George Martin – Being for the Benefit of Popular Music

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  • Topic: The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, George Martin
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  • Published : October 15, 2009
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George Martin – Being for the Benefit of Popular Music

This essay will present the argument that George Martin’s production techniques and approaches, specifically of the Beatles catalogue of material from 1967 onwards, have made a significant impact upon the development of popular music. This impact has principally been in the areas of technical innovation, instrumentation and historical importance. Moreover, this contribution is magnified in its significance due to the immense success of the Beatles.

Sir George Martin was born January 3, 1926. His producing career spanned forty eight years from 1950 to 1998. Prior to this his main activity had been as EMI’s comedy producer. Martin signed the Beatles to a contract in 1962 and from there would fill the gap between their natural talent and the high quality productions they wanted to achieve. He guided what was a good rock and roll group into what would arguably be the most extraordinary popular music ensemble of their era.

One of the invaluable contributions George Martin made to popular music was that of his technical innovation. When George Martin first started recording the Beatles in nineteen sixty-two, he was recording their music on two track ‘multi-track’ recording machines. Multi-track recording is a method of sound recording that allows for the recording of multiple sound sources simultaneously or at different times and was introduced in nineteen forty nine, yet the boundaries of this technology were rapidly being pushed. Martin’s producing was the first to make a mark with these early recordings, capturing a clean ‘live’ sound which was to be iconic of the early British invasion of the pop music scene which had been dominated by the heavily produced sounds of the Brill Building and Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’. Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ was achieved by combining many instruments not usually used in recording, many orchestrated parts and multiples of instruments often playing in unison. These dozens of musicians and instruments would be recorded in one relatively small studio with the resonance off the walls contributing to the full sound (Nation Master Encyclopaedia, 2005)

Eight track recording machines were released commercially in the United States in nineteen sixty-eight, one year after the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) album was released. These 8-track recording machines had however been available for US artists many years prior (Answers, 2005). By the time of recording Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Martin was fluent with the 4 track machines, which for Abbey Road recording studios was the state of the art, yet would now be considered primitive. In order to create the synthesis of sounds for which the Beatles asked, Martin had to ‘bounce down’, that is record multiple tracks from one four track machine to a single track of another four track machine, a process for which Martin’s work would become a monument (Olsen et al, 1999). Ironically, Martin had probably greater success with the more primitive four-track equipment than his contemporaries who were using more sophisticated equipment.

Martin began recording with the Beatles in 2 track mono in 1962 (Olsen et al, 1999). By 1965 the Beatles and Martin had honed their studio techniques and were pushing the limits of studio experimentation. Martin was, for instance, the first producer to deliberately record feedback (Song Facts, 2005) for the Beatles for Sale (1964) album on the track I Feel Fine (1964), a process which most producers would actively avoid. This track did not make it onto the album and was released at a later date as a single, where it reached number one in the United Kingdom and stayed there for five weeks, later being re-released on the US album Beatles ’65 (1964). Some of the technical innovations were changes to existing techniques, and some were ground-breaking. The overall package of technical innovation, however, was what made Martin’s...
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