Abbey Road Meets... Ken Scott

27 March 2014

We put your questions to renowned former Abbey Road engineer Ken Scott this week.

Ken is one of the speakers at ‘The Sound of Abbey Road Studios’ events, where he will return to the very room where he worked on his first session nearly 50 years ago: The Beatles putting the finishing touches to their album ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ in Studio Two.

An esteemed engineer, producer and pivotal figure in Abbey Road Studios’ history, Ken has also worked with Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Lou Reed, to name but a few.

Thank you to everyone who participated and sent in questions; the standard was high and it was tough choosing which ones to put to him. Here is the interview in full.

When you worked with the Beatles all those years ago did you know then how special they were or about to become? - ‏@eskinator, via Twitter

When I started to work with them on side two of A Hard Day’s Night, they were already huge and so I already knew they were special. But no-one, not even them, thought they would become part of history and still being talked about and finding new fans 50 years on.

What was it like working with John and Paul? - Mason Blake Lewis, via Facebook

Exactly as it would seem. Mind blowing, frustrating, great fun and boring.

What was the one Beatles song you were most proud to work on? - @LauraCW1, via Twitter

I'm sorry, but there isn't one. I'm proud to have worked on all of the recordings I made with them.

What was the hardest track to engineer that The Beatles ever recorded? - @mikethomas1959, via Twitter

The Fool on the Hill. It was hard, not because of the Beatles, but because we tried a method of running two four track machines in sync and it didn't work. The problem was that we didn't know it didn't work until it became time to mix.

What do you think of the Beatles’ progress in the 60s, were they really ahead of their time? - Luj Rosanna Felecio, via Facebook

First and foremost, they were amazingly talented: each of the four in their own way. They were incredible learners and great experimenters. They pushed themselves and everyone around them to new limits. Ahead of their time? I don't know about that. But they were certainly of their time.

What is the one engineering decision from that period you wish you could change? Which one song, and why? - Randall Yeager, via Facebook

There isn't one. By that, I mean there isn't just one. I find fault with everything I've done - some minor faults, others not so minor - but I know that if I had the chance to revisit everything and correct those faults, I would very quickly find others. If I ever become totally satisfied with something I've done, I will have nothing to strive for in the future.

How much was [The Beatles’] transition from live touring to strictly studio work influenced by a desire to explore other genres? Examples being circus fanfare in ‘Mr Kite’, the orchestral work of ‘A Day in the Life’, or even more whimsical work like ‘Martha My Dear’ and ‘Honey Pie’. - Andrew A. Morisey, via Facebook

It wasn’t a discussion I ever had with any of them but, if I remember correctly, in interviews they stated they were fed up playing live because they couldn’t hear themselves. I’m sure that freedom from having to play their music on stage enabled their imaginations to run wild, and come up with things like you mention.

Do you think you would have enjoyed the same level of success had you not worked on the Beatles’ sessions? - Sean Juillard, via Facebook

That particular band at the head of one's resumé does no harm.

Were there similarities in the way the Beatles and Pink Floyd used to work? - @Soofijulian, via Twitter

Very much so. They all liked to experiment and once in the studio it was time to get to work.

What was your favourite album to work on and why? - @PotardDechaine, via Twitter

I like 95% of all that I’ve done, all for different reasons, so it’s impossible to pick one over all the rest. And by the way, the 5% I don’t like you have never heard of so it really doesn’t matter.

Did you develop any hardware at Abbey Road? - Ricardo Inclan, via Facebook

My training at EMI was all to do with the sound, not the electronics, so I left anything to do with that to the amazing ‘Amp Room’ guys.

What do you feel is more important, the mic or the preamp? - @dvguitarist, via Twitter

I have no preference. To me, the important things in a studio are the monitors. If you don’t hear a true sound, you can use the best gear in the world and get a bad-sounding end product. But if you hear everything properly, you can work and get a really good sound out of even second-rate gear.

In your opinion, did the equipment matter, or could [the Beatles’] records have been made on any gear and still been great because of their talent? - Fast Freddy Rapillo, via Facebook

In the beginning: talent, talent, talent and Sir George. But Norman Smith laid the groundwork by showing the band how good sounds enhanced their music, and put them on the path to their later work; which would certainly not have been as good without talent, talent, talent, Sir George, the great gear, the Amp Room (the technical wizards) and of course, being somewhat biased, the engineers.

When bands have internal strife, are they more receptive to the engineer’s input? - @bigmikem11, via Twitter

I haven’t found that to be true. If they have internal strife, the engineer might get one member to listen to his input, but another member will hate the idea just because the other member likes it.

How much do budgets impact the process of creating music? - ‏@DarrenJubbCA, via Twitter

As much as you let them.

What is the most valuable thing you learned while recording the Beatles that you were then able to apply to your work with other bands like Pink Floyd? - David Durling, via Facebook

The most valuable thing I learned was from George Martin more than the Beatles, and it only became important when I moved into production as opposed to engineering.

Talent should be allowed to do what talent is meant to do, create. One can guide but one shouldn’t control.

Can I have a REDD 51, please? - Bill Dillon, via Facebook

After I get mine.

Tickets for ‘The Sound of Abbey Road Studios’ are available here.