Monday, 21 March 2011

The nature of production (part 1)

I stumbled upon this post on Dogs on Acid which I found interesting and I hope you lot do as well.

Basically this post argues that production is a 3 stage process:

1. Listening
2. Judgement
3. Action

Most threads on any production forum I've seen are only about stage number 3.

So I'd like to address my thoughts to listening and in another post on judgement


One of my lecturers at uni say that the most important aspect of production is being willing to listen to the detail in audio and I 100% agree.  However certain factors can prevent or distract us from listening to the fine detail in audio.  Here are a few to be wary of:

- your monitors may be misleading you as to what you mix actually sounds like.  I produce on a pair of Edirol MA 7As (seriously, DON'T buy a pair) which only meaningfully go down to 100-150 hz, the mid range reproduction isn't all that great and the same for the highs.  

How to combat this problem: listen to professionally produced and mastered tunes at the same volume as you produce so that you can learn what a "good" mix sounds like on your monitors.  Over the 3 years I've had them I've learned their sound so my mixdowns now translate reasonably well to other monitors (even the hench genelec monitors at the uni studios).  If I was to mix them on flat monitors then I'd do a better job but at the moment I can get most of the way there with my rubbish budget monitors.  So learn your monitors, their strengths and weaknesses.

- the acoustics of your room can horribly mislead you as to what you're listening to actually sounds like.  I don't know a whole lot about acoustics, but I do know that sound reflects around your room and these reflections can cause phase cancellation on what you're listening to.  Basically without proper acoustic treatment of the room you mix in, you're not hearing an accurate representation of your mix.

How to combat this problem: get proper acoustic treatment or reference your mix on a reliable pair of headphones.  Have a look at this website, I haven't looked at it in depth, but what I've read looks good for educating yourself about the science of acoustics.

- Your ears lie to you on a daily basis.  Here's one I'm sure a lot of people who've been producing for a while are aware of: the fletcher - munson curves (also known as the equal loudness curves).  You can see the graphs here.  Basically the volume you listen to sounds at radically changes the perceived volume of bass frequencies and high frequencies (to a lesser extent), but midrange frequencies are pretty consistent in perceived volume.   This is why I hate plug ins which increase the volume of a signal (like distortion) but don't a have a master output fader so I cannot bring the volume back down to be equal with the original signal.

How to combat this: when you're a/bing the effect of some processing make sure that both the wet and dry signal are the same volume (another thing to bear in mind about a/bing is that your short term audio memory is only a few seconds long so switch between processed and unprocessed quickly to really hear what the difference is).

Also it's good to give your ears a rest during long production sessions because your ears get fatigued (especially when listening at loud volumes), you also get used to the sound that you're listening to and after a while you're not able to make objective judgements about the mix.  Apart from playing COD for a bit or actually going out and talking to people you can listen to pink noise for a bit to inject a bit of objectivity into your listening.

So there we have it, expect part 2 on judgement when I'm bored.  Also what would you guys like me to write about next: processing breaks or a rant about originality?

I'll leave you with a sick tune


  1. nice post man, cant wait for part 2.
    i would love to hear you thoughts on processing breaks, i use alot myself any more tips would be great.
    or combine the two and make it a rant on how to process breaks in original ways o0

  2. haha, here's all I've got on processing breaks in an original way...

    ...don't use an amen.

  3. Haha my production process is pretty much way too long on 1&2 so i barely get to 3...

    can never convince myself that a tune is done, so i have millions of unfinished projects fermenting in a folder on my desktop..

    even the tunes i have on my soundcloud are just unfinished rough ramblings

  4. Very interesting read, and informative for a brand new producer such as myself, cheers!

  5. Great post. The acoustics of a room are so important, and I think I'm only learning that now, in a really small room, with the speakers placed relatively low down. Playing the same tune in my friend\s room (on different speakers too of course) changed how it sounded a LOT. I just thought it was really subtle whenever I read about this type of thing, but it really does need to be taken into account. Which is annoying and time-consuming!

  6. big post, will dig through all this later. safe

  7. Good post, raises some interesting points

  8. Excellent post, looking forward to parts 2 and 3.

    Thing I don't understand about mixing and mastering... each room and stereo produces a different frequency response/sound, but pro mixes always sound good on every system... but amateur mixes can sound good on one system but not the other... what do you have to do to your mix so that it works on all systems? Black Magic

  9. Definitely learned something here regarding the equal loudness curves. Cheers!

  10. listening to pink noise does not sound like a pleasant way of readjusting your ears. good read though, its hard to tell when to draw the line between trying to get the best audio set up you can and making do with what you've got and cracking on with the actual producing part