Leaders & Success
He Added Pepper To Beatles
BY PETE BARLAS
INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY
When Paul McCartney wanted to add the sound of a piccolo trumpet to the recording of "Penny Lane," George Martin brought in an orchestra musician to handle the work.
Martin, with his classical training, could have written something for the musician to play. After all, none of the Beatles could read music.
But that's not how Martin worked. Instead, he told McCartney, the Beatles' bass player and co-writer of most of the band's material, to hum the line he wanted. Martin then wrote out the notes for the trumpet.
A team-oriented approach is necessary to achieve success, Martin writes in his book "All You Need is Ears" with co-author Jeremy Hornsby about his years as the Beatles' record producer.
"A successful record has to be a real expression of everyone's talent," he wrote. "There were no clear lines of demarcation. It was more a question of being a good team than isolating individuals as being a producer, arranger or songwriter."
In the past 50 years, Martin has become one of the most prolific producers in the history of the music business. His list of performers is as diverse as it is long. It includes guitarist Jeff Beck, singers Celine Dion and Kenny Rogers, the rock band America and the London Symphony Orchestra. Martin also co-founded a record production company and launched a publishing business. He has earned two Ivor Novello awards and five Grammy awards. In 1996 he was made a Knight Bachelor of the British Empire.
The Martin Tone
Martin's musical talent, knowledge of recording techniques and willingness to experiment became critical to the Beatles' success, says Keith Clifton, associate professor of musicology for Central Michigan University's School of Music.
"He was very important in filling in the gaps between what the Beatles were hoping to achieve — the sound that they had in their head and the technical limitations — the fact that they didn't read music, they hadn't studied in a formal classical type of training and they wanted to do all of these elaborate things and they didn't know how to do it," Clifton told IBD. "Calling Martin the fifth Beatle isn't inappropriate. I don't think their sound would ever have evolved the way it did without his help."
John Lennon, the Beatles' rhythm guitarist who teamed up with McCartney on a maze of songs, said as much on the BBC. "(Martin) had a very great musical knowledge and background, so he could translate for us and suggest a lot of amazing technical things," he said.
Martin was born in 1926 in a poor section of London. His father worked as a carpenter and sold newspapers for extra income.
At age 6, Martin got his first taste of music when his parents bought a piano. He quickly experimented with chords and as a teenager played in his first organized group.
Later, he developed an interest in aircraft design. Lacking funds to enroll in a school, Martin joined Britain's air force and flew planes during World War II.
Following the war, Martin, at 21, enrolled in the Guildhall School of Music in London. Martin studied piano and the oboe. The oboe was a natural choice to find work to help pay his tuition. "The oboe was cheaper and less cumbersome to carry around and good oboe players were in very short supply, so orchestras were likely to settle for someone like myself," he wrote.
In 1950 he joined EMI's Parlophone Records to produce classical and comedy records. While there, he experimented with orchestra scores. To Martin, sounds are a lot like colors. "I tend to think of orchestration in terms of painting a picture," he wrote.
He also experimented with microphone placement in live recordings. A mic two inches away from a bass drum produces a crisp sound. Record it from a distance and it sounds flabby, Martin says. "It's the producer's job to know the characteristics of each instrument as much as the technical qualities of different microphones," he wrote.
In 1962, when Martin was managing Parlophone, Beatle manager Brian Epstein dropped by. The band had been turned down by every other record company. Martin was the group's last shot.
Although Martin thought the Beagles' demo tape weak, he signed them to a four-record deal for pennies on the dollar.
Other EMI executives laughed at Martin's signing of the "four mop-tops." The scoffs died when the Beatles' first single, "Love Me Do," reached No. 17 in the United Kingdom. Their next single, "Please, Please Me," topped the charts.
In the early days of the Beatles, Martin supervised the recording sessions. "My role was to make sure that they made a concise, commercial statement," he wrote.
Martin's role grew when he wrote an orchestral score for "Yesterday" in 1965. The Beatles now began asking Martin to produce a wider variety of sounds.
Two years later Martin's efforts flourished during the making of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." The album took an unprecedented five months to make.
Martin figured out how to work around the limitations of the 1960s' four-track studios, Clifton said. "He could do so many different things. He could run into the studio and do a piano lick and record it backward or at half-speed to achieve the sound they wanted to get."
On the song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," Lennon wanted to include the sound of a steam organ. Lacking the funds to buy one, Martin found tapes of steam organs from other recordings. He directed the Beatles' recording engineer, Geoff Emerick, to cut them up and splice them together at random.
For Martin, the only way to succeed in the music business is to continually evolve. "You can't let up for a moment in seeking the best result of which you are capable," he wrote.
By 1965, Beatle records dominated the charts. But when EMI failed to properly reward Martin for his work, he and a group of EMI employees started their own record production company, Associated Independent Recording.
EMI began paying Martin royalties from record sales instead of a flat salary.
The move was unusual. But Martin's success with the Beatles provided the leverage, says Todd Bonder, partner for Rosenfeld Meyer & Susman, a law firm specializing in the entertainment industry.
"Most record producers didn't have the clout to do that, but he realized that being on the outside looking in was a stronger position than being on the inside and getting squeezed," Bonder told IBD.
With A Lot Of Help
Martin is perhaps best known for his work on "Sgt. Pepper" 40 years ago. The album, like other Beatle records, was arranged to have the best songs on the first side to better grab an audience and boost sales, writes Martin in "With a Little Help From My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper," with William Pearson.
It was also important to finish an album side with a bang. The album's last song, "A Day in the Life," ends with a symphonic orchestra building to a frenzied climax before giving way to a single piano chord.
"George Martin's everlasting legacy will not just be the scoring and arranging he did," Emerick wrote in his book, "Here, There and Everywhere," "but his willingness to accommodate the Beatles as they stretched their artistic wings and learned to fly."