereo CDs, comparing and contrasting and, once again, getting lost in the greatest music of our time.

UPDATE: Here’s a short review from Britan’s Uncut magazine.


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