While the world was watching Prince Harry wed Meghan Markle this past weekend, producer Anna Barry was handed a precious challenge: Craft an immaculate recording of the music from the Royal Wedding and have it up on streaming services as soon as possible – the label says they had it up within nine hours.
Barry – who has been producing for over 30 years – worked in tandem with Decca Records to make sure they had a series of foolproof backup plans to make sure everything ran smoothly. She was responsible for producing the highest quality of audio for this global event, transferring digital files from St George's Chapel and mastering the record in a Kensington studio. The results are currently up on streaming services, and will be available on CD and vinyl soon.
Barry, who was tasked with spearheading the production of William and Kate's Royal Wedding album seven years ago, has helped produce nearly 600 recordings, working with Julian Lloyd Webber, Andrea Bocelli and even the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Rolling Stone caught up with the veteran producer to talk about the quick turnaround of recording contemporary history.
How long were you working on this project?
A few months. I was on confidentially. Decca asked me to do it and said it was totally under wraps. With a lot of weddings, there's only so much you can do. The bulk of the work was in the last few weeks. It was really intense.
Did you sleep at all in the weeks leading up to the Royal Wedding?
I had a few sleeps where I woke up being like, "What if?" When you have so many agencies involved ... it's not like people are withholding information, or not trying to be helpful, but there are so many cooks. You don't want to bother everyone all the time. I woke up one night with this vision that we're not going to be getting into Windsor [Castle] and everyone is going to be saying, "Where the hell are they?" I did have a few sleepless nights worrying about details. We planned meticulously: We had plans A, B, C and D.
What was it like keeping the secret of making this record from your family and friends?
Well, it was up there with the biggest secrets I had to keep. I was dying to say, "I'm so proud to be a part of this." … When I did tell people we were doing this, everyone was so envious. My three-year-old niece sent me a special message to say she predicted the dress would be purple.
What goes into putting a record of this caliber together?
To start with, the people who were putting together the ceremony and the music – the couple themselves – picked everything. I didn't talk to them directly, but we were informed what it would be and that was a massive secret. We were all sitting on that information for a considerable while. The artistic thinking is about putting a combination of pieces of music together that will create an event that, as a whole, will have a big impact. That responsibility was nowhere near us: We were just the lucky recipients of the music list. We realized there was a really, lovely balance between some fantastic new traditional things, but not the very obvious things people would pick. [Their choices] were all within traditional British weddings with these amazing additional elements like Sheku [Kanneh-Mason, cellist] playing during the signing of the register and then … of course, the gospel choir. They nailed it, didn't they?
"To start with, the people who were putting together the ceremony and the music – the couple themselves – picked everything. ... We were all sitting on that information for a considerable while"
Do you have any stories about putting the record together?
I knew we wouldn't be able to leave Windsor Castle until the carriage procession had left. We had to get to a local place that we'd set up for our post-production and our upload. I just thought that was just the carriages – not the marching bands and the trumpeters. We optimistically left our van – having backed everything up – and we were there [waiting] with all of our stuff. We were just standing in the sunshine surrounded by people partying, picnicking and having a fantastic time. The only arch we could go through was completely blocked by a marching band for about 15 minutes. I was seeing my upload deadline ticking down while we were waiting behind this marching band. Once we got through, we were one of the first [groups of] people escorted out after the procession had left. That was when our pressure started.
Did the royal family have any specific requests when it came to the Decca recording?
As I understand it, they wanted to have a polished version of the music, the speeches, the address and everything. They wanted it as polished as per what we did for the wedding of William and Kate. … What they wanted was a polished version of the audio up on iTunes and other streaming platforms as soon as possible after the event. We really needed to get it up there the same day, so that's what we did.
So, you worked on William and Kate's wedding too?
Yes. We were obviously in Westminster Abbey, and it was seven years ago. Technology has moved on. We could be a bit leaner and meaner this time, but broadly speaking, the situation was very similar. We were amassing information and preparing as much as we possibly could beforehand. The whole team at Decca was working flat-out for weeks making sure we had all the metadata ready to go, so that all we needed to drop in was the finished audio. … They didn't miss one single apostrophe, because that would have ruined everything. It was a real team effort. … Everyone was happy to be involved. It was a fabulous atmosphere. The whole feel-good factor that the whole country felt was felt in microcosm by the people who were responsible for the event. We were a tiny part of it, but a very happy part of it.
What were the differences between putting together William and Kate's recording versus Harry and Meghan's?
Their wedding was absolutely beautiful, but it was different. In a way, it was probably slightly more regal. He's the heir to the throne, so it was a state event. I think they made what had to be a state event. They gave just as much attention to all of the people who were involved in that wedding to this wedding. Windsor Castle [was] a more intimate venue, and on one level there was less pressure; Harry is fifth in line to the throne and not second, it gave them more flexibility in what they were able to pick. At a time when everyone is feeling wary of the U.K. because of Brexit, [the Royal Wedding] was a fantastic event for the world. I think you can't really compare the weddings – they're different people. They each had the weddings they both wanted, and I think that's great.
What kind of errors did you have to look out for with the recording?
We were looking for any blip in the data feed we were getting, which fortunately there wasn't. We were praying the wind wouldn't relay all of the Heathrow traffic right over the top of the chapel because I know that some of the air traffic was routed away from Windsor Castle during the ceremony. I have recorded in the chapel before and planes are landing over your head. So we were super lucky that we didn't have that additional problem to worry about. I was worried it was going to rain, which would have taken a lot of time. Rain on the roof was really audible. Any particular noise in the chapel ... you can never predict what kind of noise you're going to get. There was one person involved in the ceremony who I will not name – it was not the royal couple – that kept treading on our microphone cables. So, we had a little bit of noise reduction to do after the service, but we have a lot of software now to reduce the noise that wasn't possible seven years ago. We had everything primed. We were looking out for anything unforeseen, which is really the job of the producer.
Who approved the recordings? Did the Queen have the final say?
We had some very big understandings in place beforehand. I had a direct line to somebody from Kensington Palace who was tasked with dealing with any issues that would arise from our side and I had an open line to hear any issues that would arise from their side. But fortunately we were very lucky and everything went so beautifully that there was no need to have that interaction. We had stringent approval on the cover photograph – there was an open line from [Decca's] Gavin Bayliss and a representative from Kensington Palace about what photo we'd be able to use. We at Decca were considered to be the people looking out for the best possible audio quality. We had a collective understanding of what everyone wanted and nothing got flagged.
Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the 19-year-old cellist prodigy, became the star musician of the Royal Wedding. Do you think this recording will also help jumpstart his career internationally?
Sheku is the coolest young man I think I've met in a long time. He is so extraordinary – he has this passion for what he does. When he closes his eyes and plays that cello, it's with 150 percent commitment and he takes everyone with him to another level. Before the ceremony, we were hanging around because we were waiting, normally I would have expected a young person with something so life-changing ahead of them – playing for an audience of millions of people. … He was so sweet, calm and assured about what he was going to do. He was kind to all of the people who talked to him. I've never seen a man who was so humbled on one side and so assured on the other. I am delighted for him that he was asked to do this event. I think he was a great pick by the royal couple. I am just excited to see what's ahead for him.