More From Geoff Emerick

Oct 31, 2006 3:32 PM

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Did you add any EQ or compression?
You weren't supposed to, unless there were any bass swings. There were certain rules and regulations. It was always, "Should I compress it or not?" or, "I better not, I might get into trouble." The next step was moving into actually being a mastering engineer,and actually cut the masters that went into the shops.

And you did that quite a while, up until 1966, right?
Right. And that meant that you were taken off the run—off the sessions. The only time you got back into the studio was for overtime sessions.

So you didn't get much opportunity to learn about the recording process itself during that period?
I learned what I could when I was being a second engineer. [Original Beatles engineer] Norman Smith taught me a lot. The main thing he always said was, "It happens down in the studio, not in the control room."

On what Beatles sessions did you work with Norman?
The earliest session was the piano overdub session for "Misery" on the Please Please Me album. I also did the title track for A Hard Day's Night.

Outside of the occasional session, did you have any other interaction with any of The Beatles while you were mastering?
Paul used to wander down into my room at lunchtimes, 'cause he used to like to get out of the studio. We'd have little chats. There was no friendship outside of the studio, but he used to be someone to have a chat with.

What kinds of things did you cut when you were mastering?
I used to get a lot of American records in and was in awe of the sound, compared with what was on the records we had. The bass content was a lot heavier. A lot of it was the musicianship, but there was obviously a technical aspect, too. One of our jobs we had was when we'd master the Tamla/ Motown records. They'd have sent us the 7-inch single instead of a master tape. This was dubbed onto a tape from the turntable and then we'd remaster it. If there were any bad clicks, they were physically cut out with a pair of scissors.

Did you ever master any Beatles records?
No, Malcolm Davies was mastering then. I learned all my mastering techniques from Malcolm, who was brilliant.

What sort of things did you learn from Norman Smith?
We used to have an equalizer called a "curve bender."It was one of those huge, primitive equalization boxes. They weren't installed in the control rooms, but were in the mastering rooms. Malcolm used to tell me of a "secret frequency"—always 512 cycles. If you took 2 dB out of 512, your level will drop by 2 dB, and you lift the level 2 dBs and get a slightly louder record.

He used to tell me about certain mics sounding different ways. So then I realized, "Oh, yeah, that mic's gonna sound dull, that's gonna sound bright, et cetera." That's why I sort of interpreted microphones as camera lenses. That's the easiest way I can mentally perceive microphones. I usually think of sounds visually in my head. When I'm mixing, I see shades and tones and colors.

Norman also always said that you could lift one mic up, and if the group was rehearsing, you could hear immediately, with one mic up, if you had a hit on your hands.

Your talk in the book about your promotion from mastering engineer to balance engineer [recording engineer] being a surprise.
Well, when I first started there, [they had said,] "Well, you'll be doing this, and then you'll spend some years up in the mastering room," because some of those guys had been up there for years. And I remember someone saying to me one day, "You know, you'll probably be 40 by the time you'll be a balance engineer." I know Norman was in his 40s. I figured it would take 20 years before I'd ever be a recording engineer.

What happened was, Norman wanted to leave to be a producer. I think he wanted to still engineer with The Beatles and also be an EMI producer. But that wouldn't really have worked, having Norman, an EMI producer, working alongside George Martin—in theory Norman would have been a producer and engineer, and you can't do both jobs.

There was some discussion behind the scenes about me being given the job, which, being so young, just took me by surprise. I guess I was pretty good at my job, just kept my mouth shut and did a generally good job cutting the playback lacquers and mastering. But I was young and very nervous.

What was your first hit as an engineer?
The first thing I had a hit with was Manfred Mann's "Pretty Flamingo." That was the first time I put the dobro guitar through the Fairchild limiter and got that—for those days—a brilliant, bright sound. It leapt out of the speakers.

NOTABLE QUOTES

The 4-track was remote; in those days, it was never in the control room. We had two 4-track rooms where the tape machines were, and there were three studios, so they had to patch them through. But because of the difficulties of recording "Tomorrow Never Knows," with the backward things and so forth, where you had to communicate with an intercom to tell the tape op to drop in—which was ridiculous—we requested that the 4-track machines be brought into the control room. Well, that was just a "no go" area, but eventually they relented. And they sent out six technical staff from the main EMI technical department to supervise the moving of the 4-track machine up the corridor.
—October 2002

On working with Nellie McKay for her Get Away From Me album:
I was attracted to the lyrics immediately. Elvis Costello immediately came to mind. Her level of maturity at such a young age is astounding. You come across an artist of this caliber once every 10 or 15 years. And I don't do a lot of projects these days unless something really stands out like this did. My approach with this, because it was jazz, was simply to go by feel. There was no click track; I didn't want to bring any computers into it. You know, like 'Tomorrow Never Knows'?
—September 2004






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