The Journal on the Art of Record Production (JARP) is an international online peer-reviewed journal promoting the interdisciplinary study of record production.   The journal publishes peer reviewed research papers, conference papers, interviews and reviews with contributions from world-renowned industry professionals.

Issue 4

Proceedings of the 2008 Art of Record Production Conference, University of Massachusetts
Published October 2009

Conference Papers

The perception and importance of drum tuning in live performance and music production

Abstract Intricate tuning of acoustic drums can have a significant impact on the quality and contextuality of the instrument when played live or in the recording studio. Indeed, many musicians and producers will spend a number of hours achieving a preferred drum sound prior to a performance. Drum tuning, however, is a rather subjective matter, […]

Ron’s right arm: tactility, visualization, and the synesthesia of audio engineering

Most scholarship on audio engineering analyzes practices and practitioners in terms of musical and technical knowledges. The few references to sensory perception typically center on critical listening practices (“golden ears” engineers), audiophilia, and technologies of audition. However, particularly in light of computer-based workflows, the practice of audio engineering features carefully developed synesthesias of critical listening, visualization of digital audio, and tactile manipulations of interfaces, which can’t adequately be explained as cognitive processes or as conscious knowledge.

I draw on literature in the emerging field of sensory scholarship, in particular Brian Massumi’s theorization of synesthesia and affect and Charles Hirschkind’s analyses of cultivated “sensoriums” in order to show how practices of audio engineering can be productively theorized as a strategic retraining of the senses. I draw diverse examples from field research conducted in the US and Turkey. One example – Ron’s right arm – explores how one audio engineer uses his right arm to “feel” when the bass is right in a rock mix. Another example explores the creation of “büyük ses” (big sound) in Anatolian “ethnic” music and the use of the Protools edit window to “visualize” bass. In both cases, bass is something that is felt or seen, but not immediately audible. Through an attention to differing kinds of synesthesias, we can better understand how audio engineers perform their craft.

Considering Space in Music

This paper is offered to propose basic theoretical framework and to initiate a methodology of context for inquiry and for discovery of how space functions in recorded music. This is a beginning to seek a greater understanding, and not intended to offer an overview of practice, or a theory of principles.

This paper will examine the spatial elements of music recordings and begin to consider how they impact the music itself. It will examine several recent and historically significant recordings to define broad concepts, and will then focus on a single recording and its use of space to enhance its musical materials and relationships.

Space in music can be profoundly important. These qualities can create a context for the song and its materials, be used to enhance musical ideas and the instruments and voices that present them, can even function as musical materials, and much more. Still, the breadth and the significance of their role in recorded music is not defined or fully understood.

Arctic Monkeys – The Demos vs. The Album

Arctic Monkeys first album, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ (2006) was prefigured by a collection of demos, which was widely circulated by fans on MySpace and other social networking sites, and which created not only a substantial audience for the first album, but one which was already familiar with alternative versions of a number of the album tracks prior to its release.

In this paper it is proposed to investigate the qualitative differences between the demo and the commercial releases, from the point of view of both the listener and the producer. The paper will also explore how the technical and creative process and environment of the demo studio differ from that of a larger commercial facility, and how this impacts on the finished record.

It will be suggested that a range of research methods is an appropriate way to gain a useful perspective on a recording or series of recordings. As such it is proposed to highlight the variety of approaches taken in the course of this research, including comparative technical analysis, interviews with the producers, and analysis of reception. The latter approach leads to a discussion of questions of authenticity, in particular whether there is such a thing as an authentic recording process, and how far this can be perceived by an audience. It is proposed to develop these areas more fully in future research.

Creative Ownership and the Case of the Sonic Signature or, ‘I’m listening to this record and wondering whodunit?’

Listening to recordings can be something akin to reading a detective story; you know what happened but you don’t know whodunit. Moreover, the recorded sounds not only invite you to consider who did what but how it was done. Over the past few years a number of academic detectives have begun to develop frameworks for approaching recordings as a musical or performative text. The recording therefore stands as an object and embedded in this object are the multifarious processes that went into its construction which we, as academics, would wish to reveal.

This paper looks at the current work of academic detectives in the field of the sonic arts to consider if the current frameworks hold up to close scrutiny. A key consideration in this paper will be to investigate the ways that these frameworks help us understand how the creative power is distributed between musicians, producers, record companies and technicians. In addition, we consider how the text reveals, retrospectively, the processes behind this creative power and in particular, the role of the artist-producer who seems to be the leading suspect in the creation of an identifiable sound or sonic signature. The investigation looks in particular at working practice in the studio of a particular generation of producers from the mid 1970s until the 1990s to see if any of the frameworks offer a real insight into the creative processes of the studio. In conclusion, the paper argues that in developing systematic frameworks, we may undervalue the power of the hermeneutic hunch in solving the problem of creative ownership in the case of the sonic signature.

Magical Mystery Tour: Mono or Stereo?

In December 1967, The Beatles released Magical Mystery Tour, an EP that contained six new songs written as the score for an original Beatles film. Author Mark Lewisohn has pointed out that until Abbey Road, all Beatles recordings were released in mono and stereo. The Beatles themselves were only directly involved in the mono mix, while producer George Martin and EMI staff engineers would typically create the stereo version at a later date. However, it seems that as early as Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles and their collaborators were actively exploring the aesthetic potential of stereo sound. The following discussion will examine selected tracks from the stereo version of Magical Mystery Tour in order to highlight the peculiar aesthetic qualities created by stereo mixing. Using the work of Marshall McLuhan as a guide, it will pay particular attention to the ways in which the stereo versions create a context in which the listener has the option of choosing from various musical elements in the mix.

The Medium In The Message: Phonographic staging techniques that utilize the sonic characteristics of reproduction media.

A recurrent theme is emerging in scholarly activity relating to record production: the description and analysis of mediation techniques used in the recording process that produce sonic characteristics with culturally constructed, associative meaning. This paper examines how the aural ‘footprint’ of particular forms of mediation associated with audio reproduction media have been used to generate meaning within the production process. The postmodernist slogan ‘The Medium Is The Message ’ is stretched a little further to accommodate the fact that the medium is continually referenced within the message itself and becomes part of the creative palette of meaning creation.

“I’m Not Hearing What You’re Hearing”: The Conflict and Connection of Headphone Mixes and Multiple Audioscapes

Technologically imposed division inherently sets up oppositional binaries between recording studio participants. The performance space/control room divide pits musician against technician, and isolation places musicians in conflict with one another, whether physically imposed by baffles and booths, or psychologically imposed in the form of multiple headphone mix audioscapes. This paper, based on field research, will address how technological mediation creates these oppositional binaries, as well as the potential for a collectively experienced and heightened performance made possible by the enhanced connection provided by headphones in recording studio practice.

Undervalued Stock: Britain’s most successful chart producer and his economy of production.

This paper explores the production practices of Mike Stock, the most successful producer/songwriter in British chart history. He is perhaps more familiar when addressed within the context of his two business partners Pete Waterman and Matt Aitken. Under the SAW (Stock, Aitken and Waterman) partnership the three men dominated the British charts during the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s. The contribution of Stock’s production style, to the overall commercial success of SAW’s operation, will be examined. From the direct targeting of the Gay club scene, with Stocks mix of HI-NRG and Tamla Motown, to his no-demo’s policy of recording. Technological developments in recording at this time also had an influence on the production practices employed by Stock. The introduction of MIDI instruments, sampling and advances in multitrack recording allowed Stock and his Partner Matt Aitken to assume the role of the band. The artist was left to supply only the vocal, all of which had a direct impact on the length of time spent in the recording studio. The paper explorers the effect this had on his relationship with the artists he recorded, including debates surrounding notions of creative control and authenticity within the production process.

Revolution Sacrilege! Examining the Technological Divide among Record Producers in the late 1980s

The mid to late 1980s was a pivotal time in recording and production technology. As the use of MIDI, samplers, computers and digital tape recording crept into the professional studio, this technology was hailed as revolutionary by some and met with a barrage of technological pessimism by others. This paper examines how technology divided record producers, splitting them essentially into two camps towards the end of the 1980s – the traditionalist and the technophiliac. This paper will consider the influence on record producers of the time of manufacturers and audio industry periodicals and will analyze producers’ attitudes towards a changing technological landscape. The presentation will include examples and quotes from figures as varied as Mutt Lange, Daniel Lanois, Steve Albini and Stock, Aitken & Waterman.

Imogen Heap as Musical Cyborg: Renegotiations of Power, Gender and Sound

Imogen Heap, British electronica artist, has had a successful solo and collaborative career since her 1998 release of I Megaphone. She became a widespread name in 2004 after the song ‘Let Go’ from her collaborative album with Guy Sigsworth, Details, was used in the film Garden State. Following this success, Heap returned to solo work and released Speak for Yourself in 2005. Through an analysis of Heap’s musical development from her earliest musical experiences to her latest solo endeavors, this paper demonstrates Heap’s renegotiations of power, gender and sound allowed by the reconfigurations of institutional and commercial structures, which were enabled by the developments of recording technology.

Transmission Loss and Found: The Sampler as Compositional Tool

This article explores the use of the digital sampler as one of the studio tools that forms part of this creative process and focuses on interviews with a group of Edinburgh musicians called Found who successfully combine the writing of pop songs with the sampling of found sounds. Much of the academic literature on digital sampling within popular music studies been skewed towards its disruptive consequences for copyright law and, while legal and moral questions are still relevant, this article focusses on the processes of music making and the aesthetic choices made by composers and producers in the studio. Recent ethnographic work by Joseph Schloss has centred on these questions in relation to hip-hop and it’s important to examine and understand how the sampler continues to be used by musicians and producers in a wide variety of genres.

Arctic Monkeys – The Demos vs. The Album

Arctic Monkeys first album, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ (2006) was prefigured by a collection of demos, which was widely circulated by fans on MySpace and other social networking sites, and which created not only a substantial audience for the first album, but one which was already familiar with alternative versions of a number of the album tracks prior to its release.

In this paper it is proposed to investigate the qualitative differences between the demo and the commercial releases, from the point of view of both the listener and the producer. The paper will also explore how the technical and creative process and environment of the demo studio differ from that of a larger commercial facility, and how this impacts on the finished record.

It will be suggested that a range of research methods is an appropriate way to gain a useful perspective on a recording or series of recordings. As such it is proposed to highlight the variety of approaches taken in the course of this research, including comparative technical analysis, interviews with the producers, and analysis of reception. The latter approach leads to a discussion of questions of authenticity, in particular whether there is such a thing as an authentic recording process, and how far this can be perceived by an audience. It is proposed to develop these areas more fully in future research.

Cutting Tracks, Making CDs: A Comparative Study Of Audio Time-Correction Techniques In The Desktop Age.

Producers have long sought to rhythmically ‘tighten’ studio performances. Software-based DAWs now come with proprietary functions to facilitate this, but only the latest generation of platforms allow relative ease of use on longer takes. Each method has advantages and disadvantages in terms of ease and speed of use, transient preservation, implied subsequent workflow and (usually) unwanted artifacts. Whilst rhythmically consistent material with clear transients is readily controllable with contemporary tools, working with complex mixtures of note-values still presents a challenge and requires much user intervention.
This paper performs a comparative study of different audio quantize techniques on percussive material, often on rhythmically complex performances. It will seek to compare necessary methodologies and workflow implications through the use of several contemporary systems: Recycle, Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, Live, Melodyne, and Nuendo. The current level of man-machine interaction will be explored, and the best features from each platform will be collated. A model for the future will be speculatively presented.

Production and the Listener: The “Perfect” Performance

Perceptions of ‘perfection’ in recorded music are dependent on a complex set of factors. This paper will investigate the influence of real life and strict tempo regulation on the reception of a recorded rock performance. A rock track will be recorded with a band of a high performance standard in free time (no click track). This performance will then be mixed. The track will then be edited and the performance timings put into a strict time grid. The two versions will then be played to listeners and their reactions analysed. The listeners will be divided into various categories by musical experience, age, preferred listening etc. This paper will form part of an ongoing investigation which will be looking at the reactions of listeners to the editing of performances in different musical styles from rock to jazz to pop to classical. This paper will be a step to finding out the way that listener’s react to performances in recording and whether the reactions are dependent on age and musical experience and should provide valuable information for producer’s in the development of recordings for commercial release.