By ALLAN KOZINN
December 26, 2006
Maybe you thought the publishing world had exploited every bit of information about the Beatles, useful and trivial, in the Himalayan stack of books published since the group’s heyday in the 1960s: biographies both straight and gossipy, musical analyses, chronologies, as well as Beatles-theme novels.
Guess again. Now, if mainstream publishers reject their work as too specialized, even the most Beatles-obsessed authors are finding audiences for their books by publishing them themselves. But don’t even think the phrase ”vanity press.” Many of these self-published books are lavishly produced and packed with original research that makes them invaluable to Beatles scholars and collectors, and some have been startlingly successful through online sales.
They range from meticulous descriptions of the Beatles’ recording process to multi-volume examinations of the group’s American releases, to evaluations of unreleased studio and concert recordings now on the bootleg market.
Like indie rock bands rebuffed by major record labels, some of the self-published authors tried getting publishing deals before deciding to go it alone. But a growing number are saying: Why bother? Self-publishing, on top of giving the authors all the profits, gives them editorial and design control too, which they feel outweighs the drawback of having to research on their own dime rather than on a publisher’s advance.
”Everything I read seemed to suggest that self-publication would be a good idea,” said John C. Winn, the author of ”Way Beyond Compare,” ”That Magic Feeling” and ”Lifting Latches,” a self-published series that offers annotated source information about all the Beatles’ known audio and video recordings, including interviews. ”My books are targeted to a specific audience that I’m able to reach directly. Being a Beatlemaniac, I hung around with other Beatlemaniacs, and I knew where to find them and what they’d be interested in reading about.”
Some authors report surprisingly brisk sales. Published in August, ”Recording the Beatles,” a 540-page study of the equipment and techniques used to make the Beatles’ recordings, has sold out its first run of 3,000 copies at $100 apiece. The authors, Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew, have a second printing on order and plan a less expensive edition in 2007.
Mr. Ryan and Mr. Kehew, who both work as producers and engineers, took a decade to research their book, which includes pictures and descriptions of every piece of recording and sound-processing equipment used at the Abbey Road Studios in London, as well as diagrams showing how the Beatles set up for particular recordings, and step-by-step analyses of how the songs were assembled.
Bruce Spizer, a lawyer in New Orleans, began his work as a do-it-yourself Beatles author with a study of the fraught legal relationship between EMI, the Beatles’ British record label, and Vee-Jay, which licensed the group’s early recordings. His four sequels to ”The Beatles Records on Vee-Jay” include books about the Beatles’ releases in the United States on Capitol and on their own imprint, Apple, each offering reproductions of cover art (including rejected designs), labels (including variations), correspondence and promotional materials. A final installment, ”The Beatles Swan Song,” is due in March. He has also published ”The Beatles Are Coming!,” about the band’s first visit to America, in February 1964.
All told, Mr. Spizer said, he has sold 37,000 copies of his six books, which have brought in more than $1 million since the first was published in 1998. But more important for Mr. Spizer, the books put him on the radar at EMI and Apple. When they released CDs of the Beatles’ albums in their American configurations (the original CDs follow the British album versions, which have different track sequences), they hired Mr. Spizer as a consultant.
”I could do this full time,” Mr. Spizer said. ”But I’m keeping my day job. I like to say that as a tax attorney, I make $210 an hour, and as a Beatles publisher, I make $2.10 an hour.”
The books are part of a growing self-published library of must-haves for anyone fascinated with the Beatles’ music, released and unreleased. Others include Doug Sulpy’s regularly updated ”Complete Beatles Audio Guide,” which sorts out the tangled bootleg market, and Chip Madinger and Mark Easter’s ”Eight Arms to Hold You,” a catalog of every known live, studio, television and radio recording by the solo Beatles. (Full disclosure: I contributed a foreword, without compensation.) Mr. Madinger is at work, with Scott Raile, on a two-volume study of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s work together, in which one book is a day-by-day chronology, and the other is a detailed sessionography.
”The goal is to answer any question you might have about their life and work together,” Mr. Madinger said of his Lennon project.
One thing these books have in common is that they began as private research projects, not as book ideas, because the authors sought information that was not readily available. In some cases their Beatles research intersected with their day jobs. Mr. Ryan and Mr. Kehew, as musicians and engineers, became fascinated with how the Beatles and their production team created the band’s sound on disc. They began working separately, Mr. Ryan in Houston, Mr. Kehew in Los Angeles in the early 1990s.
”When I started writing and recording my own songs, I tried to make them sound like the Beatles’ records, but I couldn’t do it,” Mr. Ryan said. ”So I wanted to know: What were they doing? What were their tools? Writing the book was a good excuse to contact people and ask questions.”
Mr. Ryan began traveling to Britain to interview EMI engineers and quickly learned that Mr. Kehew was covering similar ground. They decided to pool their resources.
”And it was great,” Mr. Ryan said, ”because wherever our overlapping research agreed, it was corroboration; and wherever there were discrepancies, we knew we had to look more closely and figure out why.”
Eventually they interviewed just about everyone who worked on the Beatles sessions between 1962 and 1970, with a few notable exceptions: the former Beatles themselves; George Martin, their producer; and Geoff Emerick, their engineer from 1966 to 1969. Mr. Martin and Mr. Emerick have each written books about their work with the group.
”We found that the people who were a real gold mine were the ones who haven’t been asked about this every day of their lives,” Mr. Ryan said. ”You’re asking them things they haven’t been asked before, and you’re getting fresh, undiluted responses that haven’t become simplified through constant repetition.”
Ms. Ono was taken with ”Recording the Beatles” when she saw it. ”Because I was lucky enough to have been there in some of the later sessions,” she wrote in an e-mail message, ”I am happy that Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew have done such a great job. It’s a strong magical and nostalgic trip for me.”
They were able to solve a few mysteries along the way. Collectors have long noted, for example, that the stereo and mono versions of ”Help!” have different lead vocal tracks from Lennon. All 12 takes of the song recorded at Abbey Road circulate among collectors, and the vocal on Take 12 is in the stereo version. But the vocal in the mono mix is nowhere among them.
While collecting illustrations for their book, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Kehew found photographs taken during dialogue dubbing sessions for the film ”Help!” at C.T.S. Studios in London. Some shots showed Mr. Martin, even though there was no reason he should have attended a dialogue session; others showed the group in a typical singing configuration, with Lennon at one microphone and George Harrison and Paul McCartney sharing another.
Each is holding a sheet of paper that, when magnified and reversed, showed the lyrics of ”Help!” Clearly, the group remade the vocals at C.T.S., and because that studio’s equipment was incompatible with EMI’s, the mono version was mixed on the spot and handed over for use on the soundtrack.
”I think it’s a marvelous book; in fact it embarrasses my ‘Recording Sessions’ book,” said Mark Lewisohn, the British author whose 1988 book, ”The Beatles Recording Sessions” (Harmony Books), was the first detailed examination of the group’s recording process, and whose other books, ”The Beatles Live!” (Henry Holt) and ”The Complete Beatles Chronicle” (Harmony), set the standard for serious Beatles research in the 1980s and ’90s.
Mr. Lewisohn has taken the more traditional publishing route. (His current project, a three-volume Beatles biography, is to be published by Crown, starting in 2009.) But he said he understood the attraction of doing it on your own.
”When you self-publish, you have the opportunity to be as indulgent as you like,” he said. ”You can go into everything with a thoroughness that a conventional publisher would try to limit for reasons of cost.”
That said, self-publication forces authors to become fluent in budgeting, printing, copyrights, design and other details of getting their books into print.
”We did talk to some publishers, small and large,” Mr. Ryan said, ”but I don’t think we were ever convinced that was the way to go. We had strong ideas about how the book should look, and about its content and organization. ”Also,” he added, ”Brian and I have both dealt personally with record company contracts in the past, and we could see a correlation between the world of publishing and the music world. In both cases, unless you’re going to sell a million copies of your product, you will never make a significant chunk of money. The publisher or record company takes the lion’s share and you get scraps.”
Source: New York Times