Rachel's Corner - useful stuff.

"This is all good theoretical stuff but when are we going to learn something useful?"

I think the correct Academic answer is: "Acoustics is the theory of sound, hearing, instruments and environments. Knowledge is cumulative - get over it".

But personally I think it's a great question and I will try to answer it in a more useful manner.

My own experience is that knowledge falls into two basic categories.
1) The solutions to known problems - if you want to play a Bb scale use these notes .
2) How to solve unknown problems - that sounds like rubbish - why and how do I fix it?
Acoustics is definitely in the latter category though I will try to present examples of the former,.

Acoustics is what you need when stuff goes wrong. If you only ever play in perfectly designed rooms with well trained sound technicians and record only in the best studios with top engineers it is highly unlikely you will need any of this. But this has not been my experience out there.

I think we have covered some useful stuff already but it is entirely possible I have not presented it clearly.
On this page I will try and list the actual practical applications of what we have learned.
But please do not let these practical solutions to known problems blind to you the applications from problems unknown. Grasp the principles not the examples.

Lecture 002 Sound I

Speed of sound.
Lets you time align multiple copies of the same sound source. Used in:
1. Clubs with complex sound systems
2. Stadiums
3. THX sound tracks if you end up making movies
4. 5.1 Records - coming soon

Calculate the standing wave in a room
frequency(f) = velocity(ν)/wavelength(λ)

You can use this to immediately decide what frequencies will be emphasized (standing waves) in a room you are working in and compensate accordingly. Performing Acoustic measurements and fixing a room cannot be done quickly. You will often be working in unfriendly environments and knowing when to roll off the bass or punch it up can be a make or break. Awareness of this problem also informs you of the need to play music in the same room in which it was made or in a closed back headphone situation. Be careful of just mailing someone a demo CD. Unless you know where it will be played you may be spoiling your chances.

Lecture 003- Sound II

Sound is Logarithmic
With this understanding we can realize that matching the volumes of sounds is best done at the lowest possible volumes because small changes in energy make big differences to level whereas at high volume you need huge changes in energy. Many people try to mix at high levels and it's a huge mistake. We will learn later that to match timbre you do the opposite - listen at high gain. You yourself may not be asked to match two sounds but you recording engineer will. If he tries it at high volume don't use him again. This is a big part of taking responsibility for your own career - watching others who work with you.

Adding correlated sounds.
Allows you to predict how large an ensemble you will need for a concert.
You may feel that you can always use a small ensemble and crank the volume but it doesn't sound the same.
Ears are very sensitive to the "natural quality" of sounds.

Understanding phase cancellation.
If you want to use MIDI tone generators to create a big string sound don't use the same wave twice - it will cancel. Use Synthesizers from different manufacturers and there will be no cancellation. Be very careful of layering two sounds together that may be the same sound. Bright piano + filter = dark piano but its the same wave and will cancel badly

Test your studio setup for phase alignment.
Put the speakers together and swap the terminals (or flip the phase at the board).
Which ever has the most bass is in phase. This can and will spare you endless mixing problems.

Phase cancellation makes some Germans puke.

The proximity effect
Sound expands initially as a flattened sphere (oblate) while becomes perfectly spherical after a couple of feet. This means that a mic placed close to the source will have more bass than a mike further away. Although we can alter the tonality of a sound in post production it is never as good as if we get it right on the way into the system. The proximity effect can be used as a tone control when positioning mics.

Inverse square law
Sound drops off incredibly quickly. Doubling the distance will reduce the intensity of the sound by 4.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are exposed to dangerous level of sound moving away can quickly reduce the intensity to safe levels. This seems kind of obvious but many people simply leave and miss the gig. The could have just moved back a couple of rows.



Franz Pusch

Specific Questions:

What is a binaural microphone, and what makes it unique?
A binaural microphone is one in which a model of the human head holds the stereo microphones in the exact position necessary to make a natural image of the sound. Even the reflections of the pinna (simplified) are included.

What makes a recording engineer great, and what's the best way to become great at it?
You should not be aware that he has been there or done anything. To become great at it dedicate yourself to working very hard and work your way into the presence of great engineers. Listen and learn.

Are there any prominent female recording engineers in the industry? (If not, why?)
Increasinly there are. In the earfly days of recording the job was very physically taxing which may have kept some ladies out. However these days the equipment is smaller, better and lighter and mopfe female engineers are appearing.

How did you break into the industry, and what advice would you give to someone wanting to start a career in recording?
Production and postg production houses are a good place to start. Even it it means gophering ( go fer coffee etc) it is important to get close to someone who is doing what you want. One day he/she will get a better job and suddenly you are the engineer.

How do you get a job working in a recording studio if you're just starting out?
Check the ads for entry level positions in proeduction houses.

Where do you see the music business going and how would you suggest sustaining a career?
The business is changimng rapidly. The power has shifted away from the studios and towards the individualy Composer/Producer/Arranger/Recording engineer. Opportunoities are still there but more diversified.

How would I submit my CD/album to a record company like Capitol, Warner, or Reprise and have them actually hear my CD and consider me?
Lawyers and money.

How much do you charge for recording an album for someone?
It depends entirely upon you. I have done three albums in a day for jazz groupls that come in with everything perfect, lay down 12 tracks and leave. On the other had big projects with lots going wrong can take months. Engineers charge by the hour: $75-$100in most cases. Some engineers get considerably more.

Is there any point in Hybridizing digital and analogue projects?
yes there is as long as you understand the differences. The qualities that gace analogue recording its sound were actually the result of limitations of the recordning chain - especially the art of cutting a master wax platter. Analogue has far less dynamic range but it handles overload in a pleasing and characteristic way. Digital offers a dynamic range as great as the human ear but is uiseless if the overload clips it.

General Philosophy

Learn to ignore the content and listen to the instrument sounds inside the track
Take your favorite album that is already familair and try to listen just to the guitar, just to the snare, just to the drums.
Get a feel for the relationshops between instruments - learn to block out the "content" and hear the sounds.

Finding gigs
Sign on as an assistant and get coffee for a while and watch and listen and learn.
Production houses do place ads so read them and show up.
One day the engoineer will fail to show up and suddenly you are the engineer.

Listen to yourself and be prepared
Even if its a $200 recorder the most useful thing you can do is to record yourself and listen to the recordings constantly.
If you are surprised by anything you hear in the studio you are not doing it right.
Being prepared is not just learnong the notes - it's learning the song completely - the sound and everything.