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Studio Design and Consulting

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Todays Digital Audio Studios

Recording studios have changed a lot in the last 20 years. Like all media; motion pictures photography, video, and the printed word, everything is now integrated into the computer. This includes audio recording. No more film in cameras, no more ribbons in typewriters, and no more magnetic tape on tape recorders. Just computers, hard drives, memory, and application (apps) programs.

As there are many types of media there are also many different audio recording studios. The digital recording studio properly configured can accomplish many different tasks, although space and physical constraints may inhibit some of these tasks, the main core in software is there to address the need specific to the task.

What different types of recording studios are there? First of course is what most people think of is the recording studio that records music with live musicians. This usually needs at least two isolated spaces, one area for the musicians to play and other area for the engineer to record and monitor. The area where the musicians play is the actual studio and the space for the engineer running the gear is the control room. Optimally, the studio is sonically isolated from the control room. This allows the engineer to monitor the recording without sound from the live area interfering with the monitor of the recording. Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule since many great recordings have now been done in one large space accommodating both musicians and engineer. The reason this can be done is because of digital recording. Like with a word processor, you capture all the sounds or words onto hard disk then edit and mix them later. Though the order of things hasn’t changed, the ability to take a hard disk to another computer to edit and then maybe even another to mix and deliver your final product allows for great flexibility. In the day there may have been only a few tape recorders that would handle the tape reel you just recorded, but now there are thousands of computers to start the editing process and on to the mixing process then on to the mastering of the music.

Voice-over type recordings can be done in smaller spaces; the obvious reason being the large spaces to allow for multiple musicians and instruments aren’t needed. Many uses of this type of recordings include; voice for books on CD’s or podcasting over the Internet for distribution. Voice recording are also used for commercial and industrial ventures, computer games, software and language instruction. Voice actors often are involved in this as we see with all the feature animation done for the movie and television industries. Announcers also find the work here. The people you know that speak and read well help communicate the ideas of the producer to the audience.

Recording and mixing for video is another use for the digital recording studio. This marries the audio elements to the video picture. Music, dialog, and sound effects are all laid in sync under the picture for a full production. This is known as audio postproduction. This can be used once again in several areas, web sights, television, video and computer games, and motion pictures. In this scenario several pieces of audio, a completed music track, recorded and mixed elsewhere, sound effects, and dialog are all mixed together while the engineer views the video. This would also include mixing for

Surround sound, though this function would need more hardware and control room space. The need to mix in surround not only applies to current productions for television and film, but the “un wrap” older film productions to a surround format for DVD release also exists. Surround files are then encoded onto film or DVD, or streamed live to your LCD flat screen to be decoded.

Another area for the digital audio studio is audio restoration. This is capturing onto hard disk old recordings from tape or vinyl and cleaning the recordings for re-release. Special software is needed for this job and the work is long and takes patience, however this sort of work will be more and more necessary as we proceed into the future to retain our collective audio past. This includes music, radio, and any audio documentation from the 20th century. Everything will have to be digitized and restored.

Next on the list is “music creation in the box”. This function uses the computer’s software and soundware to create full music productions without any other musicians but the composer. Another term for this is MIDI recording. MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. This interface was developed in the early 1980 first to connect keyboard synthesizers. By using a MIDI cable (a cable with a male five pin “din” type connector on each end) a keyboard player could connect one keyboard to another and play the sound on the second keyboard from the first. This was a big advance in keyboard technology. One could trigger or play the sounds of one or more instruments at the same time. Next came the ability to record this sequence of triggered events and play them back. By returning to the top of the sequence list a user could functionally record a performance. This is effectively the player piano roll concept. The “MIDI Sequencer” records the holes in the paper roll, then you go to the top roll and run the sequence. The roll plays the piano the same way every time, however the roll is not an audio recording but a recording of the performance. Now imagine multiple rolls and multiple pianos all play at once synchronized together. In this scenario each piano plays different sounds drum, bass, strings, horns, and even choirs. This is MIDI sequence recording. Now all of this can be accomplished in the computer. With just a USB keyboard the composer can record his sequence to different tracks and then play the MIDI instruments in the computer. MIDI recording has many benefits since the performance is being recorded not the audio. A composer can change the instrument sound after the recording has been made for example, from brass to strings. The tempo can be altered to speed up or slow down, without changing the pitch of the recording. The sequence data can then if needed be export to a music notation program for full scoring and publishing.

Mastering is last on my list. Once audio recordings have been done someone must take the “songs” and place them in some order. They must make adjustments for audio levels and over all color of the sound and edit where necessary. They’ll take this final list and create a master recording. This is the album of music that is sold and distributed to the public. Some special software and hardware tools are used in this process, but mostly a good set of ears is needed.

There it is, a quick overview of six different digital audio recording studios of the 21st century. All the features are so much more affordable now with the computer then with

the origins of the originals. Some extra tools for all of the different aspects of digital recording are needed and should be carefully considered in moving forward. Now that all of this is in reach now for almost everyone, remember that the skill doesn’t come with the tool. It is still hard work to become a composer, audio or mastering engineer, or surround postproduction mixer. This is the joy of learning.

Studio design specifications and training available, see “Info” for Fees and Charges