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Some recording studios are famous for their sound. So what goes into creating that sound? The recording engineer? The studio? The equipment? The mixing engineer? What about the mastering process? Well, it's definitly a combination of all the above. But guess what, it doesn't take the biggest, badest, most expensive equipment to achieve quality sound.
The quality sound will begin with the recording engineer. Some engineers claim they have the perfect golden ears. Whether you have golden ear or not, you have to be able to hear the music and know what sounds good and what doesn't. However, just as two people don't see the same thing when looking at a piece of art, two people don't always hear the music the same way. So as an artist you need to work closely with the engineer. Let him suggest changes, but be prepared to give him your input. In the end the final sound needs to reflect what artist's desired result. A good engineer will always work with you to achieve that.
The most important thing about a studio is the acoustics. Sound waves bounce off hard surfaces such as walls, ceilings, and floors and produce problems such as standing waves, flutter echo, and reverberation. Standing waves are created when the wavelength of a particular note is exactly the distance between two such surfaces. For example, if a note has a wavelength of 20 feet and the distance between two of your walls is 20 feet, that note will create a standing wave. Standing waves either reinforce or cancel the sound of the note depending upon where your located in the room. This can produce sound which can be annoying to say the least.
Besides that, sound travels in three dimensions, not just one. So it takes longer for a sound wave to bounce off the ceiling and hit one wall and another before arriving at your ears than a soundwave that comes straight to your ears. For a given note, these two sound waves arrive at your ears one slightly after another resulting in an echo or reverberation.
So what is the solution. It's partly the room design and partly the accoustical treatment. When you design the room, you want to avoid dimensions that can be evenly divided by the same number. In other words, you would avoid an 8 x 12 room. It also helps to introduce non-parallel walls. For example, you could have a slanted ceiling. However, doing this will not create an accoustically perfect recording studio. You still need to treat the room with sound absorbers and sound diffusors. These items are exactly what their names imply, one absorbs sound and the other diffuses it. Most typically an absorber is a soft material such as glass wool that traps the sound within it. Carpet is a good absorber. A diffusor can be strips of wood or other material of random widths placed on a wall with spaces in between. Although these strips do not absorb sound, soundwaves impact each strip in such a way that they are reflected at various angles causing the waves to be spread out and become defuse.
The trick to acoustic treatments is not to overdo it. You could line all the walls with acoustic foam. However, the resulting sound would be dead. This is actually done in vocal isolation booths. In this case, you want to achieve an acoustically neutral sound. You can always add reverb later during processing, but it's difficult to remove too much reverb that occurs during the recording process. So you would put sound absorbsion panels on part of the walls. The idea is to absorb just enough sound to retain the liveliness, but not be so dull to kill the sound altogether.
Most electronic equipment is designed to be as accurate as possible. The exception to that rule is microphones and preamps. Although microphones have their individual sound, there is definitly an art to placing the microphone in the correct positions. The distance from the instrument affects the sound of the microphone. The direction of the microphone also affects it's sound. For example, when recording an accoustic guitar, you will get a different sound pointing at the sound hole than when aiming at the frets. Getting the correct sound involves not only choosing the right microphone, but also in experimenting with how and where it's placed.
Preamplifiers are used to boost the relative weak signal produced by most microphones to a level that is suitable for the recording process. Some engineers prefer their preamps to be sonically transparent or neutral, while others want a warmer sound. The theory is that you can always adjust a neutral sound during processing by adding equalization or other effects. Other equipment is used to manipulate sound in various ways, such as adding equalization or reverberation.
After you have laid down the various tracks of your recording, it is time to put them together. This process is mixing and is more than just adjusting the volumes of each track. It also involves the placement of instruments and vocals in the mix. You can move sounds left or right, a procedure known as panning, but you can also move things from front to back. For example, you may want to mix the lead guitar a little bit forward of the rhythm guitar. At the same time, you may want to pan one guitar to the left and the other to the right. The mixing process is deciding what should go where so each instrument doesn't obstruct or overwhelm the other. In well mixed tracks you should be able to pick out each instrument while maintaining the integrity of the whole track. Mixing also involves adjusting equalization, reverb, and other effects. The final mix should produce the experience of a complete sound stage with proper placement of instruments and vocalists, with the required ambiance that results in a natural and gratifying sound. There is definitly an art to the mixing process.
After all of the tracks been recorded and mixed down, they will need to be combined. This process is mastering. Each of the tracks need to have similar volume levels and uniform equalization and compression. Mastering also includes placing the tracks and creating the length of silence between each track. But it's so much more than that. A good engineer can actually improve the mixed down tracks, fixing the things that need to be fixed and changing what needs to be changed. When the mastering process is complete, you have a master that's ready to be placed on CD.
As you can see, the process of creating the right sound involves so many steps. There is so much creativity that goes into this entire process. We at Studio 105 Recording will be pleased to sit down with you and discuss your project.
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