As with any other art or craft, it takes a long time to learn to be a good record producer or recording engineer. But unlike a painter or musician, the producer or engineer has to be content with his or her work going largely unappreciated by the general public. Most people, when they listen to a record, CD or tape, hear only the music. The techniques that were employed to record that music raise only there merest flicker of interest.
But when you make recordings yourself, if you have what it takes to be a producer or engineer, you begin to hear all sorts of things that at first inspection seem to have nothing to do with the music itself. You hear the ambience of the recording studio that , the low 50 Hz or 60 Hz buzz of a guitar amplifier, snare wires rattling in sympathy with one of the tom toms of the kit. All of these are actually part of the music too, to the producer or engineer. It is not merely the notes that are important; everything that can be heard on the recording is an integral part of the listening experience.
It is in the nature of things that in any field of endeavor some will achieve greatness, some will fail miserably, and the great majority will be average. Take a look at your CD collection and you will find that this is true for producers and engineers. Chances are that you will be able to pick a couple of discs that, disregarding their musical content, sound really excellent. There are almost certainly a couple that, although you like the music, you just wish they had been better recorded. But the majority of discs in your collection are almost bound to be in the ‘average’ category.
What does this mean? One factor that is certain is that a few record producers like other and recording engineers are much better at their craft than the rest. Another factor is that on certain recordings studio Evergreen Stage , the interaction between the people involved – musicians, producer, engineer and studio staff – results in them all raising their game beyond their normal abilities on that one project. This theory also implies that there are a lot of people doing an everyday job turning out workmanlike but unexceptional recordings. Let’s try and improve a little on that.
Now it’s time to listen to some music. Take out a really good sounding album, and one that is average. Have a good listen and compare. Try to pick out all the factors which, to your mind, distinguish the excellent from the run of the mill. Listen really hard to the individual instruments and form an opinion about what they sound like – bright, brassy, fat, thin… there is almost an infinite number of adjectives that can be used to describe sounds. But if you make an effort to put the characteristics of a sound into words, you really have to listen precisely to that sound. Now you are training your producer’s ear.
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