Like a lot of valuable things, “Deconstructing the Beatles” started by accident. But as we’ll see momentarily, Scott Freiman, an NY-based composer, producer and engineer seized the opportunity to take his own curiosity about the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo, and turn it into something much bigger.
The result is a series or presentations that Freiman has been putting on nationwide, where he tells the story of the Beatles music in a new way. Combining rare audio and video of the Beatles in action, anecdotes about the recording sessions, and other intensely researched first-hand insights, Freiman has been walking audiences through the songwriting and production techniques used by the band to record their universally loved albums and singles.
An accomplished multitasker with seemingly limitless energy, Freiman’s show has proven to have deep meaning not just to music fans, but to producers and engineers looking to draw fresh inspiration from these near-mythological musicmakers. But he’s not just playing to theaters – “Deconstructing” has been booked to motivate corporate audiences such as Facebook and Google.
What’s left to learn from the Beatles? And how might your own personal passions spin innocently into a successful franchise? On the eve of Freiman’s next NYC show, Wednesday, June 13th at the 92Y Tribeca, our interview with him provides inspiration on multiple levels.
What inspired you to start doing the “Deconstructng the Beatles Series”?
I got ahold of the book “Recording the Beatles,” by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew. While I was reading it, I pulled out some of my Sgt. Pepper outtakes to listen to, and then found I was really enjoying putting the text and the music together.
I realized it would be fun to put some composers and producers together in a group for the same experience. We spend so much time alone in our studios, I thought any excuse for people to get together and talk about music would be a good thing. So I put together an audio/video presentation, and invited about 30 friends over.
It was supposed to be just a fun night, but 15 minutes into the presentation people were saying, “Where else are you doing this?” So I started calling theaters, not thinking there was much to it — but I saw that people got excited about the idea.
Lots of engineers are big fans of the Fab Four. What’s the extra insight you feel you have to give about how they worked and recorded?
I think what I’m doing that’s a little unusual is that I’m putting all these various sources together, and adding the musical component.
So I’m able to tell stories behind the creation of the songs, and show how they came to life. I talk about the different effects, the various instruments, compositional techniques, and show them. You can get this information from the 1,000 books that are out there, and anyone can get the outtakes, but no one was putting them all together.
I have people who know a lot about the Beatles come to the “Deconstructing” shows and tell me they’re learning even more. And then, of course, there are plenty of people who don’t know how a studio works or how a song comes to life there — giving them a glimpse into the creative process is fascinating.
What’s interesting is I’ve been asked to speak at companies like Facebook, Google, and Pixar. They’re Beatles fans, but there’s also something about watching other people’s creative process, and seeing the decisions made that’s compelling — they could have gone down one path, but then went down another.
In the Beatles’ prime psychedelic years, when they were doing their experimentation for example, it’s fascinating to see the road taken and try to hypothesize why they would have taken one road as opposed to another.
What’s a specific example of when that comes up?
I talk a lot about “Strawberry Fields Forever,” because it’s one of the peaks of the Beatles’ career. That’s a song that went through three or four versions that the Beatles started and then abandoned. At the end, they blended together two completely different versions.
The song had tremendous lyrical and harmonic innovations, and the performance is actually a product of the studio. Everything — from how a song is composed, to the orchestration, and the production — comes into play. People listen to the first version of the song and say, “That’s great – they could have stopped there.” But they started all over again.
So why deconstruct the Beatles, as opposed to another artist?
One reason is that everyone knows the music, and it spans multiple generations. I don’t think you can do this with the Rolling Stones, as important as Exile on Main Street or Let it Bleed are, because most people don’t know every song on the album. Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, and Pink Floyd all have huge audiences, but they don’t have the same mass appeal.
Personally, I’ve always been fascinated with the Beatles. I know a lot about them, but there’s so much more knowledge out there, so much more you can research. The other artists don’t have that. I’ve talked about doing lectures on (the Beach Boys’) Pet Sounds, and maybe I will someday, but I have plenty of Beatles stuff to get through first!
What’s your advice for someone reading this, who has expertise that they want to share in a new way? What’s a good reason for doing it – and what are the challenges they should be prepared for?
When I started doing this, I remembered that there was a teacher at college who taught a course on the late works of Beethoven. It was like a serial — I couldn’t wait for the next episode it was so exciting. He’d play a song, talk about it, and say, “Why is it good?”
I always wanted to do something like that, and now it turns out that’s exactly what I’m doing. So the idea of taking people through musical works, in a way that a layman can understand – there’s a lot of room for that.
I spend a tremendous amount of time putting the shows together, doing the research, designing the presentations. It’s not casual, but I’m rewarded when I get the response from the audience, and they come home with a new appreciation for bands’ work in the studio, and how the Beatles did it. And producers and bands are always telling me they come out of “Deconstructing the Beatles” with lots of new ideas they want to try.
This is an example of something that just popped up — it wasn’t planned, and had it been planned it might not have worked. It’s taking me away from the composing and production side of things, but I’m enjoying it, making money from it, and it allows me to fulfill a passion which is to educate people about music.
Word of mouth has been very important, but I’m doing the marketing pretty much myself, which is very time-consuming. Fortunately I have a marketing and business background. My message is: The more skills you have, the more opportunities you have, and anything involved with music is a potential opportunity.
Finally, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the Beatles since you started doing this series?
The Beatles would say, “We don’t want this record to sound like the last one,” without knowing what it meant. Without that team helping them to get to those new places, the Beatles would have been greatly diminished. They might not have had the impact that they had.
– David Weiss