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

Is Two-Track Recording The Best Method? Not Always But Sometimes

Image, Studer Tape Decks, by bORjAmATiC used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
Image, Studer Tape Decks, by bORjAmATiC used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

I’ve got myself embroiled in a discussion in the LinkedIn Music Producers group about whether Pro Tools (and digital multitrack recording in general) is a retrograde step in terms of record production. The seed of the discussion is a quote from Joe Boyd in the September issue of Mix magazine,

You could say that 2-track recording is the purest form of record making. Four-track, 8-track, etcetera, through the present limitless expanse of possibilities on Pro Tools have all been steps backward in terms of making recordings that will endure the test of time.

At first scan this is not something I agree with in the least, but Joe Boyd has made some extraordinary records with the likes of Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Kate and Anna McGarrigle and 10,000 Maniacs so the question deserves at least some consideration.

Two interesting streams of argument have developed in the group,

  1. Have the incredible capabilities of digital recording and editing lead us to record in ways that compromise the ultimate quality of the recordings we produce
  2. Have we used these techniques to create (or facilitate the creation of) a culture of poor and lazy musicianship

In the first case the crucial question is what is “better”. I think that the answer to this can only be seen in the light of what is to be recorded. There isn’t a single best recording method and in my opinion choosing the best method to capture a particular group of musicians is one of the key tasks for a producer. The same methods will not work for a string quartet as a trance band. “Better” at the very least must be defined by context. Continue reading Is Two-Track Recording The Best Method? Not Always But Sometimes

The Two Hemispheres of Music Production and The Struggle to Keep Them Separate

BrainModern music production software is brilliant stuff. It gives us the capability to do so much that was previously only possible in expensive studios and with the help of several musicians. There is even the potential to sync to picture and even some (pre-)mastering capability. In the words of Harold Macmillan, “[we have] never had it so good.”

Power brings responsibility though and one area where this capability can introduce friction is in writing music. The problem is that there is just so much to tinker with, synth patches, eq, effects, bussing, display colours… It just never ends.

Most of this capability has little to do with creating music. It falls firmly in the realms of editing. The problem for me is that writing can be a difficult process and the desire to procrastinate huge. There may never have been a better procrastination tool for me than ProTools.

At the other extreme when I was at music college in the 1980s there was an ongoing debate among the composition students as to whether one should even use a piano or other instrument while writing music. The idea was that the purity of the music was better served by creating it only in your head and jotting it down on paper immediately. There is a certain purity to this idea, but it was only taken seriously by us students. The professors, being more experienced, stayed well clear of such matters and just stuck with whatever worked for them. Continue reading The Two Hemispheres of Music Production and The Struggle to Keep Them Separate