Traditional instrumentalists severely undervalue “playing the studio” as a form of musicianship. We live in the recorded music era. To a good approximation, all of the music that a person hears in modern Western society is recorded. In this world, playing the studio is the most culturally significant kind of musical creativity. It’s a form that’s understood better by pop listeners than “real” musicians, because the pleasure of recordings are immediate and sensual, and we don’t have the formal and analytical vocabulary to understand them the way we do for harmony and melody. But a formal vocabulary of timbre and space is. The Beatles are standard reference points for scholars of the recording studio the same way that Bach is for scholars of counterpoint, or Coltrane is for scholars of jazz improvisation, and for the same reasons.
In a way, the Beatles are more culturally significant now than they were in their era. We take for granted that there can be entire genres of music that can only exist as electronically produced recordings, but in the 1960s, this wasn’t obvious at all. Until the 1950s, the sheet music industry was bigger than the recording industry. Records were documents of performances. The early Beatles records were no exceptions; they were played more or less live. But once they stopped performing, the Beatles effectively became electronic music producers as much as rock musicians. In so doing, they helped turn studio manipulation into a core competency of modern musicians, rather than a technical craft performed after the fact.
Every sound on those last few Beatles albums is sonically manipulated, often in extreme ways. The sludgy drums on “Come Together” are the result of vari-speed and compression; you can’t make drums sound like that live in a room. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is based around a drum loop, and most of the other sounds in it are tape loops too; the song was mostly “performed” on the mixing desk. The Mellotron you hear on “Strawberry Fields Forever” is an analog sampler. The run-out groove after “A Day In The Life” isn’t conceivable in any form other than a recording.
The Beatles certainly weren’t the first people to make experimental recordings and tape collages. Karlheinz Stockhausen appears on the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for a reason. But the Beatles were the first to find a way to make those ideas serve music that people actually wanted to listen to. The kids I teach know far more music theory and technique than the Beatles ever did, but they tend not to know the first thing about creating recordings. That’s a severe imbalance in our music curriculum.