Howard Massey, author of The Great British Recording Studios, sat down for an interview with on the Producer Crosstalk segment of Music Connection to discuss his career from a musician to now an author. The Great British Recording Studios tells the story of the iconic British facilities where many of the most important recordings of all time were made. Check out the excerpt below.
Engineer, music journalist and newly minted novelist Howard Massey came to the business as many do: as a musician. After a move to London and an inked publishing deal, he logged hours at Pathway Studios. When the engineer there told him he was leaving, he asked Massey to fill the vacancy. As his repertoire broadened, he found that he was something of an expert on the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. So good, in fact, that a friend suggested he write a book on it. He’s since scribed Behind the Glass and co-authored Geoff Emerick’s 2006 acclaimed Here, There, and Everywhere. Recently he has branched into fiction.
Howard Massey’s career has been shaped by a series of “left turns,” as he calls them. “I started out wanting to be a rock & roll star,” the writer explains. “I discovered that I had good ears. When I returned to New York, I was offered a job at Electric Lady Studios and when the [Yamaha] DX7 came out, I got one of the early ones. I found that no one really knew how to use it, including the people at Yamaha, surprisingly. So I locked myself in a room and learned to program it. A friend said I should teach other people. Later, someone else suggested I write a book.” In 1986, The Complete DX7 was published and his literary career thereby drew its first breaths.
With such a level of studio acquaintance––37 featured in Behind the Glass––Massey has thoughts on what signifies a space with staying power. “If people are flocking to book a studio, there’s something they’re doing right,” he observes. “Of course these days any studio that’s still in business, by definition, is successful because everything’s changed dramatically. Clients demanded more and record companies insisted on lower hourly rates. Studios got caught in the cash crunch. Of the 36 discussed in my book The Great British Recording Studios, only three are still in business.
“People today don’t feel the need to go into a professional studio,” he continues. “That’s a bit misguided. There are few artists in history who’ve had the ability to produce themselves well and view their work objectively. You can probably count [them] on one hand. If nothing else, having an objective third set of ears is invaluable. These days everybody thinks they can be a musician, songwriter, engineer and producer wrapped into one. It’s not that easy to be good at different things. I’m not saying nobody can do it. I’m saying few can. It’s hard to master several crafts at the same time and exceptionally hard to be objective about your work.”
Read the full interview here.
Author of The Great British Recording Studios, Howard Massey, was interviewed by AudioFanzine. AudioFanzine is an online magazine that caters to musicians as well as sound engineers, home-studio recording enthusiasts, and more. Read an excerpt of the interview below and see it all at AudioFanzine!
In the early 1960s, at the beginning of the British Invasion, the studio scene in England was thriving, but the British studios used different gear and got a very different sound than their U.S. counterparts. In recent times, most of the major British recording studios have closed, and for a time, it looked like much of their history was in danger of disappearing, too.
In 2010, music journalist Howard Massey was approached by Malcolm Atkin from the Association of Professional Recording Services, a British studio trade group that was headed at the time by Sir George Martin. Atkin asked Massey to write a book documenting the British studio scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, in order to document that very important era of recording. (Martin ended up writing the book’s forward.)
Massey agreed, and spent the next five years researching the book. The result was The Great British Recording Studios (2015, Hal Leonard Books), a fascinating read for any fan of recording. It looks at the major British studios during those decades, including who recorded in them, what gear they used, who the engineers were, and more.
Audiofanzine had a chance to talk to Massey and delve into the world of British recording in the golden years.
The book goes into great detail about the studios, including their engineers and gear collections. How did you get all that information?
Well, it was an enormous research project. I kind of think of it now as the world’s longest term paper. I was given access to the APRS archives, all the major studios were members and as part of membership they had to submit their equipment listings. So I had access to that, and also, there was an APRS directory that was published every year in which most studios took ads and listed their equipment. So I was able to track the changes through the years. And then, tons of online sources, and there were annual Billboard listings in England of studios. So basically, it was a lot of putting pieces together. But the material was sourced from the studios themselves. It was not third-party, or estimates. It was all actual hard facts and figures I was able to find sources for.
Did you interview lots of people, as well?
I interviewed over 300 people.
Did you spend a lot of time over there doing this?
I made five trips to England over the course of the five years.
Because of the Beatles, we’ve heard a lot about EMI Studios (now Abbey Road Studios), but Olympic and Trident were the other two really big ones back then, right?
Yes, I would say. Along with Decca. Decca was probably a little more well known for classical recordings, but the Decca complex was actually bigger than the EMI complex. It was actually larger.
And Decca is where they invented the Decca Tree stereo-miking technique?
Exactly. That was one of the key technical innovations. Of course, EMI was responsible for the Blumlein pair, which is kind of the counterpart. But in terms of pop, EMI, Trident and Olympic were the big three. The Who did a lot of recording at IBC, that was another big studio. And there were a few of them, the prog-rock bands like Yes and ELP tended to work at Advision, another key facility. And then there was a very, very large film-scoring facility called Delane Lea CTS, where almost all the James Bond films were scored, the blockbuster James Bond films out of the ’60s were recorded there.
Read the entire interview here