D.I.Y. music like The Beatles

A post by singer and guitarist Andrew Healey about how he is using The Beatles as inspiration for his new album.

I’m a Beatle nut. So, as I juggle around ideas for my upcoming album, it seems only natural to turn to the ‘masters’ for inspiration.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that my album will be largely acoustic. Why? Well, firstly, the acoustic guitar is what I perform gigs with — it’s my favourite musical instrument. Secondly, I don’t own an electric guitar, although maybe I’ll get one soon. The third and main reason, though, is that I don’t have a stack of money to throw into booking a recording studio and hiring musicians for the instruments that I don’t play.

Yes, I will work with a limited palette. And, do you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want my songs to breathe — unencumbered by slick production and layers upon layers of instrumentation.

Studying The Beatles

Thanks to rudimentary recording technology in the 1960s, The Beatles had no choice but to take a D.I.Y. approach to recording.  When I listen to their songs, it’s sometimes hard to believe that most were recorded on a four-track. And, they used echo rooms to create reverb and achieved compression by riding faders at the mixing desk. Oh, how things have changed.

I hope to learn something from the Fab Four. So, I’ve been revisiting their music. The album that I’ve been studying lately is the White Album. I remember when I first heard it, I was quite shocked and didn’t like it much. With songs like ‘Revolution 9’, ‘Wild Honey Pie’ and ‘Why don’t we do it on the road?’, it was far from what I expected. You see,  the album’s official title is ‘The Beatles,’ so I thought it would contain the Fab Four’s greatest hits.

Over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate the White Album — although ‘Revolution 9’ still gives me the creeps.

The album is hardly cohesive (many of the songs don’t include all four Beatles), but it is most certainly inventive and ground-breaking. Take for example Paul McCartney’s song ‘I will,’ which song features a bass line created purely with Paul’s voice.

Listen to the vocal bass line

At the time of recording, The Beatles had recently returned from India, where the only western musical instruments available were acoustic guitars. So, there are many acoustic songs, which I love. Check out ‘Blackbird,’ ‘Julia’ and Mother Nature’s son.’ Fabulous! I also enjoy listening to the stereo placement of the instruments. These days, bass guitars and lead vocals almost always appear at the centre of the mix. However, that rule doesn’t apply on The White Album, or any other Beatle records for that matter.

My version of Blackbird

The Beatles’ use of percussion, which often consists of handclaps and knee-slapping, is also interesting for a guy like me who hates drum machines and doesn’t want to hire a drummer.  

Incidentally, Paul McCartney’s inspiration for Sergeant Pepper was apparently Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. I’ve had a listen, and I reckon it doesn’t come close to what The Beatles achieved. For a start, on most of the songs, The Beach Boys only sang — The Wrecking Crew provided the instrumentation.  And, neither of the singers were a patch on Lennon or McCartney.

Who wants perfection?

I hope I can create a fraction of the magic that The Beatles had. If I succeed, I’m sure it will be largely due to having to work within limitations. Imagine if The Beatles had had access to twenty-first century recording technology. Heck, they’d have ended up sounding like Genesis — the music would have been way too perfect.

There’s a lot to be said for imperfection.

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