Success in the AS music technology listening paper
G Morley


Exam technique: AS music technology listening examination Success in the listening exam is 50% knowledge and 50% technique. If you respond correctly to a question but miss a key term you will not gain marks. The following should help in your preparation Contrast questions In these questions where it asks you about the contrast between two pieces or sections of pieces. You must state how it has changed. Q. Describe the change in instrumentation & texture between the verse and chorus A. In the chorus there is a guitar part playing strummed chords (0 marks) A. In the verse the guitar plays a picked pattern but in the chorus changes to a strummed pattern (1mark) Using terms such as are added or enter implies a change or contrast. Simply stating what you can hear does not imply that you could not hear the same thing in a previous section.

Adjustable parameters of effects questions All effects (FX) have a Wet/Dry mix (amount of wetness). This is the amount of unaffected sound (dry sound) compared to the amount of affected sound (wet sound). Make sure you can not only define these effects but you can hear them in a track.

Reverb: Reverb simulates the effect of a sound reflecting off the walls of a room. The adjustable parameters allow us to define the properties of that room (e.g. it’s size, shape, surface material etc) Pre-Delay – the amount of time before the initial reflections occur (in milli seconds) Longer pre delay suggests a larger room. Reverb time – How long the reverb effect lasts Reverb Damping – The effect can have the high or low frequencies gradually taken out throughout the course of the reverb. (this simulates the different nature of reflective surfaces) For a gated reverb, you would also have ‘Gate Time’ – find out what gated reverb is if you are unsure.


Delay: Delay creates timed repeats of a signal. These can be in time with the music creating a rhythmic effect or at unrelated (but regular) intervals. Feedback - this determines how long the delayed signal lasts for (often stated as a % with 1% being a very short decay and 100% when the delay lasts for an infinite length of time. (0% would usually result in a single repetition) Delay time – this is the length of time between repetitions of the original signal. (usually in milliseconds ms or sometimes as a tempo sync defined by 8th notes 16th triplets etc) Panning of the delay – this determines whether the delayed signal comes from the left speaker, right speaker or pans across the stereo field

Chorus: The effect of two or more similar (but not identical) sounds being played simultaneously. The slight variations of pitch and timing create the ‘warm’ effect. This effect can be simulated electronically. The original sound is combined equally with the delayed sound (about 70ms). The delayed sound is modulated slightly to create the variation in pitch Chorus is often used as a stereo effect with the ‘varied’ sounds being produced from different locations within the stereo field.

ADT(Automatic double tracking): Creates an effect similar to chorus. The original (dry) sound is combined with a delayed version (normally longer than 70ms delay) and less modulation is used. This creates a doubling effect as though the performer has played the same part twice. (produces a thicker sound)

Phase/flange: These effects operate in a similar way to chorus (mixing two identical signals) however, the delay time changes to produce a moving or ‘whooshing’ effect. Flanging is a more noticeable than phasing due to the slightly longer delay times and more feedback (often described as a ‘jet-plane effect’)


Dynamics processing Compression– compression is used to ‘even out’ the dynamic range of an instrument or entire mix. It does this by reducing the level of all sounds above a certain threshold by a particular ratio (2:1 is a small ratio, 10:1 is large ratio). When the compression is applied, you can then use a make-up gain control to turn the signal up by the same amount you have reduced the louder signals by. This makes the overall level louder and can produce a more ‘up-front’ sound. Find out what attack, release, soft knee and hard knee are. Attack / Release?

Soft Knee / Hard Knee?

Expander– This is the opposite effect of compression in which all sounds above a threshold are increased in level. This increases the dynamic range of a part. Limiter– A limiter is similar to a compressor with a very high ratio (10:1 or more). When the threshold is reached on a limiter the signal is reduced all the way to the threshold (not just by a ratio). This effect is more severe then compression and is sometimes used at the end of a signal chain to stop a part from ‘clipping’ Gate (noise gate) – A noise gate opens to allow sounds to be heard when it reaches a certain decibel level (or threshold). You can control the sounds that are allowed to pass through by adjusting the threshold. This effect is useful for controlling ‘spill’ when recording using close mic techniques


How technology has improved recording between 1950 and present History / key dates 1958 The first stereo recordings on vinyl records were produced. (still limited stereo field due to recording techniques – i.e. not using multi-track recordings) 1965 The first 8-track multi-track recordings were produced in 1965 (e.g. The White Album by The Beatles) 1975 – Digital tape (DAT) begins to be used in recording studios (eventually replacing magnetic tape which is an analogue format) 1980 – the first digital multi-track recorders, also, hard disk recorders introduced 1981 – CD’s first demonstrated 1990 – CD’s become a commercial reality STANDARD QUESTION: This track was recorded in 1955, how would the recording be improved today using modern technology and recording techniques? There will probably be a variation of the question above on the exam. Make sure you read the question carefully and adapt your response.

1. Use of stereo / improved stereo field (as opposed to mono) The ability to record instruments onto separate tracks (multi-track) and pan them to different positions in the stereo field (remember lead vocals/kick drum/snare drum and bass will normally be panned centrally)

2. Improved depth of field The ability to multitrack instruments and apply different amounts of reverb allows you to position instruments further back in a mix 3. Ability to overdub & double track – overdubbing allows the engineer to record several layers of one persons voice to add harmonies or record several guitar parts using just one musician. – Double tracking (a kind of overdubbing) allows the same part to be recorded several times this creates a much more ‘up front’ and powerful sound. (good for use on vocals in rock tracks or guitar parts that need ‘fattening’)


4. More balanced mix Again, with the ability to multi-track and record instruments onto separate tracks, the engineer than has the ability to adjust relative levels (volume) of each instrument. 5. Increased frequency response More advanced microphones allow for a greater frequency response. Small capsule condensor microphones often have quite a flat frequency response which means they respond to (or capture) low, mid and high frequencies equally. Some microphones are specifically designed to respond more to low frequencies (e.g. a Shure Beta 52A – used for mic’ing a kick drum) 6. Ability to add FX to independent parts With the ability to multitrack individual instruments, you can apply FX after you have recorded a part. This is particularly easy when using DAW (digital audio workstation) as opposed to the older method of using analogue tape recordings. 7. Clarity of individual parts/instruments Since the advent of digital recording, engineers have been able to capture individual instruments with more clarity this is due to the better frequency response of microphones but also as the ‘hiss’ associated with tape recording does not occur in digital recording. This is known as a better signal to noise ratio. EQ can also be applied to individual instruments during the mixing process to give distinction between different parts. 8. Greater control of dynamics Through the use of dynamics processing (particularly compression) engineers can even out dynamic variations in musician’s performances. This can help to make parts more prominent or ‘up front’ by creating a more sustained and louder dynamic level. Compression can also be applied to an entire mix during the mastering stage to raise the overall level of the recording without creating distortion (or clipping). Other dynamics processes include: gate, limiter and expander. 9. Distortion in the recording By using better quality microphones, and recording digitally. Check individual levels using hardware/software that gives indications when a signal clips. This can be done in PFL mode (where you can monitor the level of each channel on the mixing desk individually)


Recording & mixing techniques It is important that you understand the difference between recording techniques (used at the time of recording when the musicians are present) and mixing techniques (usually done afterwards in the studio often when the producer/engineer is working alone). Recording techniques: Close-Mic – the aim here is to capture a ‘dry’ instrumental or vocal sound. This allows for more control of effects such as reverb (as no natural room ambience should be captured) Ambient microphones – used to capture both the instrument and the natural ambience of the room (could be used for ‘live acoustic’ recordings or recording a string section on a pop or rock track) n.b. overhead mic’s on a drum kit will pick up some room ambience depending on their distance from the kit Multitracking – recording instruments (or even parts of instruments such as the components of a drum kit or the treble and bass strings of a piano) onto separate tracks of a sequencer or multi-track recorder

Overdubbing - the process of recording further tracks over tracks that have already been recorded (e.g. record drums and bass on the first take, then overdub guitars, and finally overdub the vocals) Double tracking – the same process as overdubbing except you record an identical part on top of the previously recorded track. (Because of the slight discrepancies between timing and pitch of the two tracks, the part begins to sound more powerful or sometimes warmer or richer – the effect produced is similar to that of a chorus effect) Riding faders – this is the process where the recording engineer adjusts the input gain level of individual tracks during the course of the recording. (e.g. if there is a quiet verse and loud chorus the engineer would pre-empt the gain level required for the chorus by pulling the fader or adjusting the trim down). Another way to achieve this would be by punching in / out Punching in / out – this is the process of starting recording a track/s part way through a song. The engineer would play back a song from slightly before the part they want to record or re-record and then click record just before the new recording begins


Mixing techniques: Balancing – setting the level of individual instruments to get an appropriate balance of parts Automating levels adjust levels of individual tracks during the course of the piece (this is similar to riding faders but done during the mixing process) Panning – used to create stereo field or as an effect (i.e. when the signal is moved across the stereo field). When setting pan positions, usually lead vocals, bass guitar, kick and snare drum are panned centrally. Adding FX (insert and send effects) – most commonly reverb, delay & chorus Dynamics processing (compression, gate, expander, limiter – these can and are also be used at the recording stage) Equalisation (EQ) – In mixing, this is used for two main purposes: a) to correct an unnaturally captured recording, for example, an acoustic guitar that has overly prominent mid/low frequencies due to the microphone, mic position or room characteristics. b) To bring out instruments in the mix, for example, if there are guitar and keyboard parts in a mix all centred around a similar frequency range, each of the instruments could be given an emphasis at different targeted frequencies to give clarity to the parts. (remember you boost and cut frequencies) Audio editing – cutting, splicing, pasting, copying and looping sections of prerecorded audio. This can be used to remove sections of unwanted audio, to remove mistakes or even to correct parts that are out of time. (although it is better to get good, in-time takes when recording)


Sequencing Techniques You may get asked a question on how an audio track may be created using sequencing techniques. You know many techniques but need to use the correct terminology. Examples of sequencing techniques (if you don’t know these you should learn them) Real-time recording Step Input Quantising (including iterative, quantise ends, groove quantise) Velocity editing Copy and Paste / Looping / Duplicate / Controller editing (e.g. pan / modulation / pitch bend) Transposing Tempo track Example question:


Potential problems & solutions when recording in a studio Problem Proximity effect (boosted/exaggerated low frequencies when close to microphone) Tuning: Vocals Solution Adjust position slightly further from mic. Use a filter (high pass at 100hz) Change microphone for one with less bass response Use autotune plug-in or hardware unit Use a guide vocal track Turn up backing or vocal in foldback mix Warm up the singer Use digital tuner Tune using digital tuner Warm up Adjust backing in foldback mix Use pop shield Sing slightly beneath the capsule of the mic Use of noise gate (adjust threshold) Use a mic with a cardioid pick up pattern and angle away from other instruments (e.g. angle snare mic away from hi-hat) Use acoustic screens/barriers between instruments or drum booth/vocal booth Position mic closer to sound source D.I. instruments such as bass and keyboard Do not use mic’s with omni or figure of eight pick-up pattern Use a gate (e.g. on the kick drum mic to eliminate the sound of the snare etc) Use a high pass filter at approx (50-100hz) Use an isolation floor mat/pad Use a shock-mounted microphone

Guitars (bass/electric/acoustic) Wind instruments

Plosives (B and P sounds on vocals) Sibilance (exaggerated S, Sh, Ch sounds) Background noise (being captured on the mic) Spill (when a microphone picks up the sound from another instrument)

Low frequency rumble (picked up from the floor and conducted through the mic stand to the mic)

Things to find out – How to mic up a; piano, acoustic guitar, brass section, string instruments, guitar amp. (for this answer, mic choice – dynamic or condenser? Distance from source? Positioning? Pick up pattern – cardioid, omni, figure of 8 etc? Microphone pick up patterns (and why you would use them) – cardioid, omni, figure of eight, super cardioid. The characteristic musical, contextual and technological features of the special focus topics – Reggae and Hard Rock. (There will be questions about production effects etc) -9-

Microphone Directional Properties (polar pattern)

Captures sound equally from all directions. Uses: Capturing ambient noise; Situations where sound is coming from many directions; Situations where the mic position must remain fixed while the sound source is moving. Notes:

Although omnidirectional mics are very useful in the right situation, picking up sound from every direction is not usually what you need. Omni sound is very general and unfocused - if you are trying to capture sound from a particular subject or area it is likely to be overwhelmed by other noise.


Cardioid means "heart-shaped", which is the type of pick-up pattern these mics use. Sound is picked up mostly from the front, but to a lesser extent the sides as well. Uses: Emphasising sound from the direction the mic is pointed whilst leaving some latitude for mic movement and ambient noise. Notes:

 

The cardioid is a very versatile microphone, ideal for general use. Handheld mics are usually cardioid. There are many variations of the cardioid pattern (such as the hypercardioid below).

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This is exaggerated version of the cardioid pattern. It is very directional and eliminates most sound from the sides and rear. Due to the long thin design of hypercardioids, they are often referred to as shotgun microphones. Uses: Isolating the sound from a subject or direction when there is a lot of ambient noise; Picking up sound from a subject at a distance. Notes:

  

By removing all the ambient noise, unidirectional sound can sometimes be a little unnatural. It may help to add a discreet audio bed from another mic (i.e. constant background noise at a low level). You need to be careful to keep the sound consistent. If the mic doesn't stay pointed at the subject you will lose the audio. Shotguns can have an area of increased sensitivity directly to the rear.


Uses a figure-of-eight pattern and picks up sound equally from two opposite directions. Uses: As you can imagine, there aren't a lot of situations which require this polar pattern. One possibility would be an interview with two people facing each other (with the mic between them).

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