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Recording studio facts for kids

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AugustRecordingSonJarochoWikiLearning020
Control room at the Tec de Monterrey, Mexico City Campus
An-Najah University media room Victor 2011 -1-70
An audio production facility at An-Najah National University

A recording studio is a place prepared for the recording of music, or other sound media. Some studios are independent, but many are part of a larger business, like a record label. Independent studios may only record one band or set of performers, but may also lease time to outsiders. Some studios charge an hourly rate, while others charge by the project.

Recording studios are usually divided into three areas: a "live area" (with natural reverberation) for recording groups, a "dead area" (with soundproofing to prevent reverb and echoes) for vocals and soloists, and a control booth, to house the recording equipment. Studios are usually soundproofed, to keep outside noises from getting into recordings. Baffles and other objects are used inside studios, to isolate sound sources. Asymmetrical room shapes are also used, to prevent "standing waves" and sound interference.

Early recording studios were not much different from radio studios, and the techniques used were interchangeable, but this changed over the years. Recordings could present sounds in ways radio could not carry, and radio did not play only recordings, so the shift was natural. When multitrack recording was developed in the 1950s, radio stations did not need multitrack equipment, for example. (Today some radio stations have such equipment, but use it to pre-record material.)

After effects processors were developed, the natural sound of a recording space was ignored by many new studios. The people who operated them depended on effects to create the sound they wanted. Today the trend is back toward good natural sounds, with less processing.

Design and equipment

AugustRecordingSonJarochoWikiLearning021
A Mexican Son jarocho singer recording tracks at the Tec de Monterrey studios

Layout

Recording studios generally consist of three or more rooms:

  • The "live room" of the studio where the vocalists sing and instrumentalists play their instruments, with their singing and playing picked up by microphones and, for electric and electronic instruments, by connecting the instruments' outputs or DI unit outputs to the mixing board (or by miking the speaker cabinets for bass and electric guitar);
  • Isolation booths or vocal booths. Isolation booths are small sound-insulated rooms with doors, designed for instrumentalists (or their loud speaker stacks). Vocal booths are similarly designed rooms for singers. In both types of rooms, there are typically windows so the performers can see other band members and the audio engineer/record producer, as singers, bandleaders and musicians often give or receive visual cues;
  • The control room, where the audio engineers and record producers mix the mic and instrument signals with a mixing console, record the singing and playing onto tape (until the 1980s and early 1990s) or hard disc (1990s and following decades) and listen to the recordings and tracks with monitor speakers or headphones and manipulate the tracks by adjusting the mixing console settings and by using effects units; and
  • The machine room, where noisier equipment, such as racks of fan-cooled power amplifiers, are kept. This equipment may make noise which could interfere with the recording process.
Neve VR60 (The Engine Room)
Neve VR60, a multitrack mixing console. Above the console are a range of studio monitor speakers.

Recording studios are carefully designed around the principles of room acoustics to create a set of spaces with the acoustical properties required for recording sound with precision and accuracy. This will consist of both room treatment (through the use of absorption and diffusion materials on the surfaces of the room, and also consideration of the physical dimensions of the room itself in order to make the room respond to sound in a desired way) and soundproofing (also to provide sonic isolation between the rooms) to prevent sound from leaving the property. A recording studio has to be soundproofed on its outer shell as well, to prevent noises from the surrounding streets and roads from being picked up by microphones.

A recording studio may include additional rooms, such as a vocal booth—a small room designed for voice recording, as well as one or more extra isolation booths for loud guitar stacks and extra control rooms. Even though sound isolation is a key goal, the musicians, singers, audio engineers and record producers still need to be able to see each other, to see cue gestures and conducting by a bandleader. As such, the "live room", isolation booths, vocal booths and control room typically have windows.

Control-room2
Engineers and producers watch a trumpet player from a window in the control room during a recording session.

Equipment

Equipment found in a recording studio commonly includes:

  • A large professional-grade mixing console (some have as many as 72 channels)
  • Additional small mixing consoles with 4, 8 or 16 channels, for adding more channels (e.g., if a drum kit needs to be miked and all of the channels of the large console are in use, an additional 16 channel mixer would enable the engineers to mix the mics for the kit)
  • A large number of preamplifiers for microphones, such as the Neve 1272 and Neve 3104
  • Multitrack recorder (analog tape until the 1980s and early 1990s, and digital hard disc recorders in the 1990s and following decades)
  • Computers (e.g., Macs, Digidesign, etc.)
  • A wide selection of microphones (cardioid microphones, condensor microphones, omnidirectional microphones, etc.). Studios often have Neuman Tube mics, AKG tube mics, RCA ribbon mics, and a number of Shure SM 57 and SM 58 mics.
  • A large number of DI unit boxes
  • Two or more record players (e.g., Technics 1200)
  • Syncs (e.g., Digidesign Big Sync)
  • A wide variety of microphone stands (boom stands, straight stands, tabletop stands) to enable engineers to place microphones at the desired locations in front of singers, instrumentalists or ensembles.
  • Reference monitors, which are loudspeakers with a flat frequency response designed for listening to recorded mixes or tracks
  • Power amplifiers for monitor speakers (e.g., Bryston)
  • Studio monitoring headphones (typicallly closed-shell, to prevent sound from "leaking" out into the microphones)
  • Consumer grade speakers, including car audio speakers, boom boxes and shelf stereo speakers. Engineers use these to hear how the finished mix will sound in regular listeners' speakers. If the engineers only listen to the mix on high-quality reference monitors, this is an excellent way to check the mix and sound, but it does not enable the engineer to hear how a consumer at home will hear the mix.
  • Digital audio workstation
  • Music workstation
  • "On Air" or "Recording" lighted signs to remind other studio users to be quiet
  • Outboard effect units, such as compressors, reverbs, or equalizers. Compressors by Neve, Urei, Empirical Labs, DBX are widely used. De-essers include DBX 902. Noise gates include Drawmer DS 201. Equalizers include models by Neve and Urei. Effects include plate reverbs, spring reverbs, Roland Space Echo. Some studios stock a selection of major guitar pedals.
  • Music stands

Instruments

Studio A, In Your Ear Studios
A selection of instruments at a music studio, including a grand piano.

Not all music studios are equipped with musical instruments. Some smaller studios do not have instruments, and bands and artists are expected to bring their own instruments, amplifiers and speakers. However, major recording studios often have a selection of instruments in the "live room", typically instruments, amplifiers and speaker cabinets that are large, heavy, and difficult to bring (e.g., a Hammond organ) or infeasible (as in the case of a grand piano) to bring in for a single recording session. Having musical instruments and equipment in the studio creates additional costs for a studio, as pianos have to be tuned and instruments, tube amplifiers, and speakers need to be maintained.

However, it makes it more convenient for recording artists, as they do not have to bring in large, heavy gear, or for guitar amps, they do not have to bring in a number of amps and cabinets. As well, less costly studio time is spent moving in gear and setting it up. Another benefit is that microphones can be set up in appropriate locations near all of the studio-owned instruments, and bass amps can have their DI units plugged into the mixing board, which speeds up set-up time.

Instruments which may be present in a studio include:

  • Keyboard instruments and related keyboard gear
    • Grand piano (e.g., Steinway)
    • Hammond organ and rotating Leslie speaker
    • Fender Rhodes electric piano
    • Wurlitzer electric piano
    • MIDI keyboard or MIDI-equipped stage piano
    • Vintage synthesizers (e.g., Moog synthesizers)
    • Keyboard amplifier
  • Acoustic drum kit: this may only include the wood-shelled drums and the stands. Studios typically own major brands such as Premier, Ludwig and Gretsch. Some studios have a selection of classic snares. Drummers typically prefer to use their own snare drum and cymbals
  • Bass amplifier and bass speaker cabinet (e.g., a tube Ampeg SVT amp and an 8x10" cabinet)
  • Guitar amplifier and guitar speaker cabinets (e.g., a Fender Twin and a Marshall tube amp and speaker stack. Tube amps made by Vox, Ampeg, and Gibson may also be available.
  • Vintage guitars and basses made by Fender, Gibson, and Rickenbacker
  • In rare cases, studios may have a mellotron ethnic drums, sitars, a double bass, or unusual instruments that bands might wish to try for a particular sound.

Guitarists and bassists are often expected to bring their own guitars, basses and effects pedals. Drummers often bring their own snare drum, cymbals and sticks/brushes.

The types and brands of music equipment owned by a studio depends on the styles of music for the bands and artists that typically record there. A studio that mainly records heavy metal music will be likely to have large, powerful guitar amp heads and speaker stacks (e.g., Marshall Amplification amps for guitar). In contrast, a studio which mainly records country bands will likely have a selection of smaller, vintage combo amps (e.g., 1950s Fender "tweed" combos). A studio that records a lot of 1970s-style funk may have a vintage electric piano or Clavinet.

Peter Francken in his studio
Music production using a digital audio workstation (DAW) with multi-monitor set-up

In the 2000s and 2010s, general purpose computers have rapidly assumed a large role in the recording process. With software such as Pro Tools, a powerful, good quality computer with a fast processor can replace the mixing consoles, multitrack recording equipment, synthesizers, samplers and effects unit (reverb, echo, compression, etc.) that a recording studio required in the 1980s and 1990s. A computer thus outfitted is called a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW. Popular audio-recording software includes Apple Logic Pro, Digidesign's Pro Tools—near standard for most professional studios—Cubase and Nuendo both by Steinberg, MOTU Digital Performer—popular for MIDI and film scoring. Other software applications include Ableton Live, Mixcraft, Cakewalk Sonar, ACID Pro, FL Studio, Adobe Audition, Auto-Tune, Audacity, and Ardour.

In the 2010s, software applications are more reliant on the quality of the audio recording hardware than the computer they are running on, therefore typical high-end computer hardware is less of a priority unless MIDI is involved. While Apple Macintosh is used for most studio work, there is a breadth of software available for Microsoft Windows and Linux. If no mixing console is used and all mixing is done using only a keyboard and mouse, this is referred to as mixing in the box ("ITB"). The "OTB" is used when mixing with other hardware and not just the PC software.

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