Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I've been reading a lot about audio lately, most notably The Audio Expert (Ethan Winer), The Daily Adventures of Mixerman (Mixerman :-)).

Besides the fact that I still really don't understand how the hell a mic can capture sound frequencies from registering air pressure changes (but I'll do the research later, it's on my Research ToDo list), I think I start to have a pretty good (mostly theoretical) grasp on how a song comes into being, from the idea to the writing to the melody to the harmonies (or the other way around, depending on if you're a melodic or harmonic composer) to the arrangement to the pre-production to the performance(s) to the tracking to the pre-mixing to the mixing to the mastering to the "printing" to the distribution to the satisfied listener. Kinda.

What gets me is this: the musician(s) compose the song with certain instruments, which sound a certain way, with certain ideas in mind. They then go to the studio, where the recording engineer spends hours placing mics and making sure everything "sounds" good. That's where issues start, because the band might have an idea of what sounds good, the producer might have an idea of what sounds good, and the band manager (God forbid), and each individual musician, and the recording engineer (the only professional sound engineer in the lot, really)... But anyway. After hours of gear switching and amp tuning and mic placement, the musician(s) start to track. Let's imagine the performance is immediately spot on (wishful thinking, I know, but I don't have all day, Skyrim is waiting). Now a lot of people like to track with outboard gear, i.e. stuff that comes between the instrument and the recording device (usually a DAW), although some poeple still track with tape): so in come the EQ, the compressor, the gazillion pedals and whatnot; some people don't (I'm one of them, I like clean coming in). Result? What sounded good now completely sounds different. So mics are re-positioned, amps changed, etc. Once the tracking is finished, mxing can start. If you think tracking is a dark art, mixing is the grandfather of them all. Listen or read people talking about mixing and you think you're listening to people talking about chemistry in 1372. AD. So anyway. In comes the guru with the almighty software plugins. And the sound completely changes again. Compression, gating, EQ, reverb, you name it: it's all going in. After all of that abuse, the song finally sounds finished, right? Wrong. Because you forgot mastering. Where your abused song gets compressed so hard that your ears will bleed. Where the EQ that the mixing engineer spent hours crafting will be changed, again.

So how in the world can any of what was done upstream matter? Imagine singling out one sound wave from one instrument as it's tracked. You couldn't possibly find it in the final song! It's like a cook with ingredients for a beef stew ending up with a veal cutlet!

So my line of thinking is this: I am missing something. I need to go into a real studio and see what happens there. Maybe the Truth will jump at me like a spider in Arachnophobia.

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