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Creativity in the Control Room

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

by Björgvin Benediktsson

Where the magic happens

From an idea to the finished product, a song or an album goes through many stages. A little ditty in the songwriters head, a rocking riff on the Les Paul or a quiet chord progression on the piano transforms exponentially as more thought and work is put into it.

All of this isn’t done by only the songwriter. There are a lot of people behind the scenes, helping with the process, from A&R scouts to mixers, to engineers, to producers. But how much of the band is left on that CD after it’s been filtered through all those people? How much does a producer change the creative vision the band had?

Do the engineers and producers help or hinder creativity?

There are three primary roles in the recording studio. The artist, the producer and the engineer. All of them play a pivotal role in the production of an album. Sometimes these roles mix together and sometimes they clash. Other times one person performs the role of all three. Let’s take a look at what goes on in each of these roles:


What does pro audio have to do with chess?

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Pro audio is like a game of chess; the best player always plans ahead

“Planning ahead pushes you toward victory” – Sun Tzu

In the life of a sound-tech, you’ve got your mixers, your cables and your mics. You’ve got your patching, plugging and playing to do and if I told you it’s a lot like chess you’d probably just point a microphone in my face and say “Does this look like a Rook to you?”.

In chess you have to be able to think more than one move at a time. It’s a game of cunning strategy and if you don’t think one step ahead of your opponent he will Sun Tzu you and you will lose the game. Working with audio is similar. You have to think ahead and keep everything in mind. Signal flow doesn’t start and end with you plugging in a cable, or adjusting the gain levels.

You have to think things through right to the end or feedback will win the game and taint your reputation. As Sun Tzu said: “Estimating completely creates victory”.

Thinking ahead and keeping all the factors in mind greatly reduces the “troubleshooting brainstorm” that goes on when something doesn’t work.

It also enhances you ability to think quickly on your feet, getting the show or the recording back on track in no time.


Dealing with the artist (in a performance venue)

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

“The artist is always late”

by Björgvin Benediktsson

There is considerable tact involved when dealing with an artist. Whether it be in a hectic live setting where everything is running late or recording sultry vocals in a cozy recording studio. If some of the below statements offend you engineer/artists remember that I also whine when my vocals sound bad.

The artist is always late

When I started mixing live concerts, underground bands were notorious for always being late. When I said the soundcheck would start at five, this usually meant the first bands showed up at around six. After a while I got used to this as I could use the empty time to set up and linecheck at a relaxed pace. It’s amazing what you can do in an hour if there is no stress involved.

So when the artists finally showed up I had everything set up perfectly without having to show up early to get everything done.


“Killing your darlings”

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

guest article by John P.

It’s a rainy day, perfect for holing yourself up in your room to work on a new song—and if you’re like most of the music-making world, that means firing up your Mac or PC, connecting your MIDI keyboard, hunching your neck and shoulders, and playing endlessly with your virtual drum machines, pianos, and saxophones.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Computer power has liberated home music producers in too many ways to list in this short article. Pair up some modest multi-tracking software with a basic six-hundred dollar PC and you can create sonic wonders. But this very blessing can be a curse. How would “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” sound if Eno and Byrne recorded it today? It would sure be easier for them. Maybe too easy. Without limitations to overcome, artists get lazy and bored.


Is vinyl really better?

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Vinyl RecordThese days, I’ve been hearing a lot of criticism aimed at the compact disc format. Vinyl is regaining popularity as people are realizing that CD’s just don’t sound the same as vinyl. Now, whether this is just a placebo effect, I’m not sure. Apparently, audiophiles can’t tell the difference between Monster Cable and coat hangers. Should we trust the human ear so much to say that we can really hear the difference between CD and Vinyl? The differences are there, surely. Vinyl carves a smooth, continuous groove around the disc, whereas CD reduces the audio quality to 44,100 slices, each having 65,536 possible levels. I’m willing to bet your average listener couldn’t tell the difference. Another thing about vinyl is that as the record progresses, more and more high frequencies are lost.

“Most people don’t realize that the distance around the inside of a 12-inch record is about half the distance than around the outside,” Golden explains. “As the distance around each revolution decreases, the high frequencies become harder for a playback stylus to read.”
Link to source

On a tangentially related side-note, I found an interesting video of how vinyl records made, check out How Vinyl Records Are Made Part 1 and Part 2. I know the vinyl vs. CD format war will never be resolved, but it’s interesting to consider when deciding between the two methods of physical distribution for your project.