Alan Parsons is sometimes referred to as one of the luckiest men in music, but applying that title to the legendary musician, audio engineer and producer sells short his immense talent.
Parsons is foremost known as the namesake of The Alan Parsons Project, the 70s and 80s progressive rock act cofounded with multitalented musician Eric Woolfson and continued until the latters departure in 1990. After releasing 10 albums together, Woolfson left to develop other projects. Woolfson died in 2009.
Parsons musical mystique is fed by his earlier work as a studio engineer for albums like The Beatles Abbey Road and Let It Be and Pink Floyds Dark Side of the Moon.
On Nov. 19, Parsons brings The Alan Parsons Live Project to Rose State College Hudiburg Chevrolet Center, 6420 SE 15th St., in Midwest City.
Hear, hereParsons got his start working with sound and recording equipment as a child. His father owned a bulky, early-era tape recorder, and Parsons said he was obsessed with it.
These days, almost anyone with a laptop can record their voice or edit together a song. But during Parsons childhood, household ownership of a tape recorder was very rare.
When I was growing up, people did not know what their own voices sounded like, he said during a recent Oklahoma Gazette interview. I remember people being completely startled if I were to record their speaking voices. Is that really me? Do I really sound like that?
Parsons said the increased availability and capabilities of recording and audio engineering technology are partly to blame for what he sees as bad habits in modern musicmaking.
Modern albums and songs, he said, are sometimes made by different people hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Parsons believes in the organic process achieved by a team of people in a single room. He has learned the value of it through his decades of experience.
Abbey RoadIn 1967, a teenaged Parsons was hired as a low-level employee at Londons legendary Abbey Road Studios. At the time, it was one of the worlds premiere recording studios and churned out British pop and rock records from The Beatles, The Hollies, Cliff Richard and others.
Parsons, who first worked for Abbey Roads parent company in a department outside of music, has said that he got his job in the studio simply by sending a letter to the company president and asking for a transfer.
Without taking that initiative, Parsons might have missed incomparable experiences as an insider on some of historys greatest examples of popular music.
So what would have become of Parsons if he never sent that letter?
I had thoughts of being a TV cameraman once, he said. So possibly if I hadnt gone into audio, I would have went into video.
Abbey Road was where Parsons earned his first official recording credit (though technically his first work was on The Beatles Let It Be, recorded before Abbey Road). The engineer worked his way up, gaining trust and responsibility over time. He even spent a short time in 1998 as Abbey Roads overseeing executive before stepping down to concentrate on his music.
Back to basicsSo many records these days are made partly by machines and by individuals, he said. [Some people say], Lets start with a drum loop and then lets add a bass and then lets add a synth part and lets add a vocal that will be so badly out of tune that it will be unlistenable, but we can fix it. Thats the way records are made now.
Parsons lamented the shortening attention spans caused in part by technology and smartphones. He said fewer people seem interested in listening to full albums.
It could be argued that Parsons predicted technologys dulling effect on society nearly 40 years ago. I Robot, The Alan Parsons Projects 1977 sophomore studio album, was partially themed around the idea that artificial intelligence might eventually overtake mankind.
Parsons stresses that young musicians should learn music in a traditional way. He developed his instructional DVD series The Art and Science of Sound Recording as a learning resource for musicians trying to make it in the industry. Commercial recording studios are rare compared to when Parsons was coming up.
[Studios] used to be the training ground for people, he said. You start being a tea boy in a commercial studio and work your way up. Thats how I did it, and its really quite difficult now. The few commercial studios out there now expect people to have had some kind of college degree, to have done some kind of recording course.
In historyIt is easy to imagine Parsons as a hard-to-impress, critical nitpicker, but the truth is even those who have glimpsed behind the curtain of music greatness can casually enjoy musically, too. He said he would have loved to be a fly on the studio wall when The Who put together 1969s Tommy or 71s Whos Next. Parsons the fan and Parsons the professional are recognizably different.
I try to listen on the basis of Is it a good song? Is it a good performance? Perhaps if I hear it again in a studio environment, I might start to look at it analytically, he said. If Im just listening in my car, I dont think about the production value.
It was obvious to Parsons at the time that The Beatles albums he worked on would become seminal rock n roll achievements. The Liverpool quartet was the biggest band in the world.
Still, he is sometimes in awe of the permanence of some of the projects he participated in. When he was working on Dark Side of the Moon with Roger Waters, Richard Wright and the rest of Pink Floyd, he recognized it as the bands best work to date, but he could not predict its staying power.
I dont think anyone knew wed be talking about it 45 years later, he said. Im very proud of that, of course.
Print headline: Progressive Project, Musician and legendary audio engineer Alan Parsons discusses The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Who and his childhood curiosity in recording peoples voices ahead of his Nov. 19 tour stop.