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Abbey Road from a mixing engineer’s perspective

I have been reading “Recording the Beatles” by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew.  What an amazing book.  As many music engineers have likely noticed, there’s not a lot of information about what gear was used for certain records.  You might find out that so and so used a certain mic, or mixing board to record their guitar, but the amount of information that was dug up about the Beatles sessions is simply astounding.  You can pretty much find out with near certainty what microphone was used on which vocal, guitar, bass, drum, piano etc on ANY given Beatles song throughout their entire recording career.  I highly recommend finding this book, because even if you’re not a Beatles fan in particular, if you are interested in music engineering, it is a valuable reference book.

So after reading thru the book twice, I sat down and really listened closely to Abbey Road last night on my nice Beyer DT880 headphones.
It’s pretty amazing the amount of things that made it to the final mix that would likely never get thru in this age of Pro Tools…..lip smacking, clipped mics, less than ideal edits, all kinds of crazy bleed (including people shouting and counting), serious tape hiss etc.
But just how good it sounds regardless of these things is amazing. Every instrument is clearly audible, even when it’s turned down in the mix for effect (like the backing vocals on “Oh! Darling”).

You can really hear the reverb chamber very clearly on a good set of headphones.

The panning is totally weird but very cool.  Not just the hard panned instruments, but some of the more subtle things like the echo on some of the vocals being panned slightly to the right instead of dead center with the vocal.  I was also surprised that I had never noticed that the lead vocal on “Here Comes the Sun” was panned almost all the way right for the entire song.  I guess they were still experimenting with stereo in those days and hadn’t settled into the “vocal center” thing.  Also interesting is the panning of the drum solo on “The End” (the first and I do believe only time Ringo was in stereo on a Beatles record).  The snare is hard right, toms are center and left.  Kick is centered, which I found surprising given the rest of the panning.

 

Keep in mind that these guys were recording in those days on an 8 track machine.  They did a few reductions, but often would all be recording onto one or two tracks at a time.  Ringo  would get a track to himself, but on the next track, you’d have Paul, George and John’s instruments mixed onto one track.  And if they wanted to do some keyboard overdubs, say a piano and an organ, they may have mixed those two instruments together on a 3rd track.

 

I’m not writing anything new here…..just throwing out some thoughts for people to consider when having their next listen to this record.  There is plenty to read online about this record, and of course, there’s the big book I mentioned above.

 

I highly recommend sitting down and closely listening to this record on headphones if you ever get the chance.  It still sounds great 50 years after the fact.

 

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