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Basics of Sound Recording Information Commons Soundbooth Training

Why do we record?

Humans have been recording things for centuries, and our technologies have developed and matured exponentially since we started. The earliest known device capable of recording sound was the Phonautograph, which was used as early as 1859. Today, most recordings are digital, using highly sophisticated microphones and digital programs to create recordings that range from completely artificial to almost completely true to real life.

Recording sounds and music is done in part for preservation and interpretation- think of TED Talks and speeches made by the President, these are things we want to have for the future, so that generations of people can learn and benefit from their words. Recording can also be done for entertainment purposes- like movies and music, while these forms of recorded sound can be informative and have a personal impact on people, their primary purpose is not the same as that of a TED Talk.

Left: A phonautograph from the 1800s. Right: A modern recording set up in a studio.

How do we record?

These days, and here at IC with the sound booth, we record using microphones, audio interfaces, and a computer program. The words or music you make into the microphone gets converted into an electronic signal, carried through a cable into a computer program, which reads and understands that signal as the sound you made. Because it can understand the signal, it can play it back to you and allow you to edit it.

Computer Program

The programs you will be trained in are GarageBand and Audacity. Both are simple, user friendly programs that are a great introduction to recording software. These programs collect the information from the audio interface and other devices you may be using to record (for instance you can record an electric guitar or bass directly or from an amp). For the sound booth, the program gets all it's information from the audio interface, which is wired into the computer.

Audio Interfaces

The audio interface we have in the sound booth is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. It is one of the most popular audio interfaces, especially for small recording set ups like the sound booth. Audio interfaces do a lot to help computers with recording:

  1. Increase the number of inputs and outputs
  2. Allow you to attach more professional equipment
  3. Increase the overall quality of your recording

The microphones we have can be used because of the audio interface we have. Without the interface, the computer and microphones can't talk to each other, so no sound can be recorded using them. The 2i2 is plugged into both microphones and provides them with power, so they can record; it is plugged into the computer, and transmits the signal from microphone to computer at a higher quality than we would get from the Mac's built in microphone.

Microphones

The sound booth has 2 different microphones (pictured below) on which you can record, they are:

Both of these microphones are condenser microphones, which means that in order to operate, they need power. The audio interface that they are plugged into gives them the phantom power that they need, without that power, you cannot record.

Left: Blue Yeti, Right: AT2020

The two microphones in the booth have different polar patterns in which they pick up sound. The AT2020 is a cardioid microphone, and the yeti is multi-option. Polar patterns are important to note when you're recording, because they change the way that your recording sounds.

Put officially, a polar pattern is a microphone's sensitivity to sound arriving from a given direction. What that means is that because of the way that microphones are constructed, they hear in certain patterns. The patterns you need to know are:

  • Omnidirectional
  • Bi-Directional
  • Cardioid
  • Modified Bi-Directional

Above, you can see the polar pattern dial on the Yeti microphone. When setting up to record with that microphone, make sure you have the pattern you want selected. The Yeti has four settings: Bi-Directional, Omnidirectional, Cardioid, and Modified Bi-Directional. The AT2020 has one setting: Cardioid.

[Left to right]: Omnidirectional polar pattern chart, Bi-Directional polar pattern chart, Cardioid Polar Pattern chart. Thomas, Christian. "How To Read A Polar Pattern Chart". Soundguys, 2018, https://www.soundguys.com/how-to-read-a-polar-pattern-chart-16272/. Accessed 13 Sept 2018.

The polar pattern changes the way that your recording sounds, the most obvious way this will effect recordings in the sound booth is by how much background, or room sound leaks into your recording. Think of a video you recorded on your phone outside on a windy day: when you watch that video back you can hear all that wind in the recording. The same thing can happen in the sound booth, with extra people or the ventilation fan. Knowing polar patterns can help you minimize background noise while recording, and get the best sound for whatever you're recording.

Credits:

Created with images by TheAngryTeddy - "microphone audio computer" • John Hult - "Mixing session" • Jacek Dylag - "Microphone"

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