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Audio Production Tools

INTRO TO AUDIO PRODUCTION TOOLS


Audio productions used to be performed only in RECORDING STUDIOS (controlled sound environments optimized for manipulating sound).  Recording studios usually consist of a STUDIO (large room that may be subdivided into smaller sonically isolated rooms) where microphones capture the sounds created by musicians, singers, (etc).

MICROPHONES (transducers that convert sound from physical energy in the air to alternating electrical energy) are connected to wires that run from the STUDIO into the CONTROL ROOM through panels built into the walls of both rooms so that all doors can remain closed.  The CONTROL ROOM is a different sonically isolated room that contains equipment used to manipulate the sounds captured through microphones in the STUDIO.

The CONTROL ROOM usually includes a PATCHBAY (connected to the panel where the microphone wires from the STUDIO will be connected to), a MIXING CONSOLE, tape recorders (either analog or digital), and speakers that have been tuned to the room for a neutral and even sound (for example, the bass from the speakers may be turned down to compensate for room acoustics that overly emphasize the bass, resulting in an EVEN sound).  Also, the room is specially shaped to avoid parallel surfaces and to sound even (the same) in every position in the room.  If you are working in a room where the sound varies from spot to spot, you may have to listen to determine exactly WHICH spot is neutral (or “true”).  I have worked in rooms where I can only hear accurate low end if I am standing in a corner.

MIXING BOARDS or CONSOLES are large desks used to manipulate and combine sounds, containing individual channels to manipulate each individual sound coming from the studio or being played from a tape recorder.  Each channel has its own volume, mute (on/off), solo (allowing you to hear ONLY that channel), panning (left/right position), inserts (so the sound can go through other processing devices), and sound-changing devices (such as an EQUALIZER). The mixing console will also have a MASTER FADER that all of the sounds will be combined into before being sent out to a stereo recorder (and then to final output to CD, audio file, or vinyl).

Besides being able to send sound to the Master Fader, each channel of a mixing board can SEND sound to a separate audio path that is fed from special “Send” knobs from different channels and that then direct the combined sound to a single destination such as a tape recorder input or a separate channel with unique effects.  The knobs used to adjust the sound being sent are called SENDS.  The separate audio path to a different channel or different recorder tracks is called an AUDIO BUS (sometimes written as BUSS).  The master stereo channel gets sound from the STEREO BUS that each sound is fed into.  Since it contains 2 channels, the stereo bus keeps any panning (left to right placement) set from each channel.

Basic audio PROCESSING includes Equalizers (to change bass, treble, etc), Compression (to control volume or thicken sound), Delay (echo), Reverb (the sound of a big empty room), Volume, and Panning.

Today most audio production functions can be performed within a single home computer.  Unfortunately without the years of observation, experience and uniquely honed skills that would develop during the normal rise through the studio hierarchy, most of the work done by hobbyists utilizes production techniques and approaches that get results but at the same time limit rather than enhance the sound being worked on.