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As an EMI engineer in the 1960s, Ken Scott was responsible for the sonics of some of the most loved guitar recordings in history, not least the Fab Four’s White Album.
Here, the legendary record producer looks back at his early career and talks Beatles, Floyd and why old guitars rule...
What was the environment like at EMI Studios at Abbey Road when you started there in 1964?
“It was very staid. There was a serious dress code. You had, basically, four tiers. You had the people that we called the ‘brown coats’; they were like studio roadies. They would bring in the drums for the musicians. They would set up seats for orchestras, all of that kind of thing, and they used to wear brown coats, to keep them relatively clean.
“Then you had the amp-room guys: the electronic whizzes. They had to wear a suit and tie. Because they were dealing with lots of dirty cables and damp echo chambers, and all of that kind of thing, they would wear white lab coats to keep their suits clean, which makes absolute sense, in hindsight. I used to think, ‘What the hell are they doing?’ [laughs]. Then, the engineers had to wear a suit and tie. You weren’t allowed to take your jackets off during a session. The button-pushers, the second engineers, didn’t have to wear suits, but they had to have nice dress pants, and a shirt and tie. Certainly no jeans or t-shirts back then.
“The way you progressed through your training was that you started off in the tape library, so you could learn how the studio worked, and learn what all the different jobs were within the studio. Then you’d move up to button-pusher. Before you could actually sit behind a board and do anything, you had to learn mastering, cutting. The reason behind that was that it was easier to put stuff onto tape than it was onto the final product, vinyl, because you had to be careful; there couldn’t be too much bass, because it would jump. You had to be careful of phase, because it would jump.
"So, although we didn’t like having to go through the mastering side before getting to engineer, the reasoning behind it makes so much sense. You knew what you were dealing with when you were doing a mix.”
In the early days, were you under pressure from the artists to make records sound as loud and bassy as possible, in order to compete with American releases?
“The interesting thing is it wasn’t coming from the artists. It wasn’t coming from the producers. It was coming from us. We would listen to American records, and they would appear to be so much louder. One of the engineers there, Peter Bown, spent a couple of weeks at Capital Studios in LA to try to find out what the differences were between America and England.
“He came back, and said, ‘It’s not the gear; it’s the musicians. They’ve just got a different sound that makes it easier to make it louder’. Those kinds of thing are so weird. It’s still the same today: everyone trying to get it that much louder. I think they’re doing it incorrectly by brick-walling [extreme compression]. It’s ridiculous, because it ruins the overall sound of everything.”