The perils of modern music making, part 1: Too much too young

mic stand and cross of tape on the floor
X marks the spot on the floor of Sun Studios

I’m aware that I’m going to come across as a curmudgeonly old fool, but to paraphrase Bill Hicks, I am so that’s how it comes out. By way of an apology, modern music making technology is wonderful, brings significant benefits to musicians and is helping to make the world of music as healthy as it has been for many a decade.

There are however some pitfalls.

The first is a question of sequencing. Not in the sense of programming synth parts but the order in which tools become available to musicians in the course of their career. Just about every computer-based music making software package comes with a bewildering array of potential from plug-in effects and processors to the ability to create virtual mixing desks of bewildering complexity.

This potential certainly creates value for money. Logic Studio is selling today for £408 and would allow me to create a virtual studio that would cost me hundreds of thousands of pounds to recreate using real gear. I’m going to sidestep the question of how accurate an analogue this studio would be to the real world version for now, but it would be close enough that the gap in price is staggering.

This is good and is part of the reason that there is an explosion of independently produced music available to listen to and a large supply of musicians cutting their teeth by themselves. The good is not the whole story though there is a problem with this sudden acquisition of potential. Continue reading The perils of modern music making, part 1: Too much too young

Mid/Side stereo, a great tool for home recording

Mid/Side stereo schematicRecording at home (yours or someone else’s) as opposed to a commercial studio has many advantages, cost, comfort and available time amongst them, but disadvantages too in terms of recording environment. One of the main disadvantages can be that the rooms performances are captured in are designed for living in rather than recording. This can cause some interesting issues when trying to record a stereo room sound with phase issues. Mid/side (M&S) recording can be a great way to deal with these issues.

M&S has several advantages,

  • Bulletproof mono compatibility
  • Equal focus on the center and sides
  • Control over the width of the sound during post-production
  • No need for expensive omni pairs

These advantages are very useful in a home recording environment. In an asymmetrical room complex phase relationships can develop, often frequency dependent ones. With M&S you have great mono compatibility with your middle channel. Mic placement still matters but there is always a fallback to pure mono. This can be a take-saver in a room that may sound great but is hard to record in with other stereo techniques like spaced omnis or XY stereo. The mono fallback allows you to make your mic placement decisions based on what sounds best rather than what minimises phase problems. Continue reading Mid/Side stereo, a great tool for home recording

Hearing When It’s Wrong and Using Reverb to Tie it All Together

"Constructive Interference" by Clearly Ambiguous made available under a Creative Commons Attribution license
"Constructive Interference" by Clearly Ambiguous made available under a Creative Commons Attribution license

In a previous post I rehearsed some arguments about why direct to stereo recording may be a desirable recording method. There are two main reasons for this, the first is that it gives a chance to capture a live performance giving the listener all the subtlety of musicians making music together, the second is that our hearing skills are sensitive and subtle. It is, I believe this second aspect that makes highly produced recordings sound “wrong”, “unnatural” or fatiguing to listen to.

Human hearing is an incredibly powerful sense, not as precise as bats or dogs but still a powerful tool,

  • We can distinguish the voices of different people with amazing accuracy even over the restricted bandwidth of a telephone
  • Mothers can tell the cry of their own baby from others even over great distances
  • We can place the origin of sounds in space with great accuracy, as long as both ears are working

These skills are there for almost all of us not just musicians or recording engineers. We may not be aware of them or consciously use them but they are there. They are vestiges of important survival skills from the history of our evolution. They used to be vital for hunting and avoiding being hunted by predators and human enemies. These skills are not analytic but we know when something sounds wrong and it can be unsettling. Continue reading Hearing When It’s Wrong and Using Reverb to Tie it All Together