Sir George Martin, who signed The Beatles to a recording contract in 1962 and went on to become an influential producer and collaborator with the band, passed away peacefully on March 8 at age 90, according to numerous reports.
Not long after the announcement, Beatles member Paul McCartney blogged about what made Martin such a special teammate:
I brought the song "Yesterday" to a recording session and the guys in the band suggested that I [sing] it solo and accompany myself on guitar. After I had done this George Martin said to me, "Paul I have an idea of putting a string quartet on the record." I said, "Oh no George, we are a rock and roll band and I don't think it's a good idea." With the gentle bedside manner of a great producer he said to me, "Let us try it and if it doesn't work we won't use it and we'll go with your solo version." I agreed to this and went round to his house the next day to work on the arrangement.
Martin, McCartney explains, ended up "putting the cello in the low octave and the first violin in a high octave and gave me my first lesson in how strings were voiced for a quartet." Once McCartney heard Martin's version, he was thrilled to realize Martin's instincts were correct. "I went round telling people about it for weeks."
There are other examples of Martin's mastery as a collaborator and provider of constructive feedback. "He translated a lot of half-formed ideas that they had, especially John's," says music historian Steven Lee Beeber, author of The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk.
For example, John Lennon asked Martin to combine two of his takes on "Strawberry Fields," even though they were in different keys and tempos. "You can do something about it," Lennon reportedly said. "You can fix it."
Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick sped up one version and slowed down the other. The result was matching tempos. "The edit is only detectable by a slight change in ambience around the one-minute mark--an effect which only adds to the song's sense of dislocation," reports the BBC.
Perhaps it's no surprise Martin and the Beatles worked well together. Beeber notes that one of Martin's initial attractions to the band was how their sense of humor matched his. At their first meeting, in 1962, Martin, a classically trained musician, lectured the band about how they'd have to make many changes to become successful recording artists. When he was done, he asked if they had anything to say in response. George Harrison famously replied: "Well, for a start, I don't like your tie."
"The quip broke the ice and The Beatles relaxed into comedy mode," notes the BBC.
In many ways, the collaboration between Martin and the Beatles established the template for the ideal relationship between producer and recording artist. For example, you can observe echoes in the Martin-Beatles dynamic in the successful two-way communication between country artist Loretta Lynn and producer Jack White.
The salient takeaway for readers in business settings is to stay mindful of the way Martin persuaded McCartney to leave his comfort zone, like a parent urging a child to try a new food: "Let us try it and if it doesn't work we won't use it and we'll go with your solo version." There were no demands. There were no orders. It was just a suggestion to experiment--and a promise not to make any hard decisions until the experiment unfolded. That's how enduring collaborations come about.