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Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust, A Conversation With Legendary Sound Engineer/Producer Ken Scott

06/01/2014 13:28 GMT | Updated 07/03/2014 10:59 GMT

'David Bowie, Elton John, Pink Floyd, The Beatles..it is hard to believe that a single individual would be involved with so many all time greats' I tell legendary sound engineer and producer Ken Scott.

'Oh absolutely', Ken replies humbly, 'I have a talent that I was lucky enough, or blessed, to be able to use with many of the greatest musical talents of the second half of the twentieth century. An ongoing theme in my book is "why me?".

It is in fact Ken's much praised book, Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust that prompted our conversation. We touch on iconic tracks such as Life On Mars, Perfect Day, Hey Jude and Rocket Man, today's music industry and the urgent need for it to be run by "music people, not accountants and attorneys".

I am intrigued by Scott's ability to craft sounds that have helped shape entire generations' sense of identity, through such diverse musical styles (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Alice Cooper, Kansas, Lou Reed, Joan Armatrading, Queen, America Supertramp). It is this "uncanny intuition" along with astounding technical know how that have earned him the unquestionable admiration of his peers; the mere mention of my interview with Ken has generated excitement amongst musician friends and colleagues, I got messages from artists who dream of Ken casting his musical spell on their tracks, given demos to pass on and have forwarded a technical question from LA sound engineer, freshly nominated for a 2014 Grammy.

Q Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust is a true treat for music lovers with rare insight into the actual making of many iconic tracks, how did the book come about?

A I had always sort of rejected my past, moving from one project to the next project until I did a very quick session in my old stomping ground, Number 2 studio at what had become Abbey Road studios. The maintenance engineer working that day was one of the few people still there from my EMI era who reminded me of the enthralling stories we used to be told by the first generation of recording engineers, how we have become them and that kids now wanted to hear our stories. The other thing that happened was having my past becoming my present when I remixed Ziggy Stardust in 5.1 and then worked with George Harrison on the re-issue of All Things Must Pass. An audio visual lecture on my career followed by my book.

Q To what would you attribute your ability to create sounds that strike a timeless cord with audiences?

A I have absolutely no idea. I had what I consider to be the best training in the world from EMI Studios and I was given the opportunity to take that training and run with it.

Q It must be amazing for you to see how in a world where songs are forgotten as soon as they are aired, music you helped record years ago is played extensively and sells

A Considering that we only hoped the music we recorded would still be popular in six months, when the next album came out, of course it's amazing.

That said, our motivation back in the day tended to be angst driven, us against the man and so walking around a supermarket or a mall hearing those same recordings playing instead of muzak can almost make you burst into tears.

Q Is it true that it is the same piano used in so many of the timeless tunes we hear?

A The old Trident Bechstein..that piano was used by the Beatles on Hey Jude, all the early Elton recordings, Nilsson, Queen, Supertramp, America, David Bowie and more.

Q Songs such as Reed's Take a walk on the wild side seem to owe their character to your input, here I refer to the 'traveling' backing vocals

A Those girls, Thunderthighs..how many times can you here doo do doo before falling asleep? I had to find a way to make them a little bit more interesting.

- A quality song is a must though, would you agree? you cannot turn a below average tune into something amazing

It all happens in the studio. Firstly the song, then the performance and after those two things, working in the control room to put the icing on the cake. Much of today's music lacks any kind of soul, heart or feeling so people in the control room are spending much more time trying to get something to look right as opposed to making sure something feels right. Also auto-tuning; if the singer can't sing in tune they don't deserve to be recording, no matter how well they may dance.

- Does music itself play less of an important role in people's lives than in pre Internet days?

Recordings have been dumbed down on the most part. Music is an art form and shouldn't be controlled by accountants and attorneys but by music people, like Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert in America, Chris Wright and Terry Ellis in England, not afraid to take chances, believing in the signed talent not the figures at the end of each quarter.

Another thing is that artists used to record an album every six months and so many of the "classic" albums that are still popular today were recorded under those parameters, you had to be good to live up to that. Today's concept of 2 or 3 years between albums is ridiculous.

Also, record companies should have given the option for a larger version of the CD cover.. the 12" x 12" piece of artwork was amazingly important, reading the liner notes whilst listening to the new music, often hanging the sleeve on the wall..

Q The internet has opened up the world's entire music catalogue to everyone, teenagers  listen to everything from Katy Perry to The Beatles.

A Isn't that wonderful? My reason for getting into the world of music was reaffirmed about a year ago when I went to one of those kind of strange occurrences that used to be called Beatlefests, this one in Chicago. I can't begin to explain how wonderful it was walking around the hotel late at night and finding enclaves of fans all just sitting around singing songs they love and enjoying every second of it. Complete strangers brought together by their love of music. Truly amazing and uplifting.