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Old 12-11-2008, 09:55 PM   #70
Human being with feelings
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 2,012

I want to double back to this notion of "all you need is ears." If you have read through these first few posts, I hope that it is becoming clear that this principle does not denigrate the work or the value of recording professionals. On the contrary, it is ordinary civilian ears that distinguish the work of great recordists. And there are some great ones, people who deliver recorded works that are beautiful in their own right, like photographers or painters who make gorgeous pictures of everything from old shoes to pretty girls.

But it is also those same ordinary civilian ears that allow us to hear when our own recordings are substandard.

I am taking it for granted that anyone reading this thread has already, at some point or another, made good-sounding music. There was a time when all that recordings aspired to was accurate recordings of good-sounding music. This objective is preposterously easy these days. I recently tried a $50 Earthworks knockoff mic made by Behringer that is absolutely fool-the-ear accurate. Throw it in a room and record a conversation with this mic and play it back through decent speakers and the people in the room will start replying to the recorded conversation.

But that is not usually what people are looking for in modern popular music recordings. These days, everything is supposed to be larger-than-life, realer-than-real, hyped and firey without sounding "distorted." We are no longer creating accurate recordings of live performances, we are creating artificial soundscapes that the live concerts will later try to duplicate with studio tricks.

You have whispered vocals over a full metal band backed a symphony orchestra, with a delicate finger-picked acoustic guitar on stage right. And it's all supposed to sound real, and big, and natural. And when the singer goes from a whisper to a scream, the scream is supposed to *sound* 20dB louder without actually *being* any louder than the whisper. Both of which are supposed to sound clear and natural over the backing band, which is of course supposed to sound loud as hell, louder than the philharmonic behind it. And everything is supposed to sound clearly articulated and distinct, including the chimey little arpeggiated guitar. And by the way, can we squeeze in this low-fi record loop and make it sound proportionate like an old record player but also clearly audible.

And the answer is yes, we can do all this. We can make conversation-level hip-hop lyrics sound bigger than explosions, we can make acoustic folk duos blend seamlessly with industrial drum machines, we can make punk rock bands that sound indie and badass while singing autotuned barbershop quartet harmonies with forty tracks of rhythm guitar. We can make country-western singers sound like heavy metal and heavy metal bands sound like new age and we can make "authentic audiophile" jazz recordings where the cymbals sound twenty feet wide and fifty feet overhead.

All these things we can do. But these are no "captured" sounds, any more than a Vegas hotel is an "authentic" reproduction of an Egyptian pyramid or a Parisian street. These are manufactured illusions. Unlike a Vegas hotel, the construction costs are almost nil. Reaper and programs like it have practically everything you need to create almost any soundscape you can imagine. All you need is ears.

This might sound like a rant, but my point is a very specific and practical one. Sound is at your disposal. Modern technology has made its capture, generation, and manipulation incredibly cheap. You can twist it and bend it and break it and re-shape it in any way you imagine. The power at your fingertips is huge. There is no excuse for dull, noisy, bland recordings except user error.

There is a lot more ground to cover, but no way to cover it all, or even most of it. Your ears are a far better guide than I or anyone else. Anything I or anyone can describe about sound, you can hear better.
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