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The Community 4th March 2022 01:12 PM

Interview with Geoff Emerick
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In the summer of 2018, the legendary Grammy®-winning recording engineer Geoff Emerick joined us for a very special Q&A. Geoff is synonymous with latter-day Beatles productions and it was no surprise that recording and production techniques developed and used on the Fab Four’s output dominated most of the questions. Sadly, Geoff passed away not too long after the Q&A ended, but despite the great loss, we are happy that for a short while he was able to share some of his wisdom and his craft with the GS community, and leave something for the engineers of the future to discover when they inevitably start investigating how those famous records from Abbey Road were made.

Can you tell us a little about approaches to EQ back in the 60's? - hello people

EQ in the sixties, our eq. was very limited, there was no selectable eq. on the mixing console just treble and bass, there was an equalizer called the RS127, that could be used to enhance the vocal, these frequencies were plus or minus 10 DB at. 10K, 2.7K and 3.5K. You have to remember our job was to record music, if it didn't sound right we changed the instrument, our job was not technical. Just think if you were asked to record an opera you would use plug ins? NO you wouldn't. I hope this sets your mind working into a more constructed way of working rather than painting by numbers. Geoff

In your book "Here, There and Everywhere" you shared how you overloaded the Fairchild to create more excitement on the drums while recording "Tomorrow Never Knows". More generally, beyond the Fairchild on drums, can you share your memories for favorite uses of the Fairchild and the EMI/Altec compressors in typical usage i.e. Paul's Bass, Acoustic Guitars, Vocals etc... - Deuce 225

I'm going to start by saying that the Altec compressor, the only one we had access to in each studio was the one I used on Paul's Bass and acoustic guitars. When I became a recording engineer I tried the Fairchild 660 for the first time on the Dobro guitar on "Pretty Flamingo" by Manfred Mann. The drums ended up going through the Fairchild on most Beatle tracks after that and vocals and guitars too, that is all I had but I was over driving it to create those sounds.

Can you talk about your use of compression and limiting while you were working with The Beatles? Is the 660 your favorite limiting amplifier? Would you generally use much compression during mixing or was it mostly applied during the tracking stage, seeing as you were working with a limited amount of tracks? - Pyeguy

Boy is this a complicated question, I can just talk you through the process of recording in the sixties, predominantly when I was asked to create a bigger drum sound when we recorded revolver, it was then I discovered that by sending the mono drum mix through the Fairchild 660 limiter and overloading it, that was it. As regards the altec compressor and again the Fairchild it gave me the sounds I wanted. Now you have to remember we are recording for vinyl which meant you had to hold a dynamic range in order to be able to transfer your mix to vinyl any heavy bass swings would mean the stylus would fly out of the groove. This was an art form I have sketched across this subject you will have to give this much more of your thought.

Hey Geoff. Thank you for taking the time to do this! I'm curious if there are any plugins you use and how they compare with the vintage gear you have made into sought after classic gear. - S_A_P

The only time I will use a plugin is if I need a fast way to create phasing etc. as a rule I don't use them mainly because I like to create my own sounds and I don't like the sound of many of them. Just a few.

I'm recording a singer songwriter (just voice and guitar) this weekend and the reference he gave me was "Blackbird". How would you approach a session like this? What would your mic setup be? Recording acoustic guitar in stereo/mono? Any other general tips for that type of session? - Don Edgar

I assume the singer has no problem singing the song. So rather than overdub the vocal to the guitar I suggest your first thought is to record it live, Vocal and guitar. This of course can cause some problems, but you will get a much more heartfelt recording from the artist, so don't be clever here, use one mic on the guitar and obviously a vocal mic and record it mono, you will have some separation problems, you can use your reverb if any to spread the sound. Sometimes you can help the separation by placing a piece of card between the mics. but not always possible. If you want to do it by laying down the guitar first that's up to you but now we are into the realms of click tracks which you don't really want. I hope this gives you food for thought, it's up to you.

Even though the White Album and Abbey Road were recorded with a relatively short amount of time between them, the sonic differences between the two are pretty stark (in terms of high end, transient response, overall clarity). From what I can gather, similar mic'ing techniques were employed (outside of stereo mic'ing Ringo's drums on The End), same room, same 8-track machines, but the TG console was introduced between the two sets of sessions. How much did the TG console account for the sonic differences in the resulting albums? Were there other factors (e.g. EQ or compression being used differently, fewer tape generations)? - Funkybot

If we use the White Album as a constant, what happened when we started to record the Abbey Road Album was having now the luxury of selectable e.q. on every channel, a compressor, limiter on every channel and many more mic inputs on the T.G. Desk. where on the REDD Desk basically eight, I could now put into practice the many things I could not do before, so I now began to change many of the mic positions and experiment, that is why the "Abbey Road" Album sounds the way it does when it is compared with other albums up to that point.

On your production of Elvis Costello's album "Imperial Bedroom" (one of my favorite records) it sounds like many different textures and 'characters' were employed as far as vocal sounds go... even on individual tracks. Any comments on the technical approach to this process or the concept behind it? Thanks. - Wizards Machine

Basically my approach on that album was to apply ideas I had on different ways to record vocals no matter how weird it sounded at the time, I really went overboard and as you can hear on the record that was the result, there was a lot of equalization involved.

Hi Geoff, Can you tell us about the string sound(s) on Eleanor Rigby? I feel like it was one of the first rock songs with only strings and yet pretty dry close miced strings as well. Is that a correct assertion? I'm curious, was that vibe something you and the production team thought about ahead of time? Or was it just one of those things that happened naturally? Lastly were the string tracks played live to a stereo track? Or were there overdubs? - Chrischoir

I there good question, When Paul had written the lyric to Eleanor Rigby, it was discussed as to how the instrumentation was going to be, strings were suggested but Paul said " I don't want that Mantovani sound"which was a lush normal sound. So we started to talk about a style of writing and George Martin had the idea of the shower scene from" Psycho" with that strident string sound. So my approach was that we wanted a new string sound, not one that was with the mic fifteen feet In the air. The score was written for a double string quartet and I decided to mic the strings very closely, i.e. one inch away from where the bow hit the string and I used KM 56's and KM 54's because of physical size, the cello was I believe a U48 or U47. The strings were recorded to four tracks. and I mixed them down to a second four track in stereo and the last two tracks were used for Vocal overdubs.

Re: Mahavishnu Orchestra With The London Symphony: Apocalypse - I can't imagine the difficulties in such a massive undertaking so I'll restrict my questions to a basic nature. Mainly, was there one sound stage or 2 side by side in the recording? If only one sound stage together I'd imagine there was a re-evaluation in Mic choices for both the Orchestra and the Band due to bleeds etc., or maybe even if there were one sound stage. Also any other insights you can recall regarding this recording would be great. - Alndln

What a great question. No one has ever asked me before about the complications involved in recording this epic, maybe it's taken for granted. We are in number one studio at A.I.R. in London and we have the rhythm section in with that huge orchestra. We have a run-through, can't separate rhythm from orchestra, panic. So what I did was this, because the basic rhythm was fairly simple I set the rhythm section up in number three remix room via a video link up to Tilson Thomas for conducting purposes. Narada Micheal Walden was behind the mixing console (playing not mixing) I had one 4038 above the drums, one snare mic and one bass drum mic and whatever I could find for guitars and bass. We then started more run-throughs with not many problems. I got the separation I wanted between orchestra and rhythm section, (don't forget we are working with professional people here, they could handle it). Believe it or not when I See Narada he says he will never forget that session saying to me it was the best drum sound of his life.

I'm interested in your thoughts on the EMI-brand tape sound they used in EMI's studios and what you liked and used afterward. I really enjoyed your book Here, There and Everywhere and remember the story of you saving the day when the tape almost shed fully after Paul's Nigeria sessions. - JoeyM

Yes we used EMI Tape I think it was coded 77, the classical engineers were beginning to like AGFA I can't remember the # but they liked it because of the enhanced top end, the American brands were not used in EMI Studios. One great thing about the EMI Tape was that the backing of the tape never disintegrated so as far as I know to this day the oxide does not shed from the backing. I think it was due to the Whale product in the make up. I guess working in other studios it would probably have been Scotch tape.

When working with Gino Vannelli, what mic(s) did you use for lead vox? - Aremos

I think it would have been a U47 or U48 with a Fairchild limiter, it was a while ago but that is my best guess.

I have heard different accounts of how Paul's bass was recorded throughout the Beatles. Most say it was mic only (usually a D12, as well as the reverse-wired speaker on Paperback Writer and the C12/4038 combo on Pepper,) but I think I've also heard you say a DI was used later on. Can you clarify if/when a DI was used either on its own or mixed with a mic and also any other mics or techniques that you used. - Vincentvangogo

I never used a DI on Paul's bass as far as I can remember, I may have tried it later on but not used it. You have covered all of the other ways I recorded the bass. There never was a C12/4038 combo, just a C12.

I’ve heard stories of how the Fairchild Limiter was attached between the desk and the tape machine during Beatles-era sessions, and so everything passed through it - even reduction mixes. Is this true? If so, was there a good amount of limiting going on, or just the occasional peak barely moving the needle? - Juniorhifikit

The Fairchild limiter could of course be put across the mix although I never used them for that, I just used the Fairchild to limit different instruments at the time of recording, and normally there would be a good amount of limiting if not excessive, I really used them to create certain sounds. Of course their use was down to the individual engineers.

It would be great if you could tell us your ways of creating depth in mixes. What do you do if you want to push some elements back, or if you want to bring them up front? - mrc

Depth in mixes, good question. I mix with a visual aspect to what I am mixing, therefore we are talking about depth of field where not everything is in focus, it's like making a film, I think what has happened with the advent of digital is that everything is in focus, Therefore we have to put some content out of focus and we do that with E.Q. So we have a situation where sometimes certain things are not complementary to certain tonal values. I hope this gives you an insight to where I am coming from.

My question is about track eq for the Beatles. On later recordings where you were using more and more tracks per song, was there a lot of (if any) specific track eq-ing going on? i.e always hi-pass, bass from 60-300 only, RS 127 on vox always? That sort of thing. - mamm7215

No, as time went by we were using up to four tracks and then eight tracks on some of "The White Album" and all of "Abbey Road" what we did to open up a few more tracks was to do a four to four track mix down to open up two more extra tracks when we worked on the four tracks. There was never any overall track eq as all of the final eq and reverbs if any were done at the time of recording. There were no hi pass filters and I did often use the RS127 for many vocal equalizations.

With the current consoles out there today, is there one that you prefer working on the most and if so why? - Jason rocks

My mixing console of choice would be original Rupert Neve desks, as I describe them as "musical" and original API Desks which have a sparkle and a really fluid bottom end. I would choose which desk I thought suitable for the music I was recording.

Do you find the vintage microphones better than the new microphones of today?" In other words "do you feel if you had the multitude of microphones available today you might have included some of these in your EMI/Abbey Road mic choices back in the early days?" - ZEF

Working at E.M.I. Studios gave me the use of some of the best Microphones ever made, these Mics were all tube mics, mainly AKG and Neumann, then towards the latter years of the sixties transistors came into being. The difference was quite noticeable, sometimes not in a good way. I still today if I can, use the now very expensive original microphones, if not available I will use some of today's renditions, I don't think I would use any of them if they had been available going back to Beatle days.

Any general advice for interns/studio assistants to set themself above the bell curve in terms of studio etiquette and the subtle art of being helpful on the non-technical side of things? What should an intern or assistant do when the dishes are done and there is no obvious task to take on? - phunkay

I can only let you know what I was told when I started, dress smart, only talk when you are talked to by an artist, I didn't by the way wash dishes, be efficient and helpful and offer your help when you feel it is needed.

Not a question of "which had the best gear" but out of the studios you worked in which one gave you more inspiration (example if we route this to here that to there...) child in a toy shop sort of scenario. where you were given a chance to play around with new innovations etc...Do you find you work better in a hustle and bustle, or a more relaxed environment? - Preston135

I normally get the inspiration I need from a studio such as "Capital Studios" LA from the records that were made at that studio, which means you can't blame the studio if things don't work out. Another studio would be "Village Recorders", LA where you get inspired by what has been recorded at that facility in the past. I am not always able to experiment as I would like to because of time restraints. I like to work in a combination of hustle and bustle and then calming down to a more relaxed environment.

I'm curious about the mix of 'Give a Little Bit' by Supertramp. Can you tell me your approach to that mix? especially the wonderful acoustic sound. - Chrischoir

The mixing for this song was very complicated as were some of the other songs. The reason was that on the original recordings they were running out of tracks and consequently there were many instruments etc. on the same track which had to be fitted into the final mix and they needed individual treatments eq. etc. So I had to copy those parts onto another 24 track to give them their own track so that I could treat them individually {I hope this is making sense} and so we are now running two 24's in lock to make the mixing process easier, the mixes I guess took quite a long time to finish. I can only assume that the acoustic guitar sound was with the Fairchild 660. Side note you have to remember that this all happened some forty years ago and I'm answering this as best as my memory will allow.