Abbey Road Studios Sale May Mean the End of a Long and Winding Road

Abbey Road Studios in London, where the Beatles recorded most of their music, may be up for sale. The Georgian townhouse has long been owned by music label EMI, which has faced financial problems since its 2007 buyout by private-equity firm Terra Firma Capital Partners. Terra Firma needs to raise $156 million to avoid default on a $1.49 billion loan, and while the property isn't likely to fetch that kind of money, its name recognition might attract enough cash to help quell the shortfall, at least in the short term.Possibly the best-known recording studio in the world, Abbey Road was legendary long before the Beatles. The first artist to use its famed Studio One was Sir Edward Elgar, who led the London Philharmonic in a recording of his famous Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1. Over the next 80 years, he was joined by a who's who of the era's greatest musicians, from Glenn Miller to Pink Floyd to Placido Domingo to Gnarls Barkley.

But the studio gained its greatest fame between 1962 and 1970, when the Beatles recorded most of their singles and albums. A discography of the Beatles' sessions there reads like an audio tour of the band's evolution. From the bouncy, 1950's-style sound of Please Please Me, With the Beatles, and A Hard Day's Night, the Abbey Road records follow the group all the way to its late-1960's-era flirtations with Eastern religion, psychedelica, and hard rock on Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, and The Beatles (a.k.a. "The White Album"). The capper is, of course, Abbey Road. The last album the band recorded -- Let It Be was recorded earlier but delayed by postproduction problems -- Abbey Road's title paid homage to the studio where the four members had spent most of their careers.

While Abbey Road has a long and glorious history, it doesn't have much of a future, at least as a recording facility. Studio One, built for orchestras, faces competition from cheaper spaces in other countries. The Beatles worked in Studio Two, a facility rendered largely irrelevant by advances in recording technology. Today, a well-trained sound engineer with a laptop can achieve many of the effects that once required its groundbreaking technology.

Luckily, for fans of 1960s pop, the townhouse at 3 Abbey Road is hallowed ground, which makes it a great property and brand and puts it in a fine position to become a popular museum. The short wall outside the facility is covered with fawning graffiti, and when the studios were opened to the public in 1983 and 2005, they were an instant hit with tourists.

More importantly, Abbey Road is already well positioned to make the transition from recording studio to software brand. This year, Native Instruments, a music-software developer in Berlin, released Abbey Road: 60's Drums, a program that promises to blend the sound of a 60's drum kit with the distinctive acoustics of Abbey Road. As similar programs hit the market, the facility's licensing revenues could be astronomical.
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