Abbey Road Studios is one of the most famous recording studios—if not the most famous recording studio—on the planet. It's seen everyone from the Beatles to Edward Elgar to John Williams and Jay-Z come through its doors. Sitting right outside is perhaps the only pedestrian crossing in the world that's a major tourist attraction.
People from all over the world visit the black-and-white road markings before walking up and scrawling messages on the white-painted walls that sit in front of the manor house-turned-recording studio. Then, ignoring the sign that explicitly says "No Tours," they walk into the building and straight up to reception and ask to be shown around. And, because it's a working studio, of course, they're refused.
But now, thanks to a collaboration with Google, you can take a virtual tour of the main studios 1, 2, and 3, and the Mastering Suite. Inside Abbey Road is Google's latest interactive Street View-style project, in the vein of the Pyramids of Giza Street View Trek and the Google Cultural Institute.
The London Symphony Orchestra playing in studio 1
But Inside Abbey Road is more akin to an interactive documentary. The detail is meticulous—photos and videos of performances are placed on the exact locations they took place—and that's because Google used a 3D LIDAR laser scanner to capture the studios and mastering room, before overlaying it with footage from an HD panoramic camera. The result is over 150 360-degree photos stitched together, resulting in over three hours of content.
There are hidden animations to come across—entering a room you might see an engineer busying themselves at a recording desk, or producer Giles Martin himself tinkering in a control room—and a wealth of archive videos, photos, and information you can access by clicking on various icons. Videos are embedded into the environment, detailing everything from the recordings that took place to the musical innovations. You can even play around on a virtual J37, the legendary four-track recorder the Beatles used to record Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The mirror room in studio 2. Studio 2 is where Pink Floyd recored some of The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here
Along with the ability to peruse the place at your own leisurely pace, there's also a choice of three tours to take. One is by broadcaster and former Kenickie band member Lauren Laverne, who tells some of the stories that form part of the myth of the place. Another is by engineer Mirek Stiles, who started at the studio 15 years ago as a runner, and now heads up their audio products, where you can buy plugins that replicate the effects produced by their studio equipment. The other tour is by Giles Martin, son of Sir George Martin, who's been involved with the studio for years. His mother was working there back in 1948 and his father in 1950.
"Abbey Road Studios has been a hive of creativity and source of world-class recordings for more than 80 years," Martin says. "The artists using the studios have sold countless millions of records and have helped create popular culture as we know it today. [...] This collaboration with Google gives the outside world a great insight into the everyday workings of the studio and allows anyone to glimpse the magic that goes on inside the world's most famous recording studio."
Giles Martin in studio 2's control room
The whole experience is stacked full of knowledge that spans the studio's beginnings back in 1931, all the way through the present-day. For instance, did you know that stereo sound was "invented" there? Me neither. That, and many more morsels of musical history and innovation are there to be discovered in a project that gives public access to a place previously inaccessible. Go check it out here.
Transitioning from the master room to studio 1
Zooming on on a console in studio 3
GIFs courtesy of Google