Notes on Recording and Mixing
by Mark Linett
As has long been obvious, Brian Wilson was always a major innovator when it came to recording technique. Starting with the Summer Days Aum in 1965, he began to make use of the new 18 track tape decks that a few of the studios in Los Angeles had recently received.
Neither United/Western (where Brian did most of his recording), nor Gold Star (his second favorite studio), had an 8-track. So, as he so often did, he adapted to the available technology and continued to cut his instrumental tracks on the 1/2" 3-track and 4-track machines that were then the industry standard.
The difference was that now, instead of cutting the entire band in mono onto a single track, leaving two or three tracks for vocals, the engineers (Chuck Britz, Larry Levine and others), began to spread out the band onto three tracks so that Brian would at least have some control over the mix when he dubbed the instrumental track to mono on a second tape before adding the vocals.
Recording the track in stereo was never the goal of using the four-track this way. The division of the instruments was only done with an ear toward what sounds Brian might want to highlight later. Typically, drums, keyboard, percussion, etc. would be on track one, horns on track two, and bass and additional percussion, or sometimes guitar, on track three.
Track four usually contained a rough reference mix in mono of the track which was used for playback at the session, and that would be erased and used for any additional instrumental overdubs (mostly strings) that Brian added. Amazingly, tracks like "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows" were completed in a single long session without any instrumental overdubs. 30 years later, the work on these sessions is an achievement in both production and engineering that in my view remains unsurpassed.
Although he dubbed some tracks down to mono onto another 4-track, leaving three tracks for vocal or instrumental overdubs, many of the tracks on the Summer Days... album (including such classics as "California Girls" and "Let Him Run Wild") were mixed in mono onto a single track of the 8-track machine (at CBS Recording Studios), allowing Brian the luxury of as many as seven additional tracks for vocals.
He even cut two tracks for that album -- "Summer Means New Love" and "I'm Bugged At My Old Man"--directly to the 8-track, but at this point in time these were exceptions, and Brian didn't record this way again until the legendary Smile sessions.
At any rate, depending upon his need, Brian continued to employ the method of recording sessions on 4-track, dubbing a mono instrumental mix to either a 4 or 8-track machine and then adding vocals. About a third of Pet Sounds ultimately ended up on 8-track, but either way, by the time the vocals were recorded, the backing track was already "locked" in mono.
However, a mono track was exactly what Brian wanted since, like his main production influence Phil Spector (not to mention the Beatles who were more concerned with the mono mixes until after Sgt. Pepper), Brian felt that making records in mono allowed the producer to present the record exactly as he wanted it heard without any interference from the listener's stereo which could be set-up in many different ways that might affect the sound. Also, in those days, rock records were made to be heard on car radios (which were then all mono), so the producers deliberately mixed for their main market.
Whether the instrumental track had been dubbed down to a single track on 4-track or 8-track, the backing tracks were all in mono, the technical reason why there could not be a true stereo mix of Pet Sounds made in 1966. You could say that because the instruments were "locked" in mono, you couldn't mix in stereo.
So, Pet Sounds was created in 1966 as a mono album, and although Capitol did issue it in "Duophonic" stereo (an electronic process that simulated stereo), it has never been released in true stereo until now. Before work on this box began, the idea of a stereo mix was discussed at length with Brian, and he decided that subject to his approval, a stereo version of Pet Sounds would be included in this collection.
[Technically, the creation of a stereo mix presented a typical problem found with most recordings from this time period. Because the track had been mixed into mono on a second tape machine before the vocals were recorded, the only way to have a stereo instrumental track to use for this new stereo mix was to sync the vocal overdubs to the original master track.
To do this, the original instrumental multi-track tape was transferred onto a digital multi-track, and then, after carefully matching the tape speeds of the track and vocal tapes, the vocals were manually synchronized to the track using the (1966) dubbed track on the vocal tape as a guide.
The result was a single multi-track digital master tape of each song with all of the discrete tracks that Brian recorded in 1966 in "sync."
In mixing Pet Sounds in stereo, every attempt was made to duplicate the feel and sound of the original mono mixes. Vocal and instrumental parts that Brian left off the record in 1966 were noted and duplicated, as were the fades. The one exception was the talking that can be heard under some parts of the original album. Even though this talking is now regarded by some to be ...part of the album, after consulting with Brian, it was decided to leave the background chatter out of the stereo mix.
The only other omissions are ones which are the result of changes Brian made after the mix of the original Pet Sounds. For example, in the bridge of "Wouldn't It Be Nice," Mike's lead vocal was mixed with the track back in 1966, and later replaced on the multi-track by Brian's. As it does not exist apart from the mono instrumental track, it could not be used for the stereo mix. Similarly, Brian's vocal at the start of the fade of "God Only Knows" is missing on the multi track having been sung by Carl sometime after the mix Brian used on the original record had been created. The part doesn't exist separate from the track so, again, it's not available for the stereo mix. It should also be noted that the one important tape we couldn't locate is the one with Brian's doubled lead on "You Still Believe In Me." For that reason, the stereo mix of that song contains only a single lead vocal.
For the most part, however, we have been fortunate in having 98% of the album's multi-track sessions, the elements needed to put together a stereo version of this landmark record. We sincerely hope that the few missing vocals will not detract from the listener's enjoyment.
One other technical note: In order to better duplicate the original sound of the album, the transfers from the 1965 and 1966 multi tracks to the digital multi track were made using a Scully model 280 4-track, the exact same type of machine that Brian used And the final mix was processed through one of Western's original tube consoles from the 1960s.
The mixes have been transferred to digital using a custom 24-bit converter, and this entire box set, as well as the original mono album, have been mastered using the new HDCD process which allows for much greater detail and sonic accuracy than conventional 16 bit systems.
It has been one of the highlights of my career as an engineer and producer to be able to remix in stereo this incredible album...a record I have enjoyed and admired for the past thirty years. While I have not attempted to "improve" or modernize Pet Sounds, it is my hope that the new mix as well as the session highlights, solo vocals, etc. will give you an even greater sense of the artistry and emotion that went into the creation of Brian's masterpiece.
- Mark Linett