Now and Then: What We Can Learn From The Beatles About Branding, Team Chemistry, and AI Technology

by Nathan Miller

Nov 10, 2023

Posted in Culture

Nathan Miller, wearing all black, sits on a blue velvet couch, smiling at the camera.

The Long and Winding Road: Why Do We Still Care About The Beatles?

I am absolutely fascinated by The Beatles. I realize that this is a somewhat pedestrian fascination — there are millions of others like me around the world, but that too is an aspect of what makes them so interesting to me. 

Why should a band whose recording career lasted all of a decade and ended over fifty years ago still hold such a prominent place in the cultural conversation? 

Some might call it good branding. And some might point to the millions upon millions generated for the Beatles’ multimedia conglomerate Apple Corps. Others might simply say that, despite the countless trends that have emerged since their breakup, that there’s still something relevant about the music. 

I think all three are correct. 

In the past twenty years alone, The Beatles have partnered with companies such as Cirque du Soleil, Electronic Arts, Lego, and Disney+, further cementing their status in the cultural conversation. Few other artists have done such an admirable job of preserving their legacy while giving audiences new ways to experience the art itself. 

And as they have since their very beginnings as recording artists, they continue to push the boundaries of technology in order to achieve their artistic goals. 

The most recent examples in these advancements have been in partnership with filmmaker Peter Jackson and producer Giles Martin (son of George Martin). Thanks to machine learning,  the group has been able to release never-before seen or heard films and recordings, as well as recontextualize prior works for a modern audience. 

Every year there is something “new” to celebrate, further reinforcing their mythology and cementing their place in history as important contributors to music and culture. 

Businesses can learn a lot from the group in terms of team chemistry and leveraging technology.  

And while it’s not why I love them — at its core, it’s really about the music  — I just can’t help but admire their approach to branding. 

Here, There, and Everywhere: The Beatles As A Brand

Listen, like a lot of you, I can imagine, I too have that cynical voice in my head that says, “Well yeah, of course The Beatles continue to release new stuff — it’s a cash grab.”  

And, you know what? To a certain extent, it kinda is, but as someone who has spent most of their life as a fan, I can’t help but appreciate how careful and considerate they are when it comes to releasing new media.

Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the estates of George Harrison and John Lennon clearly care a great deal about the band’s legacy, and their commitment to the brand tends to shine through. 

Though I’m sure that there’s a carefully guarded Beatles Brand Bible out there, I haven’t seen it, but I have a pretty decent sense of what it might contain. These are my general observations. 

The Beatles Are “A Band” 

What I’m getting at here is that The Beatles are a team. They’re John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Never John with Paul, George, and Ringo. They are a four-sided square. They each had their respective roles, and their magic comes from their whole being greater than the sum of their parts — and that’s precisely how they’re portrayed. As a team. 

The Beatles Are Technology Forward 

Since the very beginning of their recording career, The Beatles embraced the newest, most advanced studio technology available to them, and often were themselves the catalysts in advancing the technology. 

It started with things like Artificial Double Tracking (ADT), which was used to double vocal tracks without taking up extra track space, which was very limited in the early 1960s. This technique saved space and time, and soon became widespread in recording studios. 

Today, The Beatles influence has progressed to new innovations like Machine Assisted Learning (MAL). 

The latter is an application that can isolate sounds, and clean them up in order to make them usable in recording. It’s non-generative, meaning that it doesn’t create the sounds you’d hear in any recordings. It actually extracts specific parts of audio, like someone singing, and allows artists to build music around it. 

MAL has made many of the newest Beatles releases, such as the Get Back documentary, the latest Revolver remaster, and the “last Beatles song,” “Now and Then” possible. 

Personally, this is a very important distinction from how other AI tools are used in the artistic process. MAL enables the producer, engineer, and artist to use and improve existing sources of sound — those that were otherwise impossible to work with — in order to achieve a certain goal. 

This is a similar attitude to the one we hold at Formada. If there is technology we can use to remove the hindrances of us doing our best work for our clients, then we readily embrace it. It’s the tech that does the actual work (the creative, human, emotionally driven stuff) that we are wary of. 

The Beatles Are Timeless 

For a band whose career essentially began in 1960 and ended in 1970, its impact is seemingly timeless. Today, artists are still described as making their “Sgt. Pepper.” We still value the concept of albums over singles. According to a 2021 Forbes article, nearly 50% of their almost two billion streams were played by people under the age of 30, the majority of which were 18 – 24. 

And though it’s anecdotal, when I took my daughter to see Ringo’s All-Starr Band last year, it was by far the most cross-generational concert I’ve ever attended. There were toddlers, teens, young adults, and plenty of octogenarians (including the fellas on stage).

The Beatles are fun, cheeky, and irreverent. They sing about love in its many forms. They’re forward-thinking. They’re a world unto themselves. And, in my eyes, they’re a perfect representation of teamwork and what can happen when that teamwork falls apart. 

All Together Now: What The Beatles Can Teach Us About Teamwork

The Beatles Played To Their Strengths To Achieve Their Goals

The Beatles are a perfect example of the power of team alchemy. When you think about it, what is the job of a band? In the simplest of terms, it’s to create great music, right?

The Beatles treated every song as an event, using their respective talents to serve the song itself. Mined inspiration from everywhere. Invented genres. Reinvented themselves over and over again. And in a band full of big egos, somehow always managed to let the best idea win.

I think any kind of team can learn a lesson from this. They knew how to put the right people in the right seats to achieve their, and often exceed, their goals. Though they had two primary songwriters, each member contributed their unique talents to the work itself. 

The Beatles Were Their Own Biggest Competition

It’s pretty well documented that The Beatles were competitive and kept abreast of what was happening in modern popular music, but I think it’s fair to say that they were the most competitive with themselves. They were always trying to outdo The Beatles. They knew they were great at the thing that they did, and strived to never repeat themselves. 

Businesses often get so wrapped up in what their competitors are doing that they end up chasing the competition instead of focusing on what makes them great and how they can improve on their previous success. I believe the lesson is that, yes, you should be mindful of your competitors, but the path you forge should be entirely your own. 

The Beatles Benefited From A Great Mentor

Another lesson that can be learned from The Beatles and teamwork is having the right mentor. For my money, their producer, George Martin, was precisely that. Just a little bit older, a little more buttoned up, but with musical and studio acumen that was needed in order to help these songwriters bring their visions to life.

It’s important to recognize that in the early 1960s, the recording studio was an entirely utilitarian tool. Record producers were in charge, not artists. There were strict rules about microphone placement. Recording engineers wore lab coats. 

But George Martin, who at the time was largely known for recording classical music, jazz, and comedy albums, saw something in the young group, helping them shape their earliest songs into their earliest hits.

As the band became more successful, so did Martin’s responsibilities in pushing the boundaries of studio recording, helping establish their reputation not only as songwriters, but as innovators. 

Every professional can learn from this. Mentorship can give you the nudge you need to achieve great things, confident direction when it feels like you’re faltering, and the unvarnished feedback we all need when the truth is right in front of us but we can’t accept it. 

He wasn’t a part of the group, but he had the skills, insight, and trust that helped them be their best. 

Martin stayed with them for the long haul, too, working on Beatles projects up until 2006 with the Cirque du Soleil soundtrack Love, with whom he collaborated with his son and successor, producer Giles Martin. 

Giles has gone on to work with the band on all their post-Love projects, including their latest release, “the last Beatles song,” “Now and Then.”

All Together Now: Branding, Teamwork, and AI

While I’ve already touched on branding, teamwork, and AI, I want to speak on the inspiration for this blog, The Beatles latest single, “Now and Then.”

It’s being marketed as “The last Beatles song,” and while I know full well that this certainly will not be the last Beatles media released in lifetime (in fact, remastered versions of The Beatles’ Red and Blue compilation albums are coming out the day this blog is being published), it’s shrewdly putting the band back in the cultural dialog. 

The song — a mid-70s John Lennon piano and voice demo recorded on a cassette tape — is the perfect example of The Beatles’ approach to branding, teamwork, and technology. 

This isn’t the first time the group attempted to work with the demo. In fact, in the mid-90s, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr worked together on three Lennon songs, two of which were eventually released in the promotion of The Beatles Anthology.

Despite the three members working on the song, laying down guitar, bass, and drums, Lennon’s piano and vocals for “Now and Then” were so crudely recorded that the song was deemed unsalvageable due to unrelenting tape hiss. The technology did not exist to clean up the offensive sound, nor did it exist to separate his voice from the piano. Until it did nearly 30 years later. 

“I know it’s true/It’s all because of you”

Thanks to MAL — the same technology used to clean up audio for the Get Back documentary, as well as separate audio for the original four-track recordings of Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and others, the remaining Beatles could now finally revisit the track.

The result? It’s subjective. 

Personally, I think it’s lovely, for reasons just as nostalgic as they are artistic. 

Like I’ve mentioned before, The Beatles are a team. Half of that team is gone. There’s something heartbreaking about hearing an 81-year-old McCartney harmonizing with a late-30s Lennon, knowing it’s the only way these two friends and colleagues can connect in doing what they did so well together. 

But when the elements of those four people are combined, the magic still exists. It is still unmistakably, undeniably The Beatles. It only speaks to the power of their chemistry and how incredibly important it is to have the right people surrounding you in order to achieve a certain result. 

The funny thing is, that it’s just a song. But with their decades of mythologizing, inimitable team alchemy, and innovative spirit in their artistic and technological approach, they’ve turned it into an event. 

And they’ll do it again. Just four kids with a dream. Used their talent, passion, and imagination to create something bigger than they themselves could ever have imagined. 

There’s plenty of lessons in that story, but I think one of the most important ones is that you can create something — your own world, business, and life for yourself with the right team, tools, and talent. And don’t forget love. (Sometimes, it’s all you need.) 


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