Podcast

The Five Minute Sound Study Podcast Episode 2 – Computers

Hello everyone and welcome to Episode Two of the Five Minute Sound Study Podcast discussing computers. Last episode we covered a basic description of what a sound wave is. Obviously we haven’t even scratched the surface of that topic, but rather than bombard you with science, the approach I’m going to take on this show is to mix the science in with the stuff we care about so that there’s context and you can understand why it’s important.

So with that in mind we’re going to start talking about what we need to capture and do something with those sounds waves we discussed last episode. Our focus here is recording audio, be that music, sounds, or voice like this podcast. So to do that we need a few basic things. Now I’m sure some of you will remember mixing consoles (those big boards with lots of sliders and knobs), tape machines, multi-track records and so and so forth. Recording pristine audio used to be a challenge and very expensive to do. These days it’s relatively inexpensive. All you really need is a microphone, a device to capture the audio from that, and somewhere to store it and listen back to it on. The easiest way to do that these days is something called “In The Box recording”. All that means is using your computer to do that.

Over the next few episodes we’ll spend some time going over each of those components in a little more detail, but working in the IT world as my primary job, I thought I would start by discussing the computer first. Put away any preconceived stereotypes you may have about Mac’s and PC’s, both are more than capable of doing what you need. In terms of music production, like many of you I’m learning, and as I learn I share. When it comes to computers however, I’ve been doing this professionally for a quarter of a century, and been proficient much longer than that. I use both Mac’s and PC’s in my personal and professional life, and either one will do the job you need. There is a common theme I have discovered while learning and speaking with teachers and music professionals however, that is use what works for you. Music is all about personal preferences, in the style, content and approach. The people that work in that space tend to have very strong opinions about what they like and what works for them. BUT, you are you’re own person and will need to figure out what you are comfortable with. So if you are happy with Windows based PC’s go with that, Mac’s are your thing? Go for that, what you feel comfortable working on should be what you use.

So with that in mind, let’s talk about some of the commonalities between the two platforms that will make a difference. There are some basic parts of the computer you use that will impact what you are able to do. We’ll start with the CPU. Honestly these days any basic computer will have the processing power to record and manipulate audio,but the CPU will affect the amount of manipulation you can do, if you are using a large amount of effects on your audio that will impact the performance. If you are just recording a voice and a guitar, no problem, but if you start getting into large track counts with loads of effects you could run into problems, so the more powerful the CPU, the more you will be able to do. In the early 2017 landscape, an Intel I5 based CPU should keep you happy, if you can afford an I7, you will have more horsepower than you need and the gadget junkie geek in me says there’s nothing wrong with that.

Memory of the RAM variety. This one is really important because the more your system can load into RAM, the better it will perform. I would recommend 8 Gigs as a starting point, and 16 as the sweet spot.

OK Hard disks. This one may get a little complicated, but it’s worth understanding. Basically this is the chief bottleneck in today’s systems. Your system has a main drive where it stores all the files it needs, being programs, operating system related files and even data. There are two types of popular drives these days. Conventional physical drives and SSD’s. Conventional drives use magnetic heads that go across a platter to read and write data, they provide more space at a cheaper price. SSD’s store data on a semiconductor and there are no moving parts. SSD’s are much faster, but also more expensive and don’t approach the storage capacity of conventional drives. If you can afford to go the SSD route however it is the way to go. You can get monstrous track counts without any hiccups. If you are using physical drives however, it can handle recording more than enough tracks for the average user and will give you the benefit of more storage space for your buck but I will make a recommendation. Get a separate drive to store your music projects on. If you have a low amount of RAM the system will begin swapping information to the drive and if that is the drive where your audio is you could run into problems. Personally I use SSD’s for my working drives and conventional drives for my long term storage.

Finally the connection to the interface. We will touch on the actual audio interface in a future episode but this is what will connect you to that. As of today’s date the available option are an internal card, USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt and Ethernet based devices. Like a lot of things in this hobby we love, this boils down to what you can afford and what you plan on achieving. Firewire ports have been discontinued and so have most devices based on that port. You can get those devices heavily discounted these days, BUT you may run into problems with support for them down the road. USB is pretty well the standard for entry level musicians/producers. Thunderbolt, Ethernet and internal cards are in the higher end range. Like I mentioned these tie into the interface you will be using and there is a lot more to discuss about that in the next episode, so we will do that there.

I want to end this off by contradicting everything I just said. Wait what? Ready? OK here we go. We are making music, that is the goal. You don’t need the best and the fastest stuff. I would argue that that may even ultimately hurt your music. Why? Because when you are challenged by the process, it forces you to be inventive. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon was recorded using only sixteen tracks!! Think about that. In a recent studio session I worked on, I used that many tracks just for the drums, and I can assure you it was no Dark Side of The Moon! The point I’m getting at is what really matters is the music. Use what you have and can afford and don’t get too obsessed with the equipment you think you may need. Be creative, be inventive, enjoy the process! And I will leave you with that thought, until next I’m Rob Blazik and this has been the Five Minute Sound Study.

Documentaries

The Art of Listening Documentary

There’s an interesting documentary on YouTube called The Art of Listening that I watched the other night that I thought I would share. It’s basically about all the work that goes into making music right from the stage of building instruments, an artist choosing theirs and then all the people involved in the process ending with the listener. For someone like me it was a fascinating watch and I loved it right up until the end where it started to sound like an ad for HD Audio formats and then I start to take issue with it a bit. I’ll explain why and then get to the documentary. Right now I’m going through the process of learning how to be an audio engineer, and I’m realizing how much goes on in a song that I’ve never heard before. Especially when it comes to EQ’ing, there is stuff I simply can’t hear, yet. I say yet because every day I seem to have “Ah ha! I hear it!!” moments as my ears are being trained as to what to listen for.  The average person however doesn’t care about that and I’m willing to bet would never care about the difference between an MP3 and a 96khz/24 bit HD Audio track. They care more about the style, lyrics, and music than the nuanced details of it.

That being said, I really want to emphasize that is a really small criticism that may be more of a personal bias. The focus of the documentary is the attention to detail that everyone participating puts into making making music, so logically that same attention to detail should be carried through to the end format so the listener can enjoy the piece the way it was intended to be heard. I encourage you to watch it because it is a beautiful film made by people who you can tell are passionate about music.

Podcast

The Five Minute Sound Study Podcast

Hello everyone, my name is Rob Blazik and I would like to welcome you to the inaugural edition of the Five Minute Sound Study Podcast!  The Five Minute Sound Study Podcast is exactly what it sounds like, learning about audio and sound engineering in teenie tiny five minute segments, and what better place to start than by defining what we’re learning about? So let’s take a look at how Websters defines audio:

Definition of audio

  1. 1:  of or relating to acoustic, mechanical, or electrical frequencies corresponding to normally audible sound waves which are of frequencies approximately from 15 to 20,000 hertz

  2. a :  of or relating to sound or its reproduction and especially high-fidelity reproduction
    b :  relating to or used in the transmission or reception of sound — compare video
    c :  of, relating to, or utilizing recorded sound

So What Is Sound?

Audible sound waves, frequencies, hertz, sounds like a lot of sciency type stuff doesn’t it? I know what you’re thinking, I don’t want to learn sciency stuff, I want to record some sick beats, make lots of money, and sit by a pool drinking Mai Tai’s  somewhere… And to that I say, patience grasshopper, this will help you get there.  Really the basics aren’t all that difficult to understand at all. Sound is basically a vibration that moves through a medium and is then received by someone. When you speak, your vocal cords vibrate the air particles around them, those particles keep bumping up against and transmitting those vibrations to the air particles around them, until they reach your ear drum and vibrate it and your brain recognizes that as sound. Let’s take a quick look at what a sound wave looks like:


Whoa, squiggly lines! OK so I can’t take a picture of a sound wave, but let’s pretend we can, and that that is what it looks like. In that diagram you can see two labels, one is amplitude, the other is frequency. Amplitude is how big the sound wave is and to your ears that translates to how loud it is. Amplitude is basically the size of the vibration, we typically measure that in decibels, and we’ll get to that soon enough. How fast the vibration is, we call the frequency. See how in the low frequency example the waves are further apart and in the high frequency example they’re closer together? That’s what are brains translate into bass, mid range and treble. The faster the particles vibrate, the higher the sound, and that’s what Hertz is. The number of vibrations a second.

So they say humans can hear in the range of 15-20,000 hertz. In reality however that’s not the case. As we age our hearing range decreases, as a man in his late 40’s I can only hear up to about 14, 000 hz (or 15khz, same thing, damn metric system, I know). If we listen to music too loudly we also damage our eardrums and our ability to hear as well. Being someone who has loved metal all his life, you can imagine the damage I’ve done. Want to check what frequency you can hear up until? Here’s a neat link that you can do that at.

And we learned this why?

Going back to why we need to learn all this sciency stuff about sound waves, and frequencies and all that other mumbo jumbo? Well we’re interested in audio recording, and as  you will see later in our discussions about mixing and engineering all this stuff comes into play. Recording and mixing audio is like putting together a giant puzzle, the pieces have to fit together. Drums occupy a certain frequency range, so do guitar, vocals and bass, and they overlap in areas. How do we record each instrument properly so that it sounds good, or better yet amazing? How do we make each instrument stand out in a mix? Or how do we get all of them to sound great together?

If we have a good understanding of the basics, that becomes much easier as we progress. And progress we will! Thank you very much for listening and or reading, and I look forward to our time together in future episodes of the Five Minute Sound Study!

Blog Entry

Welcome to The Sound Study

Hi everyone, my name is Rob Blazik and I am the owner of TheSoundStudy.com. I thought I would start off this site with a brief biography and explanation as to why I started this site and what purpose it will, in my mind fill.

As of today’s date I am a 47 year old, Father, Husband and IT manager. At a very young age I developed what would later become a life long love affair with music. That really started when I turned 9 years old and discovered KISS. From that point forward I became obsessed with the art form of music, primarily with the genre’s of Heavy Metal and Hard Rock. My horizon’s have widened in my later years, but I would still categorize those as my favorites.

My Mother thought it would be good for me to start guitar lessons around that time. They only lasted a couple of years and I dropped out because at the time, it wasn’t fun. Well in high school I made a friend who wanted to learn guitar, broke out the old guitar again and I haven’t stopped since. I’m not a great musician by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t think that even matters. It is something I enjoy, and quite honestly is a really great outlet for releasing thoughts and energy, so I do the best that I can and enjoy every minute of it.

A few years ago, some friends and I started what amounts to a garage band. We all love music and this gave us a couple of hours of guy time every once in a while to enjoy each others company and make some noise. Well with that a song was written, and we decided to record it. Being a bit of a gadget geek I started purchasing the necessary equipment, read what I could on the internet and we recorded the song. I didn’t do a very good job of it to be honest, but it lit a fire in me that has led me here.

A year ago, I decided the recording arts were something I was REALLY interested in and signed up for a Recording Arts program at a local community college. Centennial College in Toronto to be more specific. At the time of this writing I’m about half way through that program, with the goal of becoming a sound engineer and producer.

At my age it’s not realistic to expect this to be a new career for me, but I’m hoping for it to become a side job, more for the love of doing it than anything else. As part of that I thought I would create this site as a document of this journey, and as a way of reaching people that may want to share in the exploration of music and recording.

The Sound Study is a bit of a play on words, seeing as I’m currently studying the art of recording it is a good way to describe my present situation, as I move forward however I would like to create a small studio type environment, where friends, fellow musicians, or anyone who is interested in the process can come together to learn,create and share, in a warm safe environment that feels like a library, or Study. I will share what I learn here and most likely babble on a bit about the things that I’m obsessed with. Hopefully it will also provide me with a place to meet new people that share the love I have for music, and the recording arts. So with that, thanks for reading, and welcome.

Rob