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The Beatles, British Recording Techniques, and the Evolution of Audio Production

Innovative audio production courses with names such as 1960s British Recording Techniques sound like a lot of fun (they really are, too), but they’re much more. Mike Harvey, American University Audio Technology Instructor, uses an era of significant change in music and culture to help illustrate what’s possible with a career in audio and music technology.

As one would expect from a class about 1960s British music production, The Beatles are a major topic of discussion. However, the curriculum’s scope takes students much further and deeper than Paul, John, George, and Ringo. By the end of the semester, Harvey says students are able to:

  • Produce and engineer a multi-track recording session in the style of British recordings from the mid-1960s to 1970.
  • Apply microphone and hardware techniques for recording acoustic and amplified instruments particular to the era.
  • Identify production elements and recording techniques developed and made popular by groups such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who.
  • Utilize those production elements in original recordings.
  • Use software recreations of hardware from the Abbey Road album to process recorded audio.

Beyond the highly technical sound production tenets of the British Invasion era lies a fascinating layer of context regarding the art and science of audio technology over the past 50 years.

The Beatles were pioneers in music, pushing the boundaries of studio technology and acceptable pop songwriting topics and song structure, Harvey says. They served as a template for other bands to follow: a mostly self-contained and carefully balanced team of performers and songwriters, producer(s), and an engineering crew.

“As an entity their album sales still dominate, but as an influence they are greater still, from the use of the studio as a creative tool to the establishment of their own label and brand, to the simple fact that, for most of their career, they were in control of their products and processes,” Harvey said.

The Beatles accomplished all of this with recording resources considered highly primitive by today’s standards—a fact that surprises many students.

“They started recording on two-track recorders (dual mono), and during Abbey Road, their last recording, they were limited to an 8-track machine,” Harvey said, adding that “The End” from Abbey Road features the only Beatles drum recording tracked in stereo.

The Beatles’ production brilliance, despite using relatively rudimentary tools, opens students’ minds to what is possible when art and science collide. Today, we’re witnessing a different but equally significant example in the modern-day music industry—the blurring of lines between artists and technology professionals.

For instance, electronic music affords artists the opportunity to create music as audio technicians “in the box” (on the computer). The paradigm of artist as technician has become increasingly common since the era of the Beatles, when the roles of audio technician/producer and artist were much more delineated.

Undoubtedly, that’s part of the beauty of pursuing a degree in audio technology, the knowledge and understanding of how—regardless of the era or trend—music production impacts what the world hears.

 

Interested in taking classes like 1960s British Recording Techniques and getting to know industry experts like Harvey? Check out our MA in Audio Technology program.

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