Recently, I was listening to a radio documentary dissecting the way the late, great George Martin produced the Beatles’ most iconic music. Considering the state of the technology he had to work with, it’s utterly remarkable that the results he obtained were so good. They almost too easily needn’t have been. The genius of the man was in finding ways to do creative things with limitations that most music producers wouldn’t and couldn’t tolerate, today. This, I think, shows what the essence of being a top flight music producer is all about. He made tremendous, lasting, worthwhile recordings, with a bunch of young, headstrong, but gifted musicians. They’ve stood the test of time.
While listening to the outtakes and ambiance of the recording sessions, laid bare for the programme, something immediately became apparent. For all the talk of them being free-wheeling hippies, out of their heads on acid all the time, not giving a damn about the establishment and being their own men, the Beatles were, first and foremost, hard working, intelligent, sensitive musicians.
Think about it. How could they not have been? When the orchestra is ready, you’ve only got four track tape machines and once you overdub over the guide track, there is no going back, you have to be ready to record, in a single take or two, without fuss, flouncing or drama. Sure, the Beatles had their artistic bust ups, but when recording was so costly and it was coming out of the band’s advance, there was a certain wisdom in showing up prepared, getting the music down in the time available and moving on to the next track. This is what was most notable. Far from being prima donnas, what the Beatles were was passionately serious about making the best music they were capable of making.
There is a lesson in this, now that we have the ability to do infinite tracks, composite takes, unlimited undoes and permission to use as much studio time as we want, because the studio belongs to us. All of that counts for nothing, if you aren’t at the top of your game, ready to go and able to put your music down to a recording medium, without making a circus of the process. You might have infinite studio time, for very little actual cost, but it’s your lifetime you’re wasting. You can either spend the next half century fannying around in your studio, mired in indecision, wasted and giving less than your best performance, or you can do what the Beatles did. Respect your music, respect your talent and the opportunities you have and just get on with it.
Too many music producers and musicians think that acting like Elton John throwing a tantrum is part and parcel of the music making process. It isn’t. It’s a wasteful distraction, no matter how you look at it. You’re far better off to get your music down, slight imperfections and all, while the performance is fresh and vibrant and get it released. Get your music finished and in the can. Then you can flounce and act the part of the hippie musician, however you define your version of that stereotype.
Once the music is done and finished, it exists. It can take on a life of its own. Doing it the other way puts that at peril. So, get it recorded now. You can always flounce later.