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I've found that my clients often don't understand studio terms and processes...
Old 12th July 2017
  #1
I've found that my clients often don't understand studio terms and processes...

I've found that my clients often don't understand studio terms and processes, so I wrote up a comprehensive guide for my website.

I've also found that this mis-communication can be problematic. For example, some people don't know the difference between mixing and mastering, or multitracks and stems. Please feel free to critique and tell me what you would add/omit/change. I figure once I publish it, it can be a linkable resource that other studios and engineers/producers can use to educate their clients and all be on the same page with their communication and terminology. Since this is for my studio's website, in some parts I reference "we" or "us", as well as the studio name and services. Thanks, I look forward to your thoughts!
Old 12th July 2017
  #2
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mikefellh's Avatar
The problem is we (like other fields including medical and plumbing) have terms that we understand and make it easier to have technical conversations with others in the field, but those outside the field don't understand (or have even heard of).

But as technology has changed in the field new words have been added to the lexicon, for instance "STEMS"...I never knew what that meant; I'd refer to a "clip" of a specific track or tracks.

As for having it in print, and even if you told them to read it before dealing with you people won't read it.
Old 12th July 2017
  #3
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As producers/engineers/studio owners etc. I think it is literally your job to help your clients understand this process. That's why they're going to you rather than self recording. My first thought is more why should they understand all of these terms? They're the songwriter/band member/rapper etc. It's their job to come up with the music and it's your job to capture it and help put it all together into a final result. Sure it helps for them to broadly understand the journey for it to get there. All the better if they're inquisitive enough to really want to understand that whole process. But otherwise I wouldn't exactly expect them to totally familiarize themselves with all of these terms. They should be more focused on their writing, staying inspired and delivering good performances in the studio. I understand the need for good communication and can see how misunderstanding some of this stuff can bungle things. But I also think it's important to remember what your roll is and what their roll is.
Old 12th July 2017
  #4
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by evoltap View Post
For example, some people don't know the difference between mixing and mastering, or multitracks and stems.
The "stem" thing -- seems like more people all the time are using that word to mean individual tracks, as opposed to a bunch. You can either say it's wrong or just roll with it. I'm guessing it's probably a side effect of the multiple meanings of the word "track."

The Eskimos have a hundred words for snow. We English speakers have single words that mean a hundred things. "Track" is one of them.
Old 13th July 2017
  #5
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
The "stem" thing -- seems like more people all the time are using that word to mean individual tracks, as opposed to a bunch. You can either say it's wrong or just roll with it. I'm guessing it's probably a side effect of the multiple meanings of the word "track."

The Eskimos have a hundred words for snow. We English speakers have single words that mean a hundred things. "Track" is one of them.
I hear you, we could be witnessing the changing of the meaning of a word. It happens all the time in language. For example I would imagine websters in 20 years will say "ax" and "ask" mean them same thing. However, am I wrong in saying that 10 years ago "stems" meant what I described in the post? Bob Katz's book, Mastering Audio, defines stems as stereo sub-mixes. I still think it's relevant to have a common language. If a nurse working in an operating room decided to use a different word to describe a tool or process, the doctor would be pissed, because there would be an unnecessary moment of confusion. Obviously what we do is not life or death, but if you spent a few hours making stems, and then you realize the client actually meant they wanted the raw multitracks, that was a waste of your time.

In regard to your point about the word "track", I agree. However, I think it further proves my point about having a common language. Artists don't say "put me on a new stem, I'm going to double this vocal". They say, "put me on a new track". So "multitrack" makes sense. Nor do we say 24 stem recorder.

I attribute this misuse of the word to the rise of "producers" that do remixes using stems of songs that originally had many tracks. Perhaps they are unaware that the drums originally consisted of 16 separate tracks, and therefore assumed a collection of separate tracks that play simultaneously are only called stems.
Old 13th July 2017
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by dublave View Post
As producers/engineers/studio owners etc. I think it is literally your job to help your clients understand this process. That's why they're going to you rather than self recording. My first thought is more why should they understand all of these terms? They're the songwriter/band member/rapper etc. It's their job to come up with the music and it's your job to capture it and help put it all together into a final result. Sure it helps for them to broadly understand the journey for it to get there. All the better if they're inquisitive enough to really want to understand that whole process. But otherwise I wouldn't exactly expect them to totally familiarize themselves with all of these terms. They should be more focused on their writing, staying inspired and delivering good performances in the studio. I understand the need for good communication and can see how misunderstanding some of this stuff can bungle things. But I also think it's important to remember what your roll is and what their roll is.
Right, I agree it's our job to help the clients understand this stuff-- that's why I wrote this guide, so it can sit on my website if they want to read it, and I can include the link in initial correspondence. It took me years of reading, doing, and asking questions to get to the level of understanding I have of audio recording, and it's a continuing process. I think a 10 minute overview read of the process could be helpful to somebody who is new to it. I personally find it very refreshing when artists can tell me exactly what they want on a sonic level, through basic knowledge of the technology...if fact those are often the most successful and professional clients in my experience, usually because the are proficient at their home studio setup, or have been side by side with engineers in the past.
Old 13th July 2017
  #7
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by evoltap View Post
I hear you, we could be witnessing the changing of the meaning of a word. It happens all the time in language. For example I would imagine websters in 20 years will say "ax" and "ask" mean them same thing. However, am I wrong in saying that 10 years ago "stems" meant what I described in the post? Bob Katz's book, Mastering Audio, defines stems as stereo sub-mixes.
If Bob used the term the way it was otherwise used then stems are a subset of the audio that constitutes the final mix. It's important to make that distinction. If I'm not mistaken they originate in post production which is different, and any set of stems should recreate the final mix. This means that if you send your individual drum tracks to a bus, do processing on it, then after that point it can't change. Some people might render that "stem", or consider it a "stem", but still do things to it afterwards, even just change the level, and at that point it's no longer a stem unless you re-render it after the level change.

Grouped/bussed tracks that aren't as "set" in the sense that they recreate the mix as is would be called "splits" instead of "stems". So when I receive music from a composer for a TV show or film then from his perspective he might call them "stems" because when I add those together without changing level or anything they'll recreate his music mix, but to me they're "splits" because my final mix is the actual TV show or film. My stems would be dialog, music and effects (for example).

So I've disliked the usage of the term "stems" for a long time, especially in the music field, because people don't seem to know what it means.
Old 13th July 2017
  #8
Lives for gear
Of course they don't know the technical terms, that's why thy hired you in the first place.
Old 13th July 2017
  #9
Quote:
Originally Posted by Noisewagon View Post
Of course they don't know the technical terms, that's why thy hired you in the first place.
So if I hire a contractor to build a house, but I don't know what a foundation is, and proceed to question the need of a foundation, wouldn't it be expected that it is explained to me why it is needed and the purpose it serves?

I wrote this up as a tool for artists to have a quick read to understand the process, not to bitch about people not understanding it. If you're going to invest the money to make a record, I think it behoves one to have a GENERAL understanding of the process.
Old 13th July 2017
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by evoltap View Post
So if I hire a contractor to build a house, but I don't know what a foundation is, and proceed to question the need of a foundation, wouldn't it be expected that it is explained to me why it is needed and the purpose it serves?

I wrote this up as a tool for artists to have a quick read to understand the process, not to bitch about people not understanding it. If you're going to invest the money to make a record, I think it behoves one to have a GENERAL understanding of the process.
Sure, when you go to see a doctor they tell you have "XXXXX".... and your eyes glaze over. WTF? As a studio doctor it's your job to explain what you are doing in layman's terms.
Old 13th July 2017
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
If Bob used the term the way it was otherwise used then stems are a subset of the audio that constitutes the final mix. It's important to make that distinction. If I'm not mistaken they originate in post production which is different, and any set of stems should recreate the final mix. This means that if you send your individual drum tracks to a bus, do processing on it, then after that point it can't change. Some people might render that "stem", or consider it a "stem", but still do things to it afterwards, even just change the level, and at that point it's no longer a stem unless you re-render it after the level change.

Grouped/bussed tracks that aren't as "set" in the sense that they recreate the mix as is would be called "splits" instead of "stems". So when I receive music from a composer for a TV show or film then from his perspective he might call them "stems" because when I add those together without changing level or anything they'll recreate his music mix, but to me they're "splits" because my final mix is the actual TV show or film. My stems would be dialog, music and effects (for example).

So I've disliked the usage of the term "stems" for a long time, especially in the music field, because people don't seem to know what it means.
Katz's Mastering Audio defines stems as, "...a special kind of submix. For example, there could be a lead vocal stem and an instrumental stem, which when summed equal the full mix."

I think this has been the accepted definition in music recording/mixing/mastering for awhile. Your definition for stems having addition content to the composer's stems doesn't seem to be a conflict to me, you've created a new mix, so your stems are your stems. Maybe differentiating "music stems" vs "audio for video stems" or something. Either way it refers to submixes that when summed equal the mix, just at different stages.
Old 13th July 2017
  #12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Noisewagon View Post
Sure, when you go to see a doctor they tell you have "XXXXX".... and your eyes glaze over. WTF? It is your job to explain what you are doing in layman's terms.
I can't tell if you're agreeing with me or disagreeing... anyways, that's why I wrote this, so if clients want more than the explanations on the fly during the session, they have a concise layman's resource. Think of it like a pamphlet that a doctor might give you.
Old 13th July 2017
  #13
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by evoltap View Post
Katz's Mastering Audio defines stems as, "...a special kind of submix. For example, there could be a lead vocal stem and an instrumental stem, which when summed equal the full mix."

I think this has been the accepted definition in music recording/mixing/mastering for awhile. Your definition for stems having addition content to the composer's stems doesn't seem to be a conflict to me, you've created a new mix, so your stems are your stems. Maybe differentiating "music stems" vs "audio for video stems" or something. Either way it refers to submixes that when summed equal the mix, just at different stages.
I actually agree with you. I don't think there's a need to differentiate between music and post, just maybe emphasizing that stems when summed equal the final mix.

Really the practical problem in real life is that music engineers tend to put processing on the master, so the stems will never recreate the full mix, and thus aren't proper stems.
Old 13th July 2017
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by evoltap View Post
I can't tell if you're agreeing with me or disagreeing... anyways, that's why I wrote this, so if clients want more than the explanations on the fly during the session, they have a concise layman's resource. Think of it like a pamphlet that a doctor might give you.
I'm agreeing with you in that often client's don't know the technical terms, it is your job to listen to them and make the best mix for them you can, and explain to them why and what you are doing.
Old 13th July 2017
  #15
Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
Really the practical problem in real life is that music engineers tend to put processing on the master, so the stems will never recreate the full mix, and thus aren't proper stems.
Yeah, that's a tricky one. Music engineers are attached to their 2buss processing, often outboard. What might help get the summed stems closer to sounding like the engineers mix is if they run separate bounces muting the elements that are NOT in that stem, so it's at least running through the 2buss processing. Of course compressors will react differently with less level, but I bet it would be closer sounding. I'll experiment with this on a mix next week.
Old 13th July 2017
  #16
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mikefellh's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by evoltap View Post
that's why I wrote this, so if clients want more than the explanations on the fly during the session, they have a concise layman's resource. Think of it like a pamphlet that a doctor might give you.
I don't want a pamphlet (or a website)...I want you to explain it to me.

When I go to the dentist there are pamphlets explaining various procedures like root canals and crowns...but when I had work done I didn't want to read them...I wanted the dentist to give me the short-short version of what he was going to do to me in a comforting way.
Old 13th July 2017
  #17
Quote:
Originally Posted by mikefellh View Post
I don't want a pamphlet (or a website)...I want you to explain it to me.

When I go to the dentist there are pamphlets explaining various procedures like root canals and crowns...but when I had work done I didn't want to read them...I wanted the dentist to give me the short-short version of what he was going to do to me in a comforting way.
Right, well you're clearly not the target audience for this. I'll still explain anything a client wants to know....in a comforting way....I just don't see what the harm is in having this guide available as a resource for those who want it. I'm not going to shove it down people's throats. Some people like to read and learn stuff on their own time, and not take up precious time in a session...or maybe they've always been session musicians on somebody else's records and don't know the full process. Read this thing while you take a sh** and we'll be on the same page.

I posted this on reddit at r/audioengineering, which is admittedly has a high noob ratio, and they all though it was a great read and a good idea....bunch of salty bastards over here!
Old 13th July 2017
  #18
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It's a good idea, but you have to keep it brief and very simple. Musicians have a very short attention span!
Old 7th September 2019
  #19
Gear Nut
 
brendandwyer's Avatar
I love visual. Actually, a lot of people really only learn visually.

Put up a poster with graphics that demonstrate the distillation from source, to sub mix, to stereo mix, to file(cd) to master(finished product) to label(getting a bit ahead of ourselves) to distributor(uh, iTunes or spotify) to end users ears.

Put it on the inside.of the bathroom door facing the ****ter.

Put "any questions, ask the engineer, but not while he's setting levels, the record light is on, or he's mixing"
Old 23rd September 2019
  #20
Quote:
Originally Posted by brendandwyer View Post
I love visual. Actually, a lot of people really only learn visually.

Put up a poster with graphics that demonstrate the distillation from source, to sub mix, to stereo mix, to file(cd) to master(finished product) to label(getting a bit ahead of ourselves) to distributor(uh, iTunes or spotify) to end users ears.

Put it on the inside.of the bathroom door facing the ****ter.

Put "any questions, ask the engineer, but not while he's setting levels, the record light is on, or he's mixing"
That’s a good call. If I ever have time to do that (or pay an artist to), I’ll share it here!
Old 27th October 2019
  #21
Deleted 300228d
Guest
I’d define flat and sharp first. Then song form
Verse , chorus, and bridge.
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