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Entries in EMI (2)

Saturday
Mar132010

Pink Floyd put their foot down

I love Pink Floyd. My favourite album of all time is their masterpiece, Dark Side of the Moon. It is a stunning piece of work. And now, thanks to a legal victory by the band over their record company, EMI, I’m not going to be able to download individual tracks from it (or indeed any other Pink Floyd album).

Pink Floyd started this legal fight in order to “preserve the artistic integrity of the albums”. In their view, this artistic integrity would have been fundamentally undermined had listeners been able to listen to tracks out of context from the original albums by downloading them individually.

Now, I sort of understand this reasoning. The album format is a wonderful thing, and Pink Floyd have some wonderful albums, where each track is a component part of a whole; tells part of a story; segues ingeniously into another song; and so on. When it works, it works beautifully, and it makes for a great listening experience where the album, in its entirety, really is the piece of art and the songs are the component parts. So to a degree, I buy the argument that by allowing users to pick and choose tracks to download, the album gets lost or forgotten about. Which, when this happens, is of course a great shame.

However, I still think this is a bad move by the band, mainly because it will serve to significantly reduce the reach of their music – and the likelihood of people hearing their albums (and enjoying the aforementioned artistic integrity) in the first place. My bet is that a 16-year-old who is curious about and new to Pink Floyd might take a punt on a track or two if they were downloadable from iTunes – but is far less likely to take the plunge and buy a whole album without sampling their music first. Thinking back to the way I got into Pink Floyd as a youngster, it was entirely the result of hearing individual tracks out of context from the albums: I’d go round to mates’ houses where I’d hear mix tapes featuring Pink Floyd songs that were plonked alongside an eclectic mix of other stuff. I would never have bought a copy of Dark Side of the Moon at all had it not been for those random encounters with Money or Time sitting uneasily next to Kinky Afro on an old cassette.

But regardless of whether the band’s legal win reduces the reach of their music, it leaves Pink Floyd in a position where they are odds with reality: legally they can control how people listen to their music, but in a practical sense, they can’t. This isn’t just about the MP3 era: since the cassette came along and home-taping took off in the 70s, listeners have had lot of control over how to listen to songs – in context, out of context, legally, illegally, whatever. Then the CD player arrived, and with it the ability to program song sequences or just hit ‘skip’ to rush past fillers on albums or hear good songs again. And if we’re honest about it, even the good old vinyl LP let you do that anyway, if you were prepared to physically look for the gaps in the grooves and slap the needle down on the song you wanted to hear. I certainly remember doing that when it came to some of the less-interesting Pink Floyd albums.

The download age has only reinforced this level of control: people may be forced to download Pink Floyd albums in their entirety now, but they will be downloading them onto technology which actively encourages out-of-context listening. Shuffle modes and playlist creation in my view, render the whole idea of artists prescribing how people should hear their music completely redundant. As an artist myself I’m not entirely comfortable with that, but it is a fact, and no amount of litigation can prevent this new-found listener control.

For me, however, the most persuasive argument against the ‘you-must-listen-to-our-albums-in-their-entirety stance’ comes from Pink Floyd themselves: if they are so insistent that every song must be heard in context, then why did they release no fewer than six compilation albums containing a mix of tracks taken from a whole bunch of different albums (some, like Money, even re-recorded especially for one compilation)?

If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have your pudding.

Saturday
Aug222009

Mastering the album at Abbey Road

Well the album is finally done now.

The final bit of the recording process involved a trip to Abbey Road to master the record. Mastering basically means putting the album through a very fancy equaliser, then compressing and limiting the record to beef up the sound.

The mastering equaliser we used at Abbey Road was an old EMI-designed piece of kit from the 70s; despite advances in recording equipment, these EMI mastering consoles remain incredibly popular with artists and producers (due to the way that they give records a more warm, 'analogue' sound) - so Abbey Road haven't got rid of them.

I was very lucky to have a chap called Steve Rooke master the album. He's done a lot of very impressive stuff in the past, but his recent big project was doing the Beatles remasters. I had great fun during our lunchbreak hearing how he went about it. Steve's a really nice chap - not to mention an extremely experienced mastering engineer - and working with him was both a pleasure and a privilege.

I took some shots on the day which I thought I'd post up here - a photo diary of sorts. Hope they're of interest.

The tube station at St John's Wood, the nearest station to Abbey Road. It's got a very funky staircase and lamps.


As I walked down from the tube to Abbey Road, I encountered something very odd, and which looked like it could have come straight out of a Sgt. Pepper-era promo film: a bunch of impressive-looking dudes on horses.

In Abbey Road they have tape machines like this just lying around the place in the corridors. I was drooling over this one. I'm surprised they don't get nicked more often.

This was the mastering equipment that the record went through. It dates from the 70s but people love the 'warm' sound it produces so much that they continue to use it in Abbey Road to this day...albeit hooked up to computers. You can "see" two of my new songs on the computer screen.

And here's yours truly in the mastering suite. I look like death, due to having been up all night putting the final touches to the mixes. A lot of coffee was needed during the session. Excuse my dishevelled appearance.

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