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The first all-digitally-recorded popular music album, Ry Cooder 's Bop 'Til You Drop , was released in , and from that point, digital sound recording and reproduction quickly became the new standard at every level, from the professional recording studio to the home hi-fi. Although a number of short-lived "hybrid" studio and consumer technologies appeared in this period e. Because CDs were encoded and read optically, using a laser beam, there was no physical contact between the disc and the playback mechanism, so a well-cared-for CD could be played over and over, with absolutely no degradation or loss of fidelity.
When combined with newly developed digital signal compression algorithms, which greatly reduced file sizes, digital audio files rapidly came to dominate the domestic market, thanks to commercial innovations such as Apple's iTunes media application, and their hugely popular iPod portable media player. The uploading and downloading of large volumes of digital media files at high speed was facilitated by freeware file sharing technologies such as Napster and BitTorrent.
The concurrent development of high-volume private data storage networks, combined with rapidly increasing internet signal speeds and continuous improvements in data storage devices, fuelled an explosion in the illegal sharing of copyrighted digital media. This has caused great consternation among record labels and copyright owners such as ASCAP , who have strongly pressured government agencies to make trans-national efforts to shut down data-storage and file-sharing networks, and to prosecute site operators, and even individual downloaders.
Although infringement remains a significant issue for copyright owners, the development of digital audio has had considerable benefits for consumers. In addition to facilitating the high-volume, low-cost transfer and storage of digital audio files, this new technology has also powered an explosion in the availability of so-called "back-catalogue" titles stored in the archives of recording labels, thanks to the fact that labels can now convert old recordings and distribute them digitally at a fraction of the cost of physically reissuing albums on LP or CD.
Digital audio has also enabled dramatic improvements in the restoration and remastering of acoustic and pre-digital electric recordings, and even freeware consumer-level digital software can very effectively eliminate scratches, surface noise and other unwanted sonic artefacts from old 78rpm and vinyl recordings and greatly enhance the sound quality of all but the most badly damaged records.
The Digital Audio File marked the end of one era in recording and the beginning of another.
Digital files effectively eliminated the need to create or use a discrete, purpose-made physical recording medium a disc, or a reel of tape, etc. Concurrent with the development of these digital file formats, dramatic advances in home computing and the rapid expansion of the Internet mean that digital sound recordings can now be captured, processed, reproduced, distributed and stored entirely electronically, on a range of magnetic and optical recording media, and these can be distributed almost anywhere in the world, with no loss of fidelity, and crucially, without the need to first transfer these files to some form of permanent recording medium for shipment and sale.
Music streaming services have gained popularity since the late s. Instead, they listen over the internet. The freemium model many music streaming services use, such as Spotify and Apple Music, provide a limited amount of content for free, and then premium services for payment. Streaming services such as Pandora use the radio model, allowing users to select playlists but not specific songs to listen to, while services such as Apple Music allow users to listen to both individual songs and pre-made playlists.
The earliest method of sound recording and reproduction involved the live recording of a performance directly to a recording medium by an entirely mechanical process, often called "acoustical recording". In the standard procedure used until the mids, the sounds generated by the performance vibrated a diaphragm with a recording stylus connected to it while the stylus cut a groove into a soft recording medium rotating beneath it. To make this process as efficient as possible, the diaphragm was located at the apex of a hollow cone that served to collect and focus the acoustical energy, with the performers crowded around the other end.
Recording balance was achieved empirically. A performer who recorded too strongly or not strongly enough would be moved away from or nearer to the mouth of the cone. The number and kind of instruments that could be recorded were limited. Brass instruments, which recorded well, often substituted instruments such as cellos and bass fiddles, which did not.
In some early jazz recordings, a block of wood was used in place of the bass drum , which could easily overload the recording diaphragm. It was intended only for visual study of the recording and could not play back the sound.
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The recording medium was a sheet of soot-coated paper wrapped around a rotating cylinder carried on a threaded rod. A stylus , attached to a diaphragm through a series of levers, traced a line through the soot, creating a graphic record of the motions of the diaphragm as it was minutely propelled back and forth by the audio-frequency variations in air pressure. In the spring of another inventor, Charles Cros , suggested that the process could be reversed by using photoengraving to convert the traced line into a groove that would guide the stylus, causing the original stylus vibrations to be recreated, passed on to the linked diaphragm, and sent back into the air as sound.
An inventor from America [ who? Scott's early recordings languished in French archives until , when scholars keen to resurrect the sounds captured in these and other types of early experimental recordings tracked them down. Rather than using rough 19th century technology to create playable versions, they were scanned into a computer and software was used to convert their sound-modulated traces into digital audio files. Brief excerpts from two French songs and a recitation in Italian, all recorded in , are the most substantial results. The phonograph , invented by Thomas Edison in ,  could both record sound and play it back.
The earliest type of phonograph sold recorded on a thin sheet of tinfoil wrapped around a grooved metal cylinder. A stylus connected to a sound-vibrated diaphragm indented the foil into the groove as the cylinder rotated. The stylus vibration was at a right angle to the recording surface, so the depth of the indentation varied with the audio-frequency changes in air pressure that carried the sound. This arrangement is known as vertical or "hill-and-dale" recording. The sound could be played back by tracing the stylus along the recorded groove and acoustically coupling its resulting vibrations to the surrounding air through the diaphragm and a so-called "amplifying" horn.
The crude tinfoil phonograph proved to be of little use except as a novelty.
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It was not until the late s that an improved and much more useful form of phonograph was marketed. The new machines recorded on easily removable hollow wax cylinders and the groove was engraved into the surface rather than indented. The targeted use was business communication, and in that context the cylinder format had some advantages. When entertainment use proved to be the real source of profits, one seemingly negligible disadvantage became a major problem: the difficulty of making copies of a recorded cylinder in large quantities. At first, cylinders were copied by acoustically connecting a playback machine to one or more recording machines through flexible tubing, an arrangement that degraded the audio quality of the copies.
Later, a pantograph mechanism was used, but it could only produce about 25 fair copies before the original was too worn down. During a recording session, as many as a dozen machines could be arrayed in front of the performers to record multiple originals. Still, a single "take" would ultimately yield only a few hundred copies at best, so performers were booked for marathon recording sessions in which they had to repeat their most popular numbers over and over again.
By , successful molding processes for manufacturing prerecorded cylinders had been developed. The wax cylinder got a competitor with the advent of the Gramophone, which was patented by Emile Berliner in The vibration of the Gramophone's recording stylus was horizontal, parallel to the recording surface, resulting in a zig-zag groove of constant depth. This is known as lateral recording.
Berliner's original patent showed a lateral recording etched around the surface of a cylinder, but in practice he opted for the disc format. The Gramophones he soon began to market were intended solely for playing prerecorded entertainment discs and could not be used to record. The spiral groove on the flat surface of a disc was relatively easy to replicate: a negative metal electrotype of the original record could be used to stamp out hundreds or thousands of copies before it wore out. Early on, the copies were made of hard rubber , and sometimes of celluloid , but soon a shellac -based compound was adopted.
In the UK, proprietary use of the name Gramophone continued for another decade until, in a court case, it was adjudged to have become genericized and so could be used freely by competing disc record makers, with the result that in British English a disc record is called a "gramophone record" and "phonograph record" is traditionally assumed to mean a cylinder.
Not all cylinder records are alike. They were made of various soft or hard waxy formulations or early plastics, sometimes in unusual sizes; did not all use the same groove pitch; and were not all recorded at the same speed. As a medium for entertainment, the cylinder was already losing the format war with the disc by , but the production of entertainment cylinders did not entirely cease until and use of the format for business dictation purposes persisted into the s.
Disc records, too, were sometimes made in unusual sizes, or from unusual materials, or otherwise deviated from the format norms of their eras in some substantial way.
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Until the mids records were played on purely mechanical record players usually powered by a wind-up spring motor. The sound was "amplified" by an external or internal horn that was coupled to the diaphragm and stylus , although there was no real amplification: the horn simply improved the efficiency with which the diaphragm's vibrations were transmitted into the open air. The recording process was in essence the same non-electronic setup operating in reverse, but with a recording stylus engraving a groove into a soft waxy master disc and carried slowly inward across it by a feed mechanism.
The advent of electrical recording in made it possible to use sensitive microphones to capture the sound and greatly improved the audio quality of records. A much wider range of frequencies could be recorded, the balance of high and low frequencies could be controlled by elementary electronic filters, and the signal could be amplified to the optimum level for driving the recording stylus.
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The leading record labels switched to the electrical process in and the rest soon followed, although one straggler in the US held out until There was a period of nearly five years, from to , when the top " audiophile " technology for home sound reproduction consisted of a combination of electrically recorded records with the specially-developed Victor Orthophonic Victrola , an acoustic phonograph that used waveguide engineering and a folded horn to provide a reasonably flat frequency response.
The first electronically amplified record players reached the market only a few months later, around the start of , but at first they were much more expensive and their audio quality was impaired by their primitive loudspeakers ; they did not become common until the late s. Electrical recording increased the flexibility of the process, but the performance was still cut directly to the recording medium, so if a mistake was made the whole recording was spoiled.
Disc-to-disc editing was possible, by using multiple turntables to play parts of different "takes" and recording them to a new master disc, but switching sources with split-second accuracy was difficult and lower sound quality was inevitable, so except for use in editing some early sound films and radio recordings it was rarely done. Electrical recording made it more feasible to record one part to disc and then play that back while playing another part, recording both parts to a second disc. This and conceptually related techniques, known as overdubbing , enabled studios to create recorded "performances" that feature one or more artists each singing multiple parts or playing multiple instrument parts and that therefore could not be duplicated by the same artist or artists performing live.
The first commercially issued records using overdubbing were released by the Victor Talking Machine Company in the late s. However overdubbing was of limited use until the advent of audio tape. Use of tape overdubbing was pioneered by Les Paul in the s. Wire recording or magnetic wire recording is an analog type of audio storage in which a magnetic recording is made on thin steel or stainless steel wire.
The wire is pulled rapidly across a recording head, which magnetizes each point along the wire in accordance with the intensity and polarity of the electrical audio signal being supplied to the recording head at that instant. By later drawing the wire across the same or a similar head while the head is not being supplied with an electrical signal, the varying magnetic field presented by the passing wire induces a similarly varying electric current in the head, recreating the original signal at a reduced level. Magnetic wire recording was replaced by magnetic tape recording, but devices employing one or the other of these media had been more or less simultaneously under development for many years before either came into widespread use.