Legendary musician and audio engineer Alan Parsons plays Nov. 19 at Rose State College 

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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 latter’s 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 Floyd’s 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, here

Parsons 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 Road

In 1967, a teenaged Parsons was hired as a low-level employee at London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios. At the time, it was one of the world’s 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 Road’s 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 history’s 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 hadn’t 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 Road’s overseeing executive before stepping down to concentrate on his music.

Back to basics

“So many records these days are made partly by machines and by individuals,” he said. “[Some people say], ‘Let’s start with a drum loop and then let’s add a bass and then let’s add a synth part and let’s add a vocal that will be so badly out of tune that it will be unlistenable, but we can fix it.’ That’s 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 technology’s dulling effect on society nearly 40 years ago. I Robot, The Alan Parsons Project’s 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. That’s how I did it, and it’s 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 history

It 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 1969’s Tommy or ’71’s Who’s 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 I’m just listening in my car, I don’t 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 band’s best work to date, but he could not predict its staying power.

“I don’t think anyone knew we’d be talking about it 45 years later,” he said. “I’m 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 people’s voices ahead of his Nov. 19 tour stop.

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