George Martin cut up recording tape and pasted it together to achieve John Lennon's sound - just one example of his genius. Musicologist Volkmar Kramarz explains how Martin's creativity rocketed the Beatles to fame.
DW: Mr. Kramarz, you've been studying popular music and music production for years, and are an expert in 1960s music production. Did you have the opportunity to meet George Martin?
Volkmar Kramarz: I never met him personally. I think that was an opportunity granted to just a select few. He wasn't one of those people who went to events and shook everyone's hand. He was always the man in the background - though he definitely pulled the strings there.
George Martin was an experienced music producer, often called the "fifth Beatle." How important was he to the Fab Four?
He was extremely important - with his investment [in developing the Beatles], he contributed much to the development of the overall "Beatles sound."
How easy was it to influence the Beatles?
I think they were very impressed, even though they were a bit skeptical that he had predominantly produced comedians and jazz artists in the past. Martin knew his stuff, and he knew how to express himself musically. He knew instruments that the Beatles had never heard of before- Martin was a very experienced and educated musician.
The Beatles' albums evolved drastically over the years. What role did Martin play in that development?
He played a very decisive role, though there are a few critics today. Some say the Beatles destroyed rock and roll, referring to that carefree and relaxed way of making music. They mixed everything in one pot: white and black musical traditions, country, folk and blues. These critics have intellectualized the Beatles. And Martin played an important role in that.
He was the one who recorded them very accurately. He said right away that the original drummer [Pete Best] wasn't good enough for the band, so he was replaced. Even Ringo Starr wasn't allowed to play immediately. And that's how things continued. Martin was very meticulous and always had ideas about how production techniques could be integrated into the music. He did what in retrospect was very important: He introduced the recording studio as an instrument in pop music.
The beat music genre and even the art of recording were new in the 1960s. What were the biggest challenges for music producers back then?
As a producer in the early 1960s, your job was to find suitable musicians and then find songs that suited the artists. Then you went into the studio where live performances were recorded, more or less. The most important thing for a producer was to make the conditions right. Martin had a team of very talented and dedicated technicians for his studio work. The recording techniques were really turned upside down - for example, the use of the microphones was altered and multi-track techniques were used extensively. Even tape techniques from the experimental and electronic music scene had a significant influence on what, until then, had been categorized rather pejoratively as teenage music .
Martin got his technicians to broaden their horizons - that's how they came up with the idea of integrating new music from [composer Karlheinz] Stockhausen into the production. That's something the Beatles, nor their fans, had ever heard of before. And Martin knew a few tricks for integrating such techniques into production.
What kind of tricks?
One example: John Lennon wanted some kind of circus music with organ in the background of the song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" He didn't want a particular piece of music, just atmospheric sound. So Martin took the tape of a recording of this kind of music and cut it into lots of little pieces, randomly pasting them back together. And even that sounded like a familiar piece, so they cut it into even smaller pieces and moved them around until a kind of sound collage came into being.
Those were tricks that came from the electronic and avant-garde music scenes. The studio options for these genres had already been extensively researched.
Did Martin have anything to do with the breakup of the Beatles?
Martin was someone who experienced everything with the Beatles. He began as the big father who was deeply admired and ended as someone who seemed nearly superfluous. The Beatles had grown up and didn't want to be told what to do. They wanted to sit at the mixer themselves and decide which instruments, musicians and sounds to use. Ultimately he had to recognize that he was neither needed nor wanted.
Then they also got US producer legend Phil Spector on board. That was bitter for Martin. But he didn't have anything to do with the breakup of the Beatles - had they let him, he would have certainly liked to continue their collaboration.
Volkmar Kramarz is a musicologist and expert in pop music and audio production. He is also active as a rock guitarist and author.
Click through the gallery below for a look at some of the most important songs produced by George Martin.