Making good music is hard. Not little hard, BIG hard.

My daughter loves to sing. She’s good at it. I started playing with recording her and went down the rabbit hole. Then I asked an actual audio engineer a “simple” question and got back a complicated and useful answer.

If you start with the simplest assumption, the performer is “good” everything after that point is in the realm of the audio engineer. What mic do you use? different mics have different responses (how they “hear” sound). They have different drop off points. I don’t understand it but you can get a mic that records everything the singer does but doesn’t hear other things.

Mics can get darn expensive and each one does a different job with different characteristics.

On top of that, you need to decide how you are micing the performance. Does each instrument and performer get a mic or do you mic the room or something in between. I remember my first Telarc recording. They choose to use just two microphones. One for left, one for right and they placed those mics in the concert hall at the “sweet spot”.

Amazing recording. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that I could hear the keys of the woodwinds.

Another huge requirement is room conditioning. There is a story that the acoustics at Carnegie hall were so incredible that any member of the audience could hear a whisper from anywhere on stage. During a refurbishment of the hall they accidently destroyed those acoustics and had to bring in audio engineers to fix what they had broken.

There are huge wooden disks hanging over the audience in the Baltimore Symphony hall, and big wooden cabinets with horns at the back of the stage. They are there to fix the acustics.

A recording study will normally condition the room in order to kill echos and outside sound. This makes for a very dead sounding recording. Add to that a mic that is very directional and you get a near perfect recording of a the performer that nobody really wants to listen to.

Again the audio engineer comes to our rescue. They add back the sound of the room. One of the biggest challenges is to make the reverb tell you about the room without sounding “fake”. The amature can crank the knob and it sounds like the recording was done in an echo chamber but it doesn’t sound “good”.

Now imagine trying to recreate a specific space. A particular concert hall or one of the famous cathedrals Europe? You have to do it right.

This is an example of audio engineering at its finest. The audio engineer recorded the performances in a studio, a dry signal. He then worked for endless hours to get the right set of reverbs to recreate the sound of a cathedral. An unmitigated success.

Give it a listen and then applaud the audio engineer, our own Miguel.

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By awa

2 thoughts on “Tuesday Tunes”
  1. I have an interesting cassette tape deck that has 3 microphone inputs. I’ve used that to record my wife (an opera singer) with decent results. The scheme is that it’s a stereo deck, and the 3 microphones are left, right, and center (L+R). It allows filling in the gap between left and right, and different results depending on the relative placement of the center vs. the other two.
    It’s a neat high end consumer level solution to what professionals do with a box full of microphones and a monster mixer board.

  2. And this is why Paul Klipsch and Amar Bose made fortunes building speakers. Both of them designed speaker systems in major venues to ‘replicate’ those sounds, and later did the same for home systems.

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