Abbey Road Studios
Abbey Road Studios (formerly EMI Recording Studios) is a recording studio at 3 Abbey Road, St John's Wood, City of Westminster, London, England. It was established in November 1931 by the Gramophone Company, a predecessor of British music company EMI, which owned it until Universal Music took control of part of EMI in 2013.
The studio's most notable client was the Beatles, who used the studio – particularly its Studio Two room – as the venue for many of the innovative recording techniques that they adopted throughout the 1960s. In the 1970s, the studio was renamed from EMI in honour of the group's 1969 album Abbey Road.
In 2009, Abbey Road came under threat of sale to property developers. In response, the British Government protected the site, granting it English Heritage Grade II listed status in 2010, thereby preserving the building from any major alterations.
Originally a nine-bedroom Georgian townhouse built in 1831 on the footpath leading to Kilburn Abbey, the building was later converted to flats where the best-known resident was Maundy Gregory, who was famous (or infamous) for selling political honours.
In 1929, the Gramophone Company acquired the premises and converted it into studios. The property benefited from a large garden behind the townhouse, which permitted a much larger building to be constructed to the rear; thus, the Georgian façade belies the true dimension of the building. Pathé filmed the opening of the studios in November 1931 when Edward Elgar conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in recording sessions of his music. In 1934, the inventor of stereo sound, Alan Blumlein, recorded Mozart's Jupiter Symphony which was conducted by Thomas Beecham at the studios.
The neighbouring house is also owned by the studio and used to accommodate musicians. During the mid-20th century, the studio was extensively used by British conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent, whose house was located near the studio building.
The Gramophone Company merged with Columbia Graphophone Company to form Electric and Musical Industries (EMI) in 1931, and the studios later became known as EMI Recording Studios. In 1936 cellist Pablo Casals became the first to record Johann Sebastian Bach's Cello Suites No. 1 & 2 at the command of EMI head Fred Gaisberg. The recordings went on to spur a revolution among Bach aficionados and cellists alike. "Fats" Waller played the Compton organ there.
EMI is closely associated with the Beatles, who recorded almost all of their albums and hits there between 1962 and 1970 using the four-track REDD mixing console designed by Peter K. Burkowitz. The Beatles named their 1969 album Abbey Road, after the street where the studio is located, following which the studio was renamed as Abbey Road Studios. Iain Macmillan took the album's cover photograph outside the studios, with the result that the nearby zebra crossing has become a place of pilgrimage for Beatles fans. It has been a tradition for visitors to pay homage to the band by writing on the wall in front of the building even though it is painted over every three months. In December 2010, the zebra crossing at Abbey Road was given a Grade II listed status.
Notable producers and sound engineers who have worked at Abbey Road include George Martin, Geoff Emerick, Norman "Hurricane" Smith, Ken Scott, Mike Stone, Alan Parsons, Peter Vince, Malcolm Addey, Peter Brown, Richard Langham, Phil McDonald, John Kurlander, Richard Lush and Ken Townsend, who invented the studio effect known as automatic double tracking (ADT). The chief mastering engineer at Abbey Road was Chris "Vinyl" Blair, who started his career as a tape deck operator.
Abbey Road Studios got its start in the film scoring business in 1980 when Anvil Post Production formed a partnership with the studio, called Anvil-Abbey Road Screen Sound. The partnership started when Anvil was left without a scoring stage when Denham Studios were demolished. It ended in 1984 when EMI merged with Thorn Electrical Industries to become Thorn EMI. Abbey Road's success in the scoring business continued after the partnership ended.
From 18 July to 11 September 1983, the public had a rare opportunity to see inside the Studio Two room, where the Beatles made most of their records. While a new mixing console was being installed in the control room, the studio was used to host a video presentation called The Beatles at Abbey Road. The soundtrack to the video had a number of recordings that were not made commercially available until the release of The Beatles Anthology project over a decade later.
In September 2005, American hip-hop artist Kanye West, backed by a 17-piece female string orchestra, performed songs derived from his first two studio albums at Abbey Road Studios. Recordings of these live renditions formed his live album Late Orchestration, which was released in April 2006. The cover art for the album makes use of the famous zebra crossing with West's trademark 'Dropout Bear' seen walking across it. In June 2011, South Korean boy band Shinee performed at the studio as part of its Japanese debut showcase in partnership with EMI and the group's local record label SM Entertainment, becoming the first-ever Asian artist to perform in the studio. In November 2011, Australian recording artist Kylie Minogue recorded some of her most famous songs with a full orchestra at Abbey Road Studios. The album called The Abbey Road Sessions was released October 2012.
In February 2017, a rare BTR-3 tape recorder, previously used at Abbey Road, was recovered by members of Surge Radio, the student-run radio station at the University of Southampton, from their old Glen Eyre Halls studio after information on its whereabouts was provided to them by former Radio Glen Technical Manager Henry Walmsley, who had used the machine at the premises throughout the 1990s. Known by station members as 'The Beatle', it had been in use there until around 2001. The BTR-3 was donated to Abbey Road in April 2017.
Controversy over sale
On 17 February 2010, it was reported that EMI had put the studios up for sale because of increasing debts. There was reported interest by property developers in redeveloping the site into luxury flats. It had also been reported there was a possibility the studios could be purchased by the National Trust to preserve what was in effect a historical building. A Save Abbey Road Studios campaign attempted to ensure the premises remained a working studio.
On 21 February 2010, EMI stated it planned to keep the studio and was looking for an investor to help finance a "revitalization" project. Meanwhile, the British government declared Abbey Road Studios a Grade II listed building which protected it from major alteration. The following December, the pedestrian crossing at Abbey Road was listed on the National Heritage List.
Paul McCartney, speaking to BBC Newsnight on 16 February 2010, said there had been efforts to save Abbey Road by "a few people who have been associated with the studio for a long time," although he did not name them or include himself among them. "I have so many memories there with the Beatles," McCartney said, "It still is a great studio. So it would be lovely for someone to get a thing together to save it."
Abbey Road Institute
In March 2015, Abbey Road Institute was founded as a school for music production and audio engineering. In addition to the London location, Abbey Road Institute offers education globally with schools in Berlin, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris and Melbourne. Students can study an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering which has been developed in collaboration with industry leaders and the team at Abbey Road Studios.
- Lawrence, Alistair (2012). Abbey Road: The Best Studio in the World. New York: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-60819-999-0.