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.