A Remix Too Far: The Pointless Exercise of The Beatles In Spatial Audio

At some point, you probably have to accept that you can’t keep selling sixty-year-old music to kids by remixing it with increasingly gimmicky versions.

There probably comes a time when an old band is not going to appeal to the kids. Oh, sure, there will always be people who discover the music of the past and find it to be fresh, new and unlike anything else that they are hearing – I totally get why some teens and twenty-somethings are discovering bands like Fleetwood Mac and being blown away because they’ve grown up in a world of autotuned, anodyne and anonymous music that all sounds identical and so anything that differs from that will seem exciting and original. But that’s a small part of the demographic and most young people will be more than happy with the corporate, interchangeable polished fluff that now comprises most popular music of all genres because even though music is no longer the central part of teen life that it used to be, kids still tend, naturally, to gravitate towards the new.

This is a problem for bands, labels and greedy copyright trolls who own vast back catalogues aimed at a continually dwindling audience, most of whom have probably already bought that catalogue on various formats and are increasingly unlikely to keep buying the same old music again and again. That’s not even considering that with the passage of time, this audience is literally dying out. If you were a teenager listening to the Beatles in the early 1960s, you’ll now be in your mid-seventies and even if you are still listening to the music of your youth, I suspect that you’re probably OK with the multiple versions you already have.

To keep on making money from that back catalogue – especially as it heads towards slipping out of copyright – you need to not only sell it to a younger audience but also spruce it up so that the new versions will remain out of the public domain. So I can see what Apple Corp (as opposed to Apple music, which is confusingly also part of all this nonsense) are thinking with their latest wheeze, releasing a Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio remix of the Beatles’ 1 compilation – an album that already featured remixed versions of original tracks that sometimes don’t even exist as stereo recordings. I also think it seems like a ludicrously misguided idea.

Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio is the latest effort to somehow create surround sound (or, if you like, quadrophonic sound) for people who listen to music via Bluetooth headphones on their phones. Or more specifically, in this case, people who listen to music via ludicrously overpriced and uncomfortable Apple Airpods Pro on the latest iPhone. Now, you might think that people who listen to music this way are not exactly audiophiles and if we have learned anything from the age of music piracy it is that for many people, sound quality comes a distant second behind convenience. If people really care about having the optimum sound experience, they are probably not going to be listening on earbuds – even very expensive earbuds – via a phone.

In any case, do we really think that the kids today will be listening to the Beatles? Or, even more dubiously, that they will listen to the Beatles but only if the old 1960s tracks have been given a sparkly new remix? It seems a bit unlikely. These new remixes – by Giles Martin, who some might say qualifies for the job of continually remixing Beatles tracks based entirely on his surname – can only go so far – the original recordings are what they are, especially the very early tracks that only exist in very basic mono masters. Sure, you can tweak that odd Sixties stereo mix technique that is used on Sgt Pepper and others where the music is in one channel and the vocals in another to become more natural sounding – but beyond that, it is just going to be unnecessary fiddling that will not make the records sound any more modern or make the most famous band of the 1960s seem anymore with it to modern teenagers. If this new version really has been done to appeal to the youth market, it suggests a certain cluelessness that makes you wonder just who is in charge of the Beatles’ legacy today and why they have so little confidence in it.

I can’t see a remix of A Hard Day’s Night or Love Me Do having any more relevance for a modern teenager than the originals – it’s still the same song, the same performances and the same recording no matter how much you bump up the bass or bring the drums up in the mix. It’ll still sound old-fashioned to anyone who found it old-fashioned to begin with. As for older fans – the ones who might already have 1 on CD and perhaps also have a whole bunch of the other Beatles albums and compilations that these tracks originally appeared on – do we honestly think that a fudged pseudo-surround sound that can only be appreciated with the most expensive earbuds in the world while played through a phone is going to convince them to buy digital copies of music that they own physically? At best, it will be a curious alternative to the versions that they already know and at worst will probably feel like an act of vandalism.

This is just the latest of many questionable remixes of Beatles tracks over the years that have ranged from the sympathetic to the utterly misguided. Perhaps we should be grateful that no one has (yet) decided to create dance mixes or have a B-list rapper signed up to randomly shout his name throughout the track – both go-to ‘let’s be down with the kids’ solutions of desperate-to-be-cool has-been acts for the last thirty years. But given that these new mixes are all done without the participation of any of the band’s surviving members – or, indeed, anyone involved with the original production – you have to wonder about their artistic validity. I do get the need to sometimes remix old records when the artists revisit what might have been versions that they were never satisfied with (I think most albums that tried to sound desperately modern in the 1980s would benefit from a reworking to strip out the overblown production techniques that sounded uniquely dated even at the time) – but when it’s third parties trying to make something that will appeal to people whose parents weren’t even born when these records came out, it just feels like a desperate cash grab. I can’t help but think that these new gimmicky versions will date rather more quickly than the original recordings have.


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