On the Record

Have you ever wondered where the records you loved were recorded? Today great sound can be recorded on to the hard- disk of a computer or hand- held device, but most professionals still use a purpose- built recording studio with expensive high- tech recording equipment. Before tape recording technology, recordings went straight to disc. When magnetic tape recording was introduced, recordings went to tape before being transferred to a master disc for copying. The trouble with tape was hiss, which could be heard on quite passages. Engineers developed systems to cut this down. Later, Ray Dolby brought out his system of noise reduction, that dramatically improved recordings and was and still is used worldwide.

Hiss would be more noticeable if a copy of the original tape was used, making it second generation. In professional recording studios the equipment employed would usually run the tape at fifteen inches per second (ips) to achieve a good frequency response. Some machines recorded at seven and a half ips and thirty ips.

Originally, recordings were mono (single track). In the 1950s stereo came on board, but was mainly used for classical music. At that time singles were only released in mono, and most were recorded in mono. Later, two- track, four- track, eight- track, sixteen and twenty-four track recording came along. Sometimes two twenty-four track machines were linked, giving the engineer a massive forty-eight tracks to play with. This allowed instruments to have their own track. The singer was usually put in a booth on his/her own with a pair of headphones to listen to the accompaniment live in the studio, or playback that had been recorded earlier. The artiste then sang to the music. One of the advantages of the singer recording on a track that didn’t contain the backing, was that later, other tracks could be added and mixed for stereo.

A lot of the British output was recorded in London studios, with some recorded in the states and other places. Electrical Musical Industries (EMI) in Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, London was where a lot of British hits were made. There are three large studio areas; number one being the largest. The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Cilla Black and many many others recorded there. EMI ran several labels, including Columbia, Parlophone and HMV. Labels had their own colour until the mid sixties, when they became all black. Columbia was green, Parlophone red and HMV blue. EMI had a pressing plant in Hayes, Middlesex. HMVs trademark, Nipper the dog, listening to a gramophone was on the roof.

Decca was another label that had its fair share of hits. Their recording facility was in Broadhurst Gardens, Hampstead. Another hit making establishment was the PYE recording studios, which was at Cumberland Place, Marble Arch in London. This was originally going to be ATV television studios but became a place where hits were made by many, including sixties chart toppers the Searchers.

Philips had a studio in the area and recording supremo Joe Meek, who had a hit with his composition Telstar had a studio in his flat in Holloway Road. Meek was ahead of his time, creating sounds in a way that hadn’t been tried until then. There was and still are many studios in London and across the UK catering for the talent of today. The Decca studios at Broadhurst Gardens and PYE are no more, but the wonderful sounds created in them live on.

Today, we have high- tech digital recording, but the analogue studios of yesteryear, on both sides of the Atlantic and the rest of the world, produced some unforgettable sounds that will forever have a place in the history of music and memory.

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