We’re big advocates of home production. The falling cost of music technology has democratised the process of making music enormously, which can only be a good thing. However, there remains a substantial knowledge gap between most home producers and those working in ‘traditional’ facilities.
Here at Brighton Mastering, we get sent a lot of tracks that were recorded in home studios, and the biggest mistake we come across is not a lack of creativity or ideas, but not understanding the science behind music production.
Covering the Basics
One thing we’re often surprised by is a lack of understanding about the basics of recording. We have often been sent tracks that have the odd tell-tale crackle of digital clipping and have even been sent mixdowns in low quality mp3.
What this demonstrates is a fundamental lack of education about music technology. The problem is that any Apple Mac comes with a copy of Garageband that anyone can use, but without knowing what a compressor is actually doing (beyond some vague understanding of ‘punch’), or what different frequencies sound like you don’t have a hope of making a commercial sounding recording. And that doesn’t come in the manual.
Tilting at Windmills
There is a lot to be said for learning by experimentation, and that’s certainly how I got started. However, everything in music production is physics. Knowing that physics makes the whole process much more practical and less the quixotic pursuit of mythical qualities that frankly may be unattainable with what you’re working with.
Knowing the physics can actually plug a lot of the holes in the equipment you’re dealing with, as Mike Senior aptly demonstrates every month in his Mix Rescue column for Sound on Sound. Want to compress only a particular frequency range but don’t have a multiband compressor? Get out your broadband compressor, an EQ with high and low pass filters and away you go.
It may not be fun (well, depends what your outlook is) and it may not be rock ‘n’ roll. But all music technology is physics at work. Making that physics work for you is the creative bit.
Don’t think that you have to go on an expensive music production course to learn the science – after all, almost none of these courses existed until a few years ago, and people still made great records.
Buy a couple of books. Get a subscription to Sound on Sound. Subscribe to a few RSS feeds. If you can, get some work experience at your local studio (although these opportunities are drying up in the face of home studios).
Learning the science behind the faders is like learning scales. Sure you can write a song by ear, but it’s a lot quicker if you know which notes fit together.
What books can you recommend to other readers? Leave your suggestions in the comments!
Photo credit Creativity103