All About Audio: Recording Studios

In the last blog I discussed the most basic elements of Audio recording and reproduction.  In this post we are going to learn some more about sound reproduction and how we hear the finished sound.  If you missed the first post and you need a primer on the basics, please click [here] to read the primer.

The Sound Engineer

In a recording studio, many microphones are deployed in order to capture the various sounds of each performer.  Each microphone sends it’s musical information along toadevice called a “mixing board”.  This allows the sound engineer to blend the musical information of all the performers together.  For musical recordings, this is typically done in 2 channel stereo.  In 2 channel stereo you will have one channel of audio for each ear.  One channel for left ear and another channel for right ear.  The sound engineer will sit exactly between the left and right speakers.  In this position he can hear the sounds carried in each of the two channels and make changes as required.  One of the tasks that is performed by the mixing engineer is directing the different instruments to the left and right channels.  This allows the stereo recording to paint a soundstage where the  sounds of each performer appear to originate from different positions left to right, as if they were on a stage in your home.

Studio Recordings

In the studio, performances are usually recorded in a space that is very “dead” acoustically.  This allows the microphone to collect as much of the original sound as possible with very little influence from the sound of the room.   To compensate for this, the sound engineer will add artificial reverbs (echo) and various other effects to make the recording sound as if it took place in a more natural setting.   An instrument with a lot of echo will appear to come from farther away than one with less echo would, just like in real life.  Typically vocals have very little echo as compared to a piano.  This is why voice often appears to stand out in front of the other instruments.  In most cases, one would want to feel as though the singer were standing right in front of them.  The instruments of course would be farther away, some to the left and some to the right.  It is in this way (panning and adding reverb) that the illusion of a 3D soundstage is presented to the listener.  A well engineered recording will very effectively convey this 3d soundstage which will allow you to close your eyes and experience a compelling personal performance in the comfort of your own home.

Mixing it up

Usually there are many performances to be mixed together in a commercial recording.  Each of the singers, lead and backing vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass – all of the individual drums and percussion…there can be dozens of separate recordings called “tracks” which will ultimately need to be mixed down to only two tracks, for stereo playback.

Once the “mix” is complete, the recorded tracks are played through the soundboard and mixed down to stereo.   Once this is done, the final mix is sent to the last stage, “mastering”.  In a mastering studio, the mastering engineer has a very high end stereo system, which he uses to make judgements about the recording.  Once he knows what needs to be done, he will manipulate the sound so that it sounds consistent, has good dynamics, the proper overall volume level and in the case of a full album, he will even  decide how to fade one song into the next or sometimes, what the order of songs will be.  The mastering engineer takes the “art” produced by your artist and transforms it into a polished “experience” intended for your enjoyment.

Final Product

Once mastering has been completed, the finished product goes away to be mass produced into compact disc, vinyl or whatever else tickles your fancy.

What we have learned so far, is about the tremendous care and effort that goes into producing a quality audio recording.  It is a truly laborious task.  It is also worthy to note that these recordings are made using some very good quality sound equipment.  In the next post we will look a little into how you can get started on setting up a sound system that will allow you to experience this in your own home.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to stop by the store and chat with me. You can always email me at stevem@shopgibson.com or follow me on Twitter @SteveMGSV . Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up-to-date with all of our blogs!

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