Posts Tagged ‘Geoff Emerick’

Who is this Christopher Ave character?

December 9, 2009

Are you new around here?

I thought I’d take a moment to introduce myself to anyone who recently stumbled on this blog, to reveal who is behind this oddball mix of multimedia tips, music musings and Beatles trivia.

I’m Christopher Ave. Nice to meet you.

I’m a musician who creates original tunes for clients and for pleasure through my side business, Music for Media Productions. I have delivered tracks for videos, multimedia projects and radio commercials. I produce a podcast for Wealth Magazine, and I’m recording and producing some music for other artists. A couple of my own “pop” tunes are available on iTunes, Amazon, Lala and elsewhere. I periodically perform around the St. Louis area, where I live. And I play guitar in a worship band at my church, The Journey.

If you’re a journalist, you may have heard one of my songs, “Copy Editor’s Lament (The Layoff Song),” my commentary on the news industry and on copy editors in particular. And yes, there’s a video:

I’m also an incurable Beatles fan who has had the pleasure to have written about the group. I especially enjoyed the few times I’ve gotten to speak with the band’s balance engineer, Geoff Emerick, a supremely decent fellow, and I’ve talked to several authors who have studied and written about the group extensively.

On the journalism front, I direct political and government coverage for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and its website,, including supervision of our bureaus in Washington and the state capitals of Missouri and Illinois. I have been a fulltime professional journalist since 1987 and have worked for newspapers in New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, Florida and Missouri. I’ve also written about music technology over the past several years, including reviewing some products that help musicians record their masterpieces.

So what’s this blog all about? What I’m trying to do here is write about the creation and use of music, especially in multimedia platforms. If you design web pages, record music, create television advertisements or just listen closely to music, I hope you’ll find something interesting around here. If you have any questions, suggestions or complaints, hit me up right here!

Abbey Road

October 28, 2009


Abbey Road, the final album made by the Beatles, went on sale in the United States 40 years ago this month.

Abbey Road often is listed among the group’s best two or three albums. In my mind, for reasons I’ll explain below, it is not only the best Beatles album, it is the best pop/rock album ever made.

Such a result seemed unlikely when the group set out to make the album. The Beatles were quite literally tearing apart, having just completed the acrimonious and unpleasant “Get Back” sessions that resulted in Let It Be. Tortured by business differences, musical arguments and the hassle of being filmed on a cold television stage, the Beatles seemed to be far removed from stellar efforts such as Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

But Paul McCartney, increasingly desperate to find the answer to the group’s ills, called producer George Martin and balance engineer Geoff Emerick, asking each to return to Abbey Road to make an album “like we used to,” as Martin remembered it.

And somehow, that is exactly what they did.

I recently had a chance to ask the Emerick, a Grammy winning engineer and producer who now lives in Los Angeles, to share some memories from the Abbey Road sessions.

Copy of IMG_0057

Geoff Emerick and the author at Webster University, 2008

Although many scholars have theorized that the Beatles knew this would be their swan song, Emerick recalls nothing of the sort.

“That never passed through my mind,” he said.

“It was something to me that happened after Abbey Road was finished.”

“I was already working at Apple and Paul phoned up and said, you know, ‘We’re going to record a new album and come and do it.’

“I don’t know if he had any reservations… I asked, as diplomatically as I could, how things were between the four of them. He said he sorted out a lot of their problems.”

And did that prove to be the case? Only to a point, Emerick recalled.

“They were a bit better. At the time, first of all, I’d left EMI after being there six or seven years. There was a big managerial meeting as to whether they would allow me back in the building… My name was not supposed to be on the recording sheets or tape boxes.”

But EMI, the Beatles’ label and Emerick’s former employer, eventually agreed to allow their departed star engineer back in the studio – as long as an EMI employee, assistant engineer Phil McDonald, worked with him.

“When I couldn’t attend the sessions, Phil took over,” Emerick said.

But any thoughts that all four Beatles would return to normal studio work were quickly shattered.

“The first day we were in the studio it was announced John and Yoko had had the car accident,” Emerick said.

“We were in the (recording) process a couple weeks and then Yoko and John arrived.. and everyone said, ‘How are you?’ and usual stuff.

“Then the back doors of the studio and the bed was rolled in from Harrod’s.”

Yoko, wearing a nightgown, lay down on the bed, where she remained for the next several recording sessions, a microphone suspended overhead should she wish to comment.

After the shock wore off, Emerick recalled, “As far as I was concerned she became part of the furniture.”

The sessions were relatively free of open conflict, Emerick said. But true teamwork was rare.

“The camaraderie wasn’t really like it used to be,” he said. “If someone was to stay behind and do their solo work, the others left.”

But there were still moments of creative engagement. A special highlight, Emerick said, was when it came time to record the triple guitar solo that comes just before “The End,” the glorious climax to the album.

“That was Paul, George and John, in that order. They actually rehearsed it and decide who would do what,” Emerick said.

By this time, Yoko was back on her feet, and her habit was to follow John wherever he went — even to the “loo.”

“When they went of to do the take, Yoko went to follow John,” Emerick said. “He said, ‘No, not this time.’ So the three of them went into the studio.”

The three guitar-playing Beatles joyously peeled off their alternating solos live, in one take.

“The fun they were actually having, it was like a memory of what it used to be. It was like three young kids having a great time,” Emerick said. “And when they came out of the studio, it was like, back to how they were.”

For one last time.

The Beatles would never record another album together. Thankfully their final work is a worthy farewell.

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” aside, Abbey Road captures the three songwriters at the height of their powers. George Harrison, in particular, shows that he can be John and Paul’s equal. “Something” is widely regarded as the best song on the album, and “Here Comes The Sun” is a classic in most anyone’s book. John contributed “Come Together,” a swampy groover-rocker, and the wonderfully obsessive “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Paul’s tribute to 50s ballads, “Oh Darling,” features one of his greatest vocal performances, and the Side Two suite he and producer George Martin knitted together hits a high note of sublime yearning. And “The End” is as fitting a denouement as exists in popular music:

And in the end

The love you take

Is equal to

The love you make

And despite Emerick’s observation that the Beatles often worked separately, their individual contributions to their fellow bandmates’ work shines brilliantly. What would “Come Together” be without Paul’s incredible, pulsating bass line? The same could be said for George’s “Something,” which features one of Paul’s prettiest bass performances. George’s multitracked guitars on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” are a key element to the buildup of tension that drives that song, and his bass (yes, bass) on “Golden Slumbers” is the definition of tasteful playing. As is John’s lead guitar on “You Never Give Me Your Money.”

Ringo’s drums — for the first and only time, mixed in stereo — are nothing less than ideal on each track. Even his simplistic solo rings true to the workingman drummer who always provides what the song, not his ego, demands. And, though it might seem to be damning with faint praise, “Octopus’ Garden” is definitely his best composition as a Beatle (though it was easily eclipsed by “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Photograph” and other solo pieces.)

Abbey Road also sounds different from every other Beatles album. It hangs together with a cohesiveness that, say, the White Album lacks. Some people say Abbey Road sounds softer than much of their other work. Emerick attributes that to a change in mixing boards, from the tube consoles used on every other album to the solid-state electronics on their new TG mixer used for the first and only time on Abbey Road. While the change robbed Emerick of some of the “punch” of earlier records, he said the result was “just nice, really. It was very open sounding album.” (For many more of Emerick’s memories of his Beatles days, purchase his excellent book.)

Some people prefer their Beatles rougher around the edges, a la the White Album, or more ground breaking and psychdelic, as in Revolver or Sgt. Pepper. To me, Abbey Road is the Beatles’ greatest achievement, for the reasons listed above. And one more…

Although Emerick didn’t consciously know it was the final album, I bet that the Beatles themselves felt it might be. And in no way did they want to finish their career together with the mess that became “Let it Be.” No offense to the music on that album, which includes a couple of Paul’s best ballads. But the atmosphere was so tense, the vibe so negative, that they couldn’t end on that sour note.

So instead, they reached for the top of the scale.

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 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:


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: First impressions

August 26, 2009

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.

Beatles remasters: The latest from Abbey Road

August 25, 2009


The man in charge of the first-ever remastering of the Beatles’ catalog says the resulting recordings sound “the closest they’ve ever sounded to the original master tapes.”

Allan Rouse, an engineer at EMI’s Abbey Road studio, heads the team that remastered all the original Beatles albums and singles for release Sept. 9 — the same day that the Beatles Rock Band video game is released.

Rouse told me in an hour-long telephone interview from Abbey Road that his team tried to restore the sound of the band’s music as closely as possible to its original condition, before the group’s catalog was first transferred to the CD format in 1987.

The goal: to allow listeners to experience the Beatles “as they heard themselves here in the studios.”

“Quite honestly, you cannot get a lot better than that,” he said.

And yet, Rouse and his team have chosen to go beyond a straight analogue-to-digital transfer of the master tapes, leaving the door open to criticism and second-guessing from audio purists and some devoted fans.

At times, Abbey Road’s mastering team used tools such as limiting — which reduces dynamics to raise the overall loudness of a track — and removal of “errors” like imperfect edits and noise. These tools, Rouse stressed, were used conservatively; noises that were deemed part of the group’s performance of a song, such as lip smacking or a squeaky drum pedal, were left in.

The engineers, he said, were well aware that they were working on an historic collection — “the real holy grail,” in Rouse’s words — in which every flubbed lyric and background click was known, debated and loved by millions.

And he knows that anything they do to pop music’s most celebrated catalog will be dissected and debated, starting Sept. 9. (UPDATE: I received my packet of CDs from EMI, and I share my initial reactions  here.)

Getting Better

Rouse certainly knows his Beatles songs.

He joined Abbey Road in 1972, just two years after the Beatles’ breakup, and worked under Norman Smith, who had been the Beatles’ first balance engineer. Rouse has worked on several solo Beatle projects as well as the Beatles Anthology project in the 1990s, and he was in charge of the first-ever remix of Beatles songs for the Yellow Submarine soundtrack CD released a few years ago.

The pressure, he said, was enormous.

“No one had remixed Beatles music before,” he said. After he and his team remixed several iconic songs, including “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine,” he recalled, “Suddenly I’m in the studio with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr….. We’re all sitting in Studio 3 and we’re about to play them material that had never been remixed by anyone besides Beatles engineers.”

Luckily for him, the project got the two surviving Beatles’ approval. “During playback, they were smiling,” Rouse said. “They were loving it.”

No remixing was done on the project that’s about to be unveiled. Remixing means taking the individual tracks of a multitrack recording and re-combining them, treating each group of voices or instruments to their own sound effects. Most of the Beatles work was either two-track, four-track or eight-track, so lots of fundamental changes are possible.

In remastering, by contrast, only the final stereo or mono master is treated to changes.

However, significant differences are still possible — especially in the Beatles’ case, because everything the group recorded was captured in analogue tape. When the Beatles CDs were released in 1987, those tapes were transferred to digital information using technology that was still evolving. The result: Most anyone who has compared the CD sound to the original vinyl finds the digital versions harsh and lacking in depth.

This time around, Rouse said, Abbey Road used modern, extremely high quality digital converters.

“There’s been a huge improvement in digital in over 22 years,” Rouse said. After the digital transfer, he said, “We already had an improvement” over the 1987 CD releases.

But Rouse’s team went further.

Abbey Road engineers who worked on the Beatles remastering project. Allen Rouse is at right.

Abbey Road engineers who worked on the Beatles remastering project. Allan Rouse is at right.

Long and Winding Road

The remastered songs are divided into two major categories: First, the original albums and non-album singles are being released in stereo, some for the first time ever in that format. The albums will be available individually or as a boxed set. Of more interest to die-hard Beatles fans, perhaps, are the second group — the original mono mixes of each album and the non-album singles, to be available only as a boxed set. For more details, see the official press release here.

Rouse and co. decided on a two-pronged strategy: The stereo versions would be subject to some limiting, equalization and de-noising. The mono versions, however, would be free of limiting, with only minor de-noising and EQ.

Why the different approaches? Rouse said he expects the stereo releases to attract the bulk of attention from the public. His team chose to do more of the technical work on these versions to make them more palatable to a modern audience accustomed to hard-limited — i.e., extra loud — production now in vogue.

“The reason we limited the stereos is because we wanted them in particular to be able to stand against some of the material today — but not compete with it,” he said.

In other words, Rouse continued, he wanted the remastered stereo versions to be heard back to back against modern music without a dramatic loss in volume. To do any less, he asserted, “wouldn’t have been fair to the Beatles music.”

But the team, he said, resisted the temptation to try to make the sound too modern.

“Our restraint was based on the fact that to have made them sound contemporary with music of today is also wrong, because it isn’t today’s music,” he said. “The most important factor is, the dynamics have been retained.”

Here’s what EMI has said about the remastering process:

The re-mastering process commenced with an extensive period conducting tests before finally copying the analogue master tapes into the digital medium. When this was completed, the transfer was achieved using a Pro Tools workstation operating at 24 bit 192 kHz resolution via a Prism A-D converter. Transferring was a lengthy procedure done a track at a time. Although EMI tape does not suffer the oxide loss associated with some later analogue tapes, there was nevertheless a slight build up of dust, which was removed from the tape machine heads between each title.

From the onset, considerable thought was given to what audio restorative processes were going to be allowed.It was agreed that electrical clicks, microphone vocal pops, excessive sibilance and bad edits should be improved where possible, so long as it didn’t impact on the original integrity of the songs.

In addition, de-noising technology, which is often associated with re-mastering, was to be used, but subtly and sparingly. Eventually, less than five of the 525 minutes of Beatles music was subjected to this process. Finally, as is common with today’s music, overall limiting – to increase the volume level of the CD – has been used, but on the stereo versions only. However, it was unanimously agreed that because of the importance of The Beatles’ music, limiting would be used moderately, so as to retain the original dynamics of the recordings.

When all of the albums had been transferred, each song was then listened to several times to locate any of the agreed imperfections. These were then addressed by Guy Massey, working with Audio Restoration engineer Simon Gibson.

Mastering could now take place, once the earliest vinyl pressings, along with the existing CDs, were loaded into Pro Tools, thus allowing comparisons to be made with the original master tapes during the equalization process. When an album had been completed, it was auditioned the next day in studio three – a room familiar to the engineers, as all of the recent Beatles mixing projects had taken place in there – and any further alteration of EQ could be addressed back in the mastering room. Following the initial satisfaction of Guy and Steve, Allan Rouse and Mike Heatley then checked each new re-master in yet another location and offered any further suggestions. This continued until all 13 albums were completed to the team’s satisfaction.

Rouse expects the mono boxed set to be of the most interest to the serious Beatles fan – people who, for the most part, grew up with the music and wish to hear the mixes that the Beatles, original producer George Martin and original engineers Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick and a few others spent the most time on.

In the mid-1960s, the English market for pop music was dominated by mono. Stereos were generally owned by older, more prosperous folks, and EMI and other British labels at the time assumed they were more interested in classical rather than pop music. So, the Beatles and the Abbey Road staff for the most part labored over the mono mixes of material – a fact confirmed by Emerick, the Grammy-winning balance engineer for Revolver, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road.

“Through Pepper, the Beatles were actually present..when those mixes were refined,” said Emerick from his Los Angeles home. “That was the way the Beatles wanted to hear it. That was the mono.”

Emerick described how he, producer George Martin and Emerick’s assistant Richard Lush would labor over every nuance of the mono mix. In many cases, special effects and additional sounds were “flown in” during the mix itself.

“With all the sound effects, such as on ‘Good Morning, Good Morning,’ some of those sounds weren’t on the four track. So we had to inject sound effects ourselves.” (For Emerick’s fascinating account of the Beatles years, read his excellent book, which you can order here. And to hear parts of my 2007 interview with Emerick centered on his work on Sgt. Pepper, go here.)

The mix, then, was its own performance — one that in some cases never could be repeated.

The stereo mixes, by contrast, were done much faster, usually without the Beatles’ involvement. “When it came to mixing the stereo, on Pepper, they’d gone on holiday,” Emerick recalled.

And the result is that there are sounds on the mono mixes that don’t exist on stereo — more clucks of the hen that introduces the Sgt. Pepper reprise, for example. And the effects on the vocals are different, sometimes substantially, as on “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”

But mostly, the mono mixes represent the Beatles’ and the Abbey Road staff’s best work — the Beatles as they wanted to be heard. And that, perhaps, is what is most thrilling to longtime Beatles fans: the chance to hear the music in a state closer to the group’s intent.

Get Back

For his part, Rouse has deep respect for the work of Emerick and the other original engineers in creating those mono mixes, which by their nature are more difficult to perform than stereo mixes.

“What I find most amazing about the monos was the level of detail that was put into them, particularly when they became more complicated, to create a balance where you still hear everything,” he said “I find it quite astonishing.

“They managed without all that technology, and they did it incredibly well.”

Still, Rouse and his Abbey Road colleagues declined to invite Emerick or the other original engineers who survive to participate in the remastering process. Emerick said he doesn’t want to say much about that decision, but it’s clear that he was hurt by the slight.

“I don’t want to make it sound like sour grapes. It’s not sour grapes, it’s just disrespect,” Emerick said. “How stupid can anyone be not to ask the original engineer to at least listen to them and react?”

Rouse said it would have been appropriate to ask each engineer to react only to those songs that each worked on originally. Moreover, Rouse said, the original engineers might have been too close to the original recordings to be objective.

“It might have been nice, but I think it would have been wrong” to invite them, Rouse said. “Geoff would have been too close to it. I think our distance and the fact we weren’t involved in it just gives it a slightly different way of listening to it.”

And, Rouse added, the new versions have been approved by the two surviving Beatles, along with Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison.

The End

What will millions of potential consumers think when they hear the remastered music?

First, and perhaps most obviously, EMI hopes it will attract new, younger fans to the band’s unequaled catalog.

“What I think you’re going to hear is something fairly magical,” Rouse predicts.

I haven’t heard the new versions yet, although the CDs have just in the last hour arrived from EMI. I will share my initial thoughts on them tomorrow.

As far as attracting new fans, I certainly believe that will happen. I bring to your attention a comment I saw from a young web surfer who had stumbled upon a video promotion from the soon-to-be-released Beatles Rock Band video game. The viewer liked what he or she had seen and heard, apparently for the first time:

“I was never much of a Beatles fan but after watching this trailer I definitely had to look them up on Youtube,” the person wrote. “Damn Their songs are amazing. I missed out on a great band. I’m a fan now.”

Amazing indeed.

Rouse says he doesn’t expect everyone to appreciate the way Abbey Road handled the remastering process. Emerick, understandably protective of his and the band’s work, says he worries about the changes the studio made. And die-hard fans may well take offense at any use of limiting, digital de-noising or equalization.

But in the end, I suspect that the incredible music that the Beatles produced, with substantial assistance from George Martin, Emerick and other key personnel at Abbey Road, will win over the vast majority of new listeners.

Big Beatles news: digital remastered CDs

April 7, 2009

I’ve just received the announcement millions of Beatles fans have been waiting for: the entire back catalog has been remastered. The CDs will be released Sept. 9 — the date the Beatles Rock Band game is released.  Plus, every song the Beatles released in mono will be re-released, meaning that many of us will hear classics like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as they were originally intended to be heard. Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick told me in 2007 that he spent much more time on the mono mixes of most songs, since that was the predominant format up until the late 1960s — Sgt. Pepper included.

Here’s a link to the official news release for all the details.