Whether or not you know his name, you will certainly have heard the influence the late George Martin had upon some of popular music’s most iconic sounds. To name him as the 5th Beatle, a moniker most agree to be deserved, is to brush over the more groundbreaking techniques that Martin pioneered.
Aside from creating amazing music, Martin changed the landscape of music production. There are techniques, methods and sounds that today’s musically literate take for granted, but that this visionary producer either created or brought into mainstream use.
Here are 3 ways in which George Martin revolutionised the way pop music was made.
psychology, not technology
In the early 50’s when the as yet undiscovered Beatles approached him, the term “music producer” has very different connotations. For one they were few and far between, and each one was uniquely talented not only musically, but at bringing out the best in their artists. “I realised I had the ability to get the best out of people,” says Martin. “A producer has to get inside the person. Each artist is very different, and there’s a lot of psychology in it.” He represented a uniquely personable technique towards production, focusing not simply on the technology, but on the artists. “Now everyone thinks they’re a producer. Technology has been getting more sophisticated every day. You can make a tune that isn’t that great sound wonderful. This stifles creativity, because you don’t have to work for it, it’s already there.
Although his priority was certainly the artist over the technology, he was still a creative genius when it came to manipulating technology to create unique sounds. Tape manipulation for instance, was a technique only being used in experimental avant garde music at the time, however Martin took this and brought it into his work. “I couldn’t play the piano at the speed it needed to be played, the way I’d written the part, I wasn’t that good a pianist, but if you had had a really good pianist, he could do it. I couldn’t get all the notes in. One night I was by myself and played the notes at half speed but an octave lower on the piano, recording at 15 inches per second. When I ran the tape back at 30 inches per second, the notes were at the right speed and in the correct octave.” Not only speeding and slowing recordings, but techniques like reversing voices and guitar tracks and splicing others together are all methods now used with ease at the click of a button.
Coming into rock’n’roll from an altogether alien world of jazz and comedy, having accomplished much in this field alone working on the legendary Goon Show and with highly accomplished Jazz musicians, it is no surprise Martin was adept at splicing genres. The Beatles were one of the first bands to feature orchestrated parts to enhance their songs, a method now so commonplace it sounds almost cliche. This method was largely spearheaded by George Martin, iconic tracks such as “Yesterday” and “Strawberry Fields” would have sounded incredibly different without his influence. Strawberry Fields began with two very different versions, one classic rock version and another orchestrated concert piece. “You can do something about it, You can fix it” challenged John Lennon. Martin took up the challenge, speeding up one version, slowing down the others and using a variable-control tape machine to combine them. The end result was one of his favorite Beatles recordings.
Far from simply being a contributor to the Beatles vast success, Martin’s creative influence reached far further, and there is no doubt music production technology, technique and industry folklore would be vastly different today without this wonderful man.