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>A Sonic Personality<
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Bruce Swedien
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#1
22nd August 2006
Old 22nd August 2006
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I wish I could answer all the Welcome and Thanks posts,

I wish I could answer all the Welcome and Thanks posts, but very happily there are too many!!!!

Let's get down to business.... Here's one of my favorite topics.

>A Sonic Personality<
_________________________________________________________________

Let’s talk a little bit about 'Critical Listening' and how it pertains to developing our own individual “Sonic Personality”.

Sound as a stimulus is the arena of the physicist, sound as a sensation is the arena of the psychologist. We, as professional music recording people fall somewhere in between these two areas of expertise. In actuality, it may help us to be a little bit of both. So, with the little bit of the psychologist that I think is present in all of us, I think I can help you discover your own "Sonic Personality".

I think the first step on the road to developing our own "Sonic Personality" is to find a benchmark for our mind's ear that has as it's basic component true 'Reality' in sound. From that stark, uncolored point, we can then add a new viewpoint for the listener, that we can call truly our own.

Many producers and recording engineers spend a lot of their time listening to and trying to learn their craft from recordings. In my opinion, this is a significant mistake, and is precisely the reason why there are so few engineers and producers in the industry today that have a truly unique sonic character to their work.

I do feel it is true that a certain amount of stylistic intelligence can be gained by listening to other people's records, however my problem with this approach is that one's own "Audio Personality" is short-circuited. In other words, if you try and learn about music mixing by listening to other peoples mixes, in actuality what is happening is that you are hearing the music, or sonic image of the music, with someone elses' "Audio Personality" already imposed on the sonics of the music.

I firmly believe that it is true that we must listen to records to keep up with sonic styles and trends. Personally speaking, I am a bonafide, card-carrying record buying junkie. When I hear a record, on the radio, or on television, that has an interesting music or sonic hook, I am off to the record store in a minute to buy a copy for myself.

Listening to records seems to be a very neccessary part of our development as music recording people, especially if you are in the 'Pop' music recording field as I am, because it helps us keep up with current sonic trends and styles. However, to have an "Audio
Personality" that is truly your own you must start your personal sonic development with a knowledge of natural, acoustical sounds.

To take that line of thought a step further I think I should say that I feel that the best way to develope your ears' 'benchmark' is to hear good acoustical music in a fine acoustical setting.

To fully undestand this concept, let's talk about acoustical support as it relates to music...

All music is concieved to be heard with some sort of acoustical support. This does not neccessarily mean long "Concert-Hall" type reverberation. It can mean very short closely-spaced early reflections and minimal reverb content. Any of these components comprise acoustical support.

Once we know what music sounds like in a natural setting with good quality acoustical support, we can then take that "Audio Benchmark" and through our work, give our sonic images our own distinctly personal touch.

Let’s imagine that we are hearing music for the very first time. An engineer or producers listening ability does not descend on him in a single flash of inspiration. It is built up by a variety of listening experiences. I think we must make a real effort to hear music and sound with as open a mind as possible.

One of our most important abilities as a professional listener is judging balance. So let's consider balance as the first thing to listen for. The balance of the instruments of the orchestra, in a fine acoustical setting for classical music, is the sole responsibility of the conductor. In our work-(recording music)-that resposibility is transferred to us.

It doesn't matter whether the orchestra is acoustical instruments or whether the orchestra is represented by a synthesizer. We must be able to judge balance.

Over a long period of time, if we have the native ability, we will develop a seemingly uncanny sense of hearing nuances of balance and sound that would pass unnoticed by the inexperienced. This ability seems to be aquired almost by osmossis through thousands of seemingly insignificant listening experiences. This random approach is effective and vital.

The antithesis of balance is imbalance. The next time you’re at a concert in a good hall or room, listen carefully for any imbalances that might be there.

I have always thought that to have ones own unique "Audio Personality", you must start your personal sonic development with a knowledge of natural, acoustical sounds.

To take that line of thought a step further I think I should say that I feel that the best way to develope your ears' 'benchmark' is to hear good acoustical music in a fine acoustical setting.

When attending a concert in a good hall, always ask for very good seats. This way you should be able to judge not only balance but many other sonic elements with a certain amount of accuracy.

Listen for spectral balance first. In other words, how well balanced is the frequency spectrum of the orchestra.

See how your ears and psyche react to the over-all volume level of the orchestra. Particularly at extremely loud dynamic levels. How does the orchestra sound at extremely soft dynamic levels?
_________________________________________________________________

Here are some of the most important aspects of sonic values to listen for while attending a concert in a good hall.

A - Listen for the orchestral balance. Harmonic balance as well as section balance.

B - Listen for early relections in the acoustical support of the hall.

C - Listen for reverb quality.

D - Listen for reverb spectrum.

E - Listen for the amount of reverb that you percieve in relation to the direct sound of the orchestra. In other words, reverb balance.

F - Listen for percussion transients and how they sound in this natural setting. Be sure and listen to percussion transients and how they are modified by natural reverberation.

In my opinion, a music producer/engineer is no better than his tools. Our main tools are, of course, a good pair of ears and the wonderful brain to which the ears are connected. If the hearing is faulty, only faulty judgements can result. Please try and remember that good hearing is a rare and wonderful gift. Over the years I have been very fussy about the volume levels that I use in the control room.

Bruce Swedien


#2
22nd August 2006
Old 22nd August 2006
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Thank you Bruce, excellent post.
Although most of the things I do are electronic, I try to train my ears and brain with acoustic music. Classical orchestra, quartet, church organ, choir, acoustic jazz, in various acoustic spaces. It is a very good practice even if you do only synth music. Good to have the confirmation from someone like you.
Many thanks.

chrissugar
#3
23rd August 2006
Old 23rd August 2006
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great article bruce!
#4
23rd August 2006
Old 23rd August 2006
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Yeah, too many copycats. We need to think differently, creatively. Try new things! Experiment.
#5
24th August 2006
Old 24th August 2006
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Bruce:

I am not surprised that you list having good ears/listening/monitoring environment as a critical tool for being a good producer/engineer...but I never would of thought that studying a source in various natural acoustic spaces/reverb/tail/delay would of been considered an important prerequisite for a pop producer. Most of us do not have access to an orchestral type environment on a regular basis...so I MUST GIVE THIS SOME THOUGHT as to how I can train my ear to listen...and training ones ear is what I believed you were referring to, correct?

Also, with respect to sonic personality/signature...would you say that (remember this is the gearslutz forum) the tools in your arsenal will contribute some what if not greately to the "signature"? I know the argument that a good engineer can make a hit record with sand out in the sahara...but that is also the reason why certain producer/engineers mix on SSL or Never, etc.

Just curios as to the interaction of the balances between "ear training" and "tools" come into play?

Thanks Bruce, I am a huge fan of your work (especially Thriller)

Mojava
#6
25th August 2006
Old 25th August 2006
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Thank you so much for your insightful words. They are source of inspiration. Thanks.

Could you explain a bit more:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Swedien
I think we must make a real effort to hear music and sound with as open a mind as possible.
I'm not sure what is that you'd like us to achieve, nor how!?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Swedien
A - Listen for the orchestral balance. Harmonic balance as well as section balance.
When you say "Harmonic balance"...are you referring to the "hall's" frequency response to the musical arrangement (ex. Bass buildups, nodes...)? or ....are you referring to the actual composer's harmonic intentions?...or to the conductor's performance of the arrangement?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Swedien
D - Listen for reverb spectrum.
is this the emphasis, or lack of it, over the different ranges of the frequency spectrum in a specific Hall?

One more Time Thank very much for your teachings!
__________________
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Cheers......................Joaquin
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#7
25th August 2006
Old 25th August 2006
  #7
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Thanks Bruce for taking time and writing this really great article! I got a new useful perspective!

I agree that it's important to have your own sonic touch on the mixes you make eventhough I've personally learned a lot from my reference CDs. I also agree that the ears are very important and I believe they are an important link in creating the sonic identity, not only part in the mixing process only, but also part in the whole recording process. One interesting aspect of this, that I've tried to ask you (but the question was never published), is how much control should a mixing engineer have on the input, in other words the material that is given to him? Knowing that you can't create frequencies that are not present in the material becomes important related to what the mixing engineer wants to achieve. A part of the sonic identity is of course in muting tracks, using automation, EQ and so on, but to really touch the mix sonically you might want to have some control on what frequencies the material contains since you might become limited to the material in terms of implementing the sonic identity strong enough. One important aspect of this is the sound source selection. Do you think a mixing engineer should take part in this process? How important is that related to the mixing engineer's sonic signature?
Bruce Swedien
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25th August 2006
Old 25th August 2006
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Here are some important aspects of sonic values to listen for.....

Quote:
Originally Posted by mojava View Post
Bruce:

I am not surprised that you list having good ears/listening/monitoring environment as a critical tool for being a good producer/engineer...but I never would of thought that studying a source in various natural acoustic spaces/reverb/tail/delay would of been considered an important prerequisite for a pop producer. Most of us do not have access to an orchestral type environment on a regular basis...so I MUST GIVE THIS SOME THOUGHT as to how I can train my ear to listen...and training ones ear is what I believed you were referring to, correct?

Also, with respect to sonic personality/signature...would you say that (remember this is the gearslutz forum) the tools in your arsenal will contribute some what if not greately to the "signature"? I know the argument that a good engineer can make a hit record with sand out in the sahara...but that is also the reason why certain producer/engineers mix on SSL or Never, etc.

Just curios as to the interaction of the balances between "ear training" and "tools" come into play?

Thanks Bruce, I am a huge fan of your work (especially Thriller)

Mojava
Excellent!!! We all bring a part of ourselves to the work at hand.

When I hear a record, on the radio, or in a club, that has an interesting music or sonic hook, I am off to the record store in a minute and buying a copy for myself. However, to have an "Audio Personality" that is truly your own you must start your personal sonic development with a knowledge of natural, acoustical sounds.

Let's talk about acoustical support.

To take that line of thought a step further I think I should say that I feel that the best way to develope your ears' 'benchmark' is to hear good acoustical music in a fine acoustical setting. How many of you get out and hear ‘live’ music on a regular basis! It’s very important! Let's talk about acoustical support as it relates to music...All music is conceived to be heard with some sort of acoustical support.

This does not necessarily mean long "Concert-Hall" type reverberation. It can mean very short closely-spaced early reflections and minimal reverb content. Both of those components comprise acoustical support. Once we know what music sounds like in a natural setting with good quality acoustical support, we can then take that "Audio Benchmark" and through our work, give our sonic images our own distinctly personal touch.

An engineer, or producers’, listening ability does not descend on him in a single flash of inspiration. It is built up by countless, individual listening experiences. So let's make a real effort to hear the music and sound with as open a mind as possible. One of our most important abilities as a professional listener is judging balance. So let's consider balance as the first thing to listen for today. The balance of the instruments of the orchestra in classical music, in a classical recording environment, is the sole responsibility of the conductor. In our work, recording music, that responsibility is transferred to us. It doesn't matter whether the orchestra is acoustical instruments or whether the orchestra is represented by a synthesizer. We must be able to judge balance. Over a long period of time, if we have the native ability, we will develope a seemingly uncanny sense of hearing nuances of balance and sound that would pass unnoticed by the inexperienced.

This ability seems to be acquired almost by osmosis through thousands of seemingly insignificant listening experiences. This random approach is effective and vital. The antithesis of balance is imbalance. When you are at a concert listening to good music in a good acoustical situation, listen for any imbalances that might be there. Think about your spontaneous reactions later.

When you are at a concert ask for very good seats. That way you should be able to judge balance and many other elements with a certain amount of accuracy. Listen for spectral balance. In other words, how well balanced is the frequency spectrum of the orchestra in that specific acoustic setting. See how your ears and psyche react to the over-all volume level of the orchestra. Particularly at fff dynamic levels. How does the orchestra sound at ppp dynamic levels?

Make sure that you have a good working knowledge of the different levels of musical dynamics and learn how they are expressed in musical terms. This will help you later on when you discuss these very important values with the musicians and composers that you will be working with.

Here are some important aspects of sonic values to listen for when you are listening to good music in a good acoustical situation.

#1-Listen for early reflections in the acoustical support of the hall.
#2-Listen for the reverb quality of that specific room. Listen for reverb spectrum.
#3-Listen for the amount of reverb that you perceive in relation to the direct sound of the orchestra. In other words, reverb balance.

It all depends on how dedicated you are.... For instance, one of my students lives in Bombay, India and comes to New York at least twice a year to hear the New York Phil in Carnegie Hall for ear training... Needless to say he has an excellent career in the Indian Music Insustry. Of course he is a great guy... I help hiim all that I can....

Bruce Swedien


#9
28th August 2006
Old 28th August 2006
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Thanks Bruce for such a great article.
Emphasis on listening to the real thing seems to be key.
And when listening to other's recordings, I think the state of mind to be in is "how could I capture this better?"
I hope to hear more engineers developing their own "audio personality" in the future.
Good Stuff!
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30th August 2006
Old 30th August 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
It all depends on how dedicated you are.... For instance, one of my students lives in Bombay, India and comes to New York at least twice a year to hear the New York Phil in Carnegie Hall for ear training... Needless to say he has an excellent career in the Indian Music Insustry. Of course he is a great guy... I help hiim all that I can....

Bruce Swedien
Are you referring to Ashish M.?
Hi bruce!! how've ya been?
Bruce Swedien
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#11
4th September 2006
Old 4th September 2006
  #11
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Great to hear from you!!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by kingneeraj View Post
Are you referring to Ashish M.?
Hi bruce!! how've ya been?
Neeraj...

Great to hear from you!!!

Yes I am refering to my pal Ashish M. I am very proud of Ashish!

Bruce Swedien


Bruce Swedien
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#12
7th September 2006
Old 7th September 2006
  #12
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The antithesis of balance is imbalance.

Quote:
Originally Posted by joaquin View Post
Thank you so much for your insightful words. They are source of inspiration. Thanks.

Could you explain a bit more:
I'm not sure what is that you'd like us to achieve, nor how!?
When you say "Harmonic balance"...are you referring to the "hall's" frequency response to the musical arrangement (ex. Bass buildups, nodes...)? or ....are you referring to the actual composer's harmonic intentions?...or to the conductor's performance of the arrangement?
is this the emphasis, or lack of it, over the different ranges of the frequency spectrum in a specific Hall?

One more Time Thank very much for your teachings!
Joaquin....

I am refering expressly to the Hall's frequency response. I mean, does the frequnecy response of the hall itself make the music sound too bright? Or not bright enough???

I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating. A certain amount of information can be gained by listening to other people's records, but my problem with this approach is that one's own "Audio Personality" is short-circuited. In other words, if you try and learn about music mixing by listening to records, in actuality what is happening is that you are hearing the music, or sonic image of the music, with someone else’s' "Audio Personality" already imposed on the sonic image.

What about acoustical support.

To take that line of thought a step further I think I should say that I feel that the best way to develope your ears' 'benchmark' is to hear good acoustical music in a fine acoustical setting. How many of you get out and hear ‘live’ music on a regular basis! It’s very important! Let's talk about acoustical support as it relates to music...All music is conceived to be heard with some sort of acoustical support.

Make sure that you have a good working knowledge of the different levels of musical dynamics and learn how they are expressed in musical terms. This will help you later on when you discuss these very important values with the musicians and composers that you will be working with.

Here are some very important aspects of sonic values to listen for when you are listening to good music in a good acoustical situation. Listen for early reflections in the acoustical support of the hall. Listen for the reverb quality of that specific room. Listen for reverb spectrum. Listen for the amount of reverb that you perceive in relation to the direct sound of the orchestra. In other words, reverb balance.

Bruce Swedien
#13
10th September 2006
Old 10th September 2006
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kevin e is offline
When I read that a(n yet another! - Jules) famous producer was going to host here at GS I was a little skeptical, I thought the advice was going to be the usual "do it like the successful pros have done it", the very average technique and the extent of the vision of the many.

But lo and behold we have a genuine freethinker on our hands.

Thanks so much for the philosophical mixed with science approach Bruce. Your essays lend a spiritual dimension to an almost exclusively dry and mechanical culture.

Kevin
#14
16th September 2006
Old 16th September 2006
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StrangeCat is offline
yes this is so true! great post! and I think it goes into all styles of music and production. Everything that is an arrangement in the production is like orchestration but with different instruments. It doesn't matter that it is Electronic or a full Symphonic Orchestra, you still have to use balance of the instruments and spaces in the mix. Mixing in the Box you can create any kind of sonic imagery and it is important to think like orchestration when you mix, ie...thinking about the spaces and panning of the instruments like in an orchestra
As for the Tools one could use VSL or East West, East West has Beautiful reverb on the samples for Orchestration.
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