What is Music Production? – Part 3: Introducing The Studio Instrument
Updated: Nov 4, 2019
The Studio is An Instrument
What do you think of what you hear someone is going "in the studio?" Do you think of the famed recording studios of the past—the hallowed music temples such as Abbey Road in London where The Beatles recorded many of their classics and of which they named their 1969 album or Sun Studios in Memphis known as the "Birthplace of Rock'n'Roll" where legends like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley recorded. Maybe you think of "home studio" or "project studio" a space that composers, producers, and songwriters set aside for working on music creation at home? Studios come in large and small, from spaces that are set up to record orchestras with more than 100 members to a laptop and sound-isolated closet that a singer sets aside to lay down her vocal ideas. The types of studios vary almost as much as types of music. What they all have in common in that they are an instrument themselves. The layout, physical space, and acoustics of the room shape how music is created in it.
How can a room be a musical instrument? The first thing to consider is what is sound and how we perceive it. When we hear, our ear receive frequency waves moving through the air and turning them into electrical impulses that our brains then turn into what we call sound. Watch the video below from the U.S, Department of Health and Human Services to watch the journey of the sound of a trumpet to the brain.
Since sound waves more through the air and therefore space, the space we are in when we are listening effects how we perceive sound. Imagine clapping twice in a large open space with a high ceiling like a cathedral and then imagine clapping twice in the back of your closest that is full of clothes. You would perceive the resulting sound very differently although the initial stimulus (clapping twice) would not have changed.The acoustics in these spaces are drastically different with the cathedral being designed to be a "live" space with a lot of reverberation and the second being "dead" or without reverberation.
This might seem obvious but aspects of this alter how we perceive sound and therefore how we hear and how we create music. In an idealized studio setting, the music creator will be able to control how much reverberation, the amount of ambient noise, the temperature, the humidity, and a long list of other factors in their designated studio space. However, this is not always possible, especially in home settings, and we must learn how to work in the space we have. It's like any other instrument, you may feel that you are able to play your best on a Stradivarius violin, but your budget provides you with a student model. Many musicians get hung up on this and are constantly looking for the latest technological solution to their musical creation issues. Embracing the philosophy "Availabilism" or making the best of what you have is essential to being a music creator. When we create our studio space, we must make the best of what is available to us. For example, the aforementioned closet can make a great sound booth where you can use blankets to block out unwanted sounds. Listening critical listening is essential to understanding your studio and learning how to adapt to it. Having excellent audio monitors and being able to listen to your music on a variety of headphones and speakers can help you listen better. Your typical phone earbuds or in computer speakers do not provide the audio quality necessary for critical listening, however, they do give you an idea what the typical listener will hear when they listen to your music. We will discuss more critical listening techniques and approaches at a later date.
In a studio, each of the components of the studio the instruments, the signal processors, the mixers, the computers, the audio monitors (speakers), the microphones, etc. combine to create a unique instrument. Additionally, studios can be combined together to create a larger instrument, similar to how a group of musical instruments (and musicians) comes together to form an orchestra. This is the case in larger studios such as Abbey Road that has several different rooms for different musical purposes. For example, a studio may have one room dedicated for MIDI creation, another for recording drums, another for mixing, etc. This type of setup requires data networking and a communication system if the audio and music professionals in these various spaces are to work together "in real time."