WW: Then it varies greatly from group to group?
GM: Very greatly, yes.
WW: When mixing down, do you physically operate the console, or do you direct an engineer?
GM: Like most producers I like to get my hands on the controls, and it’s wrong. Sometimes I do—sometimes you have to—because sometimes the mixes are so complicated that one pair of hands won’t work. In fact, on many Beatles mixes, we would have the engineer sitting in the middle, me sitting on the right, and one of the guys on the left.
It depends whose song it was—it might be Paul or John or George. And we would all be playing with the faders, the three of us; we would actually be playing a sort of triple concerto. But the snag with that is that you still need someone else to listen because when I’m controlling the controls on a mix, I’m listening for certain things that I’m controlling and I don’t have that essential requirement of being able to listen to the whole thing with absolute impartiality.
So nowadays I tend to get out of that scene and say, “This is wrong. You shouldn’t be handling the controls. You should be standing back and telling people what to do, and listening to the whole thing.” It’s only by being free that you can really see the whole picture.
George Martin and engineer Bill Price
WW: What qualities do you look for when selecting an engineer?
GM: Oh, that’s a big question. First of all, he’s got to be an enthusiastic engineer. I’m very fortunate with Bill (Price); he really is a dedicated engineer. He must be keen on his job, keen on sound, and preferably—and there will be many people who will quarrel with this—preferably without the ambition to be a record producer, because I think that gets in the way of good engineering.
WW: Why is that?
GM: Well, there are an awful lot of engineers who become record producers, which is fine; I’ve got no gripes against that. But I don’t think you can do two jobs at the same time. And there’s always the transition period when the engineer tries to do a bit of production, or goes back to doing a bit of engineering after he’s been a producer. And I think that they lose out because of that. They are two separate jobs and they need detached minds.
WW: Anything else?
GM: He’s got to be good at his job; he’s got to know a lot about recording—that goes without saying. He’s got to know the board, and he’s got to have a good ear. He’s got to have a personality where, without being servile, he makes it plain that he is there, in fact, to serve the group.
He doesn’t have to be a humble person. On the contrary, he must be a person of some authority and some spirit; but he must always give that impression, that he is there to get the best sounds out of people, just as the producer should give that effect.
WW: So you don’t care if the engineer has a musical background?
GM: No, not really; not personally because that should be the job of the producer.
WW: What kind of language do you use to communicate with your engineer? You mentioned to me before that you were non-technical, therefore / assume that you do not communicate in technical terms.
GM: Well, in fact, I do. I’m non-technical, but I still say to him, “I think we need a bit of top at 4,000 (Hz) on that, or try it a little lower down.” When I say I’m not technical, I mean I haven’t any technical training. But you can’t grow up in the recording industry, and go from mono recording through stereo and multi-track, working all the time on boards, without picking up a little knowledge.
WW: Then you feel that the producer should be able to operate the console himself—at least in his head?
GM: I think it helps—anything that gives a greater understanding between people. I think that if my engineer knows that I know what’s going on, then he will respect me more and he’ll work more closely with me. If I don’t know what I’m talking about and I ask him for something that is patently impossible, I’ll lose his respect, and he won’t work so well with me.