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17 - music production

The “Introduction to Music Production” course has ended and in the next days I will get a certificate stating that I participated in it. All nice and well, but the important thing is the amount of stuff I have learnt. This post is a recap of the last 6 weeks, with the main takeaways of each week (as well as the assignments I recorded)

Week 1 - Sound and Signal Flow

Basics, basics, basics - things that I had “known” for years (decades even) but nicely packaged together. And I picked up quite a few things: Difference between TS and TRS cables (unbalanced mono or either balanced mono or stereo), polar patterns on microphones, difference between dynamic and condensor microphones, the realization, that GarageBand wouldn’t be cutting it for the next weeks and the need to choose another DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) - hopefully without spending a couple of hundred bucks on it.

Assignment: Recording an acoustic guitar

Week 2 - The DAW

I choose Reaper based on several recommendations over the more “known” DAWs like Logic Pro or Ableton Live. Reaper is a commercial product with dual licenses (private and professional) and an unlimited demo/evaluation version. All of them are functional identical. Love the concept and will be paying for Reaper real soon now. Spent quite some time getting acquainted with Reaper, recorded, trimmed and split and had loads of fun learning all of that.

Assignment: Comping Audio Tracks

Week 3 - The Mixer

I owned an 8 track analog mixer many many years ago and always was intimidated by the sheer number of knobs on that. I could handle the faders to set volume of different tracks. After this week, I understand what all the knobs are doing, what a bus is,  how sends and returns work, how submixes work and how the whole mixer is modelled in software.

Assignment: Creating submixes

Week 4 - Dynamic Effects

Dynamic effects work on the amplitude (volume) of a track - noise gates (to filter out quite things like noise), compressors to reduce the dynamics of a recording, how distortion works (there are good and bad distortions), how to eliminate noise, limiters etc. Took me a while to get my ears around the concepts of the compressor (not that it is difficult, but rather how to use it in a musical context).

Assignment: Adding compression to a voice track

Week 5 - Filter and Delay Effects

This week blew my mind and was worth the price of admission (free!) alone. Seeing and hearing how even a 1 sample delay (1 / 41’100 of a second) radically changes the sound and how chorus and flanger effects are just variations on that. A much better understanding of reverb, and how a really simple delay on a signal can create the illusion of space. Learn about the Haas effect that tricks the mind into perceiving a sense of direction (by delaying sound a couple of milliseconds between the left and the right channel). Also the whole topic of filtering (low, high pass, band pass) and EQing.

Assignment: Adding Mirror EQ

Week 6 - Synthesis

The last week explained the building blocks of subtractive synthesis with VCO (Voltage Controlled Oscillators), VCF (Voltage Controlled Filters), VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) and LFO (Low Frequency Oscillators). I have heard about that and known this stuff for decades (having played around with synthesizers in my early 20s) but never fully “understood” what was going on. I actually feel that I can start to dial in a sound on a synthesizer and it sometimes even does what I think it should do. At the very least, I have a much better understanding of how sounds are synthesized.

Assignment: Building a synthesizer

Conclusion

Compared to some of the other courses I have taken, this one was “easy”. I still learnt heaps and had a lot of fun applying the lessons both when doing assignments and when working on my recordings - I feel that they have improved quite a bit. Of course, the path down music production is an expensive one - I feel the lust^h^h^h^h need for quite a bit of additional equipment in my little studio - but most of it can safely wait…

I also gained a lot of appreciation for the job of a sound or mixing engineer, and have learnt to listen differently to the music recordings I am surrounded with. Full marks to Loudon Stearns, Berklee and Coursera.  Would do it again (or rather - do the next one that could go into more depths)

Jens-Christian Fischer

Maker. Musician