Owen Morris: How I mastered Morning Glory

Earlier this year I emailed Owen Morris with some questions about the production of Oasis’s classic second album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? His reply contains some fresh information on the album’s mixing and mastering that has never been published before.

There was a fan rumour that on the first two albums Noel re-recorded some of Bonehead and Guigsy’s guitar parts. Can you say if that was the case on Morning Glory, or is it unfounded?
Owen: David, Noel did not replace any of Bonehead’s parts or Guigs’ bass playing on Morning Glory. Noel DID play bass on a few tracks: Wonderwall and Cast No Shadow I’m fairly sure about…probably She’s Electric too??? I can’t totally remember. Certainly on Be Here Now Guigs played all his bass parts, but Noel did step in sometimes before then.

Morning Glory has quite a different sound to Definitely Maybe – more layered, with a less aggressive sound to the guitars. Did you approach the recording and mixing differently on this album or could this be due to the different guitars and amps used by Noel on the Morning Glory songs?
The biggest thing was that we layered the recordings: Noel would put a guide acoustic guitar track and guide vocal down to a click track and then we’d overdub drums, bass, Bonehead, Noel, etc.

Were there several different mixes of Wonderwall? The version on the Time Flies CD has a different effect on Liam’s vocal and the acoustic guitar parts in the bridge are louder.
I did two mixes of Wonderwall. One very quickly at Rockfield, and one a bit posher at Orinoco. On mastering and putting together the album I chose to use the Rockfield mix. It sounded better to me. I’d put extra strings into Rockfield’s echo chambers and you can hear the swirling by the end. If they used the wrong one on Time Flies then someone’s an idiot. It’s a shame Ignition stopped consulting me regarding my work on Morning Glory. I was the only person who knew exactly what was going on with the recordings and choices of mixes. Noel approved what I was doing, but he also let me choose and change mixes until I was happy. No one else was involved.

About the mastering: what would be the main audible differences between the un-mastered and mastered versions? A friend of mine has a promotional ‘advance CD’ of Morning Glory which he thinks is un-mastered but we don’t know how to check, so any hints as to what to listen for in an un-mastered copy would be great.
There’s a sad dispute about the mastering going on: some bloke that I or Ignition have never met is claiming to have mastered it.*(see footnote-Ed.) I mastered Morning Glory in Orinoco and all the copies thereafter should have sounded the same.

Here’s how I mastered the first two Oasis albums.

A year or so before I mixed Definitely Maybe for Oasis, I re-mastered an album I engineered for Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner: the first Electronic album (you will find the re-mastered version I did on iTunes). I hired in an Apogee A/D which I’d read had a “soft limit” feature. Given that I had no confidence in the sonic integrity of my mixes I had decided that I would attempt to use VOLUME (i.e. quantity rather than quality!) as my rather blunt tool. The soft limit feature on the Apogees allowed me an extra 6db or so gain before distortion.

When I’d finished mixing Oasis’s first album a year later, Oasis’s management allowed me to master the album myself. Again, in Johnny Marr’s studio, I mastered from half inch tape masters, though a TC Electronics four band stereo parametric equaliser and then into the Apogee A/D with soft limit on and then into an Apple Mac running a basic stereo Sound Designer program for editing and assembling. Then I copied the edited stereo file to a DAT tape, which was then sent to a mastering house for ONE TO ONE digital cloning to have P Q coding etc. added, as needed for CD production. At NO STAGE did any other mastering engineer add compression or do ANYTHING other than copy ONE to ONE MY digital master.

I would then receive a test CD from the mastering room so I could check that the “mastering engineer” (person who copied a tape and added P and Q info based exactly on the timings I had specified) hadn’t fucked up and attempted to change anything.

A year later, when I mastered Morning Glory, the only difference was that I used a pair of Neve 1081 EQ’s instead of the TC’s. This gives the album its distinctive sound.

Only later, on Be Here Now, did we take my mixes to be mastered by someone else, Mike Marsh at the Exchange.

I just got lucky with the Apogee A/Ds. Morning Glory was massively about the Neve 1081s which we’d hired in from some hire company in London…they had input gain pots before the normal Neve 1081 step gains (which are in 3 dB? steps, possibly more). This allowed me to get the EQ’s right on the edge of distortion for each track. With both Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory, I used mastering as a tool to help my not very great sonically mixes to sound OK in the outside world.

Have you heard Neil Dorfsman’s surround sound remix of Morning Glory for the Super Audio CD release? If so, what did you think of it?
Never bloody heard it!……… Thanks Ignition!

Thanks for your time, Owen!

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(Interview by David Huggins. Answers © Owen Morris. Published on Oasis Recording Info, 2011)

*See the article 25 Productions That Made History in the November 2010 issue of Sound on Sound magazine. See also Paul Mathur’s 1997 book Take Me There: Oasis The Story, in which the author claims that work on (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? was completed when ‘at the end of July [1995] the album was cut at – where else – Abbey Road Studios’ (Mathur, pp. 134-5). The mastering is also featured in this BBC News report and in an article by Jim Evans entitled ‘(Here’s the Story) Morning Glory’ from the March 2010 issue of Pro Sound News Europe, which can be downloaded in PDF format by following this link.

The producer and engineer Bobby Owsinski provides an analysis of Wonderwall’s isolated vocal track in a post published on his Big Picture Music Production blog in 2010. In it he notes that the recording features: ‘Quite a good vocal by Liam Gallagher, it’s very consistent throughout both performance-wise and level-wise. You don’t hear any punches or differences in the vocals, exactly the traits of a good engineering job; The reverb is really long with a modulated tail, which is a trait of a Lexicon 480, and a little delay; There are some breaths left in, probably because the song was recorded on tape and spot-erasing was too chancy, since you could also erase a part of the vocal as well. Today, we’d probably take those out during editing.’ (quoted on Oasis Recording Info by permission of Bobby Owsinski, 2012).

The May 2002 issue of Sound on Sound magazine included an article by Craig Anderton called Hit Factors: The Link Between Music and Emotional Response which explores the work of the acoustic researcher Ernest Cholakis; Cholakis’ research includes an analysis of the dynamic range of select frequency bands in several classic tracks, including Oasis’s Champagne Supernova, Radiohead’s Paranoid Android and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

Discogs.com features listings for both the original and Owen Morris’s re-mastered version of the debut album by Electronic.

Reviews of the Super Audio CD edition of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? can be found on SA-CD.net