From helping to record the Beatles on Let It Be and engineering Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon to producing his own groundbreaking recordings, Alan Parsons has become one of the most respected producers in the world.
Parsons recently gave several masterclasses to School of Audio Engineering (SAE) students in the U.S., U.K. and Germany, offering advice and insight garnered from four decades at the top of music production.
“I was asked: ‘are you OK to go and work with the Beatles?’” Parsons recalls looking back at the start of his recording career. “I walked in to this basement room and there were all four Beatles, George Martin, and Glyn Johns waiting for me to arrive.
“It was quite terrifying actually, but from that period on my life changed – I felt extremely fortunate.”
During his highly successful tour around several SAE campuses, Parsons described an extraordinary career that has seen him work with the biggest names in music and in some of the best studios, for the benefit of students just starting out in recording.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted the success that Dark Side would have, but everyone felt it was their [Floyd’s] best work to date,” he says, before exploding a popular myth about the project.
“Contrary to popular belief Dark Side was 16-track, not 24-track. On [tracks like Time] a quarter of our tracks had gone with sound effects. We would fill 16 tracks and then mix it down to, say, seven or eight tracks so we could add more stuff.”
Parsons also helped record the infamous loop in Money, and played students the original quadraphonic recording. He has remained on top of recording technology, especially surround mixing.
“I think it is easier to mix in surround than it is stereo,” he opines. “It’s a shame not to do it if you have the opportunity. My philosophy is always to keep something happening in all of the speakers, something changing, something developing…”
As recording technology makes the transition to a more computer-orientated environment Parsons remains philosophical.
“You might say that you lose a bit of the soul using something like automation in a DAW,” he says, “but it’s wonderful to go back to a track you haven’t worked on for three months and you are exactly where you were when you left – it’s inspirational!”
But what about the analog versus digital sound debate?
“Digital recording is still very much in its infancy,” Parsons states. “It’s young and developing and one day we will be able to make digital recordings sound like analog – we’ll get there.”
He also firmly believes that the producer’s role is as important as ever in the studio, especially in terms of the relationship with the recording artist.
“The atmosphere in a recording studio is very much in your control and you can make or break it,” he says. “I think a huge part of the recording process is how to make your artists feel comfortable.”
But one of his biggest pieces of advice for students and anyone interested in recording now is not to join the loudness war.
“Record labels want their records to sound louder than everyone else’s so they compress the s—t out of them,” he says. “It’s terribly sad and I hope you will support me in resisting this concept.
“If a song has dynamics and breathes then don’t push it. If your record is quieter than someone else’s then just turn it up with the volume knob!”