But fear not – here’s a glossary of the most important recording studio terms you need to know.
1) dB = decibels. In other words the level of sound, or ‘volume’ as referred to conversationally by non-sound engineers. If you want something to be fractionally louder, ask for it to be turned up a few dB [pronounced: deebee] and you’ll sound like a pro. (Or a geek, depending on how you say it, but it’s good to at least understand!)
2) “Gating” = isolating the sounds you want and not recording the rest. This involves setting a volume level below which nothing will register. So if you sing with a few little lip-smacking sounds or breathing noises before you come onto the note, or you have some background low-level noise, all of which you’d rather didn’t get recorded, you can sometimes use this technique to fix the problem.
3) “Compression” = this is used all the time in modern recordings for almost anything except classical music. If you want to have a strong, steady level of sound, then you set a certain level to be your lowest and a certain level to be your highest, so that anything that falls outside of that either has to be ‘turned up’ or ‘turned down’ as it is recorded. In practice, this means that if you have some breathy, quiet notes at the top of your range, the system you’re recording on will automatically boost the ‘volume’ to make it a bit louder, but equally, if you’re belting out some parts of the song at top volume, it will lessen the ‘volume’ so that it doesn’t go louder than the set required level. And thereafter, you can turn the whole recording up or down depending on how loud you want it to be. The reason classical music doesn’t do this, is because classical music is all about the nuance of tiny differences in volume and tone and you would lose all of that detail if you compressed the recording. On the other hand, it’s ideal for the sound on adverts. If you keep all adverts within a set ‘volume’ level, then all of them will be equally noticeable and no tiny nuances will be lost (or shown) from too wide a range in ‘volume’ between quiet and loud sounds. Hence why, when the adverts come on on TV, you have to reach for the remote to turn it down, because that film you were watching had lots of ‘volume’ range from very quiet to very loud, but the adverts are all set at ‘moderately loud’.
4) “Gain” = The reason why I wrote ‘volume’ in inverted commas previously is because this is not the term used in recording studios for the level of sound from quiet to loud. If you want to “turn up the volume” you need to ask to “turn up the gain”.
5) “Cans” = some sound engineers use this term, and it’s worth knowing because it’s such an easy little thing to otherwise fail to understand. It simply means – headphones.
For those of you who’ve never set foot in a studio but are coming up to recording your first professional demo or album, I hope that this ‘insider vocabulary’ proves useful!
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