Remastering George Harrison's Catalogue: an Interview with Paul Hicks

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What do you do when you remaster a Beatle’s work? You channel the original aura of the music.  For Paul Hicks, that meant working with members of George Harrison’s family as he remastered Harrison’s catalogue.

As the Lurssen Mastering blog writes, “Reuben Cohen and I spent a great deal of time in the studio with Paul Hicks who did a brilliant job overseeing all of George's albums along with Dhani and Olivia Harrison. Together we all shaped this music from the original masters for today’s formats and I swear, I felt George was with us too...somehow.”

Hicks, a three-time GRAMMY-winning audio engineer,  remastered Harrison’s catalogue for both digital and vinyl—remastering everything from the original tapes. The box set contains albums from the The Apple Years 1968–75 and The Dark Horse Years 1976–1992 CD box sets, the Brainwashed album (2002), and a few picture discs of "When We Was Fab" and "Got My Mind Set On You."

“Even though the focus was to create the vinyl box set, we also wanted to make high resolution remasters of all George’s albums,” explains Hicks.

Listen to the catalogue below, and read our interview with Hicks. Plus, check out RX—the software Hicks used to repair audio from George Harrison’s catalogue.

“These albums were not made to be compressed to the max—they need to breathe.” —Paul Hicks, Remastering Engineer

George Harrison Box Set

How did you work with Dhani and Olivia Harrison (George’s son and widow)? What kinds of things did you talk about, and how did they help inform decisions that you made in remastering George’s music?

I have been working on Beatles and related projects as long as I can remember. I worked at Abbey Road Studios for many years and have known the Harrisons for a long time, too. After all this time, I have an idea of how they want things to sound. I would normally do the restoration, then a first pass at remastering. I would then send that out for notes and comments, and we would take it from there.

I think when remastering a catalogue like this, you have to be aware of when the albums were made. There is a nice warmth to a lot of the albums and we wanted to keep that.

Have you had a chance to use RX 6 Advanced on your work remastering the George Harrison catalogue? If so, how have you used it? What modules have you used, and on which songs/albums? 

This project was done before RX 6 was released, but I am working on a new project and using RX 6 and it’s great. The module I use most is Spectral Repair.

The main restoration work on these projects is fixing tape dropouts around tape edits and also at the start and end of songs. I normally start with Pattern then try Replace. Other useful tools are De-hum, De-click, and De-clip.

Obviously, in a project like this, you want to keep things as pure as possible—but sometimes a light use of these repair tools is useful.

Paul Hicks in Studio

Paul Hicks in studio

Were there particular songs or albums that posed more challenges than others when remastering? If so, why, and how did you approach those challenges?

I think the The Apple Years 1968–75 box set was the most challenging, mostly because it was the oldest material. When remastering an artist's catalogue, I always want it all to live in the same audio world, and Apple Years had some very different sounding albums.

The Wonderwall Music soundtrack [Harrison’s debut solo album] and Electronic Sound album [his second] were quite a challenge, as they were experimental projects. Wonderwall had lots of reversed and crazy looped sounds, and Electronic Sound is basically a Moog modular synth, so in terms of restoration, it was sometimes hard to work out if something was intentional or not.

In another iZotope interview, Adam Ayan of Gateway Mastering says, “With remastering, I generally don't like to go crazy with level. These records have been known and loved by millions, and shouldn't be victims of hyper-compression. I can almost always get more level on a remaster versus the original without the artifacts of compression and limiting—that's because most modern digital compressors and limiters are so much more transparent than what might have been available the first time around. Like any other mastering session, if I reach that point of diminishing returns, I stop and back off.”

How do you reconcile using modern tech like the digital compressors and limiters available today with the tech that was available at the time of recording?

Like Adam, we definitely took a similar approach to the final compression and limiting. These albums were not made to be compressed to the max—they need to breathe. Especially some of the earlier, more experimental albums like Wonderwall and Electronic Sound. Wonderwall is a psychedelic soundtrack, it’s a combination of many musical styles and ideas, some loud, some quiet. It’s a sonic adventure, and it’s important to keep the dynamics as originally intended.

When I started working with Gavin and Reuben at Lurssen Mastering, I did ask them to push it a few times, but it wasn't right, so we went back to their initial settings. The Lurssen setup is very analog. They always make things sound warm, which really suits this type of project.

Get the audio repair software that Paul Hicks used in remastering George Harrison’s catalogue. Learn more about RX.

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