Readers' Letters: Do famous artists use studio tricks to enhance their voices?, and more...

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of

Thursday November 30, 2006

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In response to Do famous artists use studio tricks to enhance their voices?, Eryc Leaf writes...

In essence, nearly all multi-track recording is dishonest in that it reproduces an event that never happened. I think cheating is too strong a word, however, as we are talking about art, not sports. The record is the product. Make the best product you can. Using the studio as an instrument, producers have become artists, especially in hip hop, where the producer IS the artist.

On the other hand, If a singer or rapper records something that they cannot perform live, and does so anyway, they run the risk of public humiliation a la Milli Vanilli or Ashley Simpson.

Full disclosure in the liner notes would be ideal, but the line does get hazy. Pitch correction software is certainly less dishonest than the old practice of uncredited studio ringers. As a songwriter, I have always resented singers getting more than their share of the credit for great tracks and I suspect producers make their peace with their unseen role as well.

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, HenJoy writes...

I agree that musicians, songwriters and entertainers have the right to make revenue from their performances and should be protected from freeloaders who will make money off their hard work and creativity and see the artist in the poor house.(Sound like a record label don't I). I for one hate having to buy a CD to get only one or two good tracks of a CD with 15 or 16 tracks of music, so I wait untill they come out with "THE BEST OF" If the powers to be do not want the listeners to download songs for free then web sites like Kaza, Limewire and such like should sell the music and not make it so easy for others to download for free. They make it so easy then say they are not responsible. The record label should go after them first, they have deeper pockets.

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Dutchwood (The Acid Warriors) writes...

As I found out myself the biggest mafiosi are the ones who should protect our rights. Like the copyright agencies. They leech on our creative talents.

Now in this digital age new mobsters emerged, the's, the internet radio stations, the download sites (yes iTunes, you too). No matter if you as a musician try to do the right thing, registering with the copyright agencies, giving away some of your music, paying PR-people, they all leech on your talent.

At the bottom of the pile is the musician.

In short: Grateful Dead sold acid and t-shirts at their free gigs. Is this what we have to do to survive?

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Keith Crawford writes...

I am a musician (small time) and an owner of a small demo recording studio. I believe that intellectual property, regardless of what that "property" is, must be protected. If I create something, a mechanical widget, a song, or whatever, it is might right to control it. It is also might right to profit from it. Without such protection, all but the extremely egotistical individuals would most likely stop "creating" because they gain no benefit. For me, writing, recording and SELLING songs is an enjoyment, it's personal satisfaction, and it's also an attempt to provide for my family. Just because someone loves my song and wants it doesn't give them the right to "steal" it. Isn't that the same as someone walking into a music retailer, picking up a CD from the rack, putting it under their coat, and then walking out of the store? Yes! It's stealing.

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Aki Atrill - Illegalist writes...

"copyright law says that downloading without permission or payment is illegal."

Please can you show me where it says that exactly.

RP response: - This covers the UK. Other countries have very similar legislation.

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, S.C. writes...

Yes, this is the new thing here in Norway too. The far-lefters are trying to make it legal to download whatever you like. For this, they're talking about paying the writer/performer on a yearly basis, the goverment will "hire" you sort o' speak, to make make music that they of course will set the value on. We're actually not moving forward here, but backwards. This is what they did to musicians/writers in the 16-17th century man!? If you can't beat them, give in, is that the new thing!?

Fine, I'll go out and steal a car now, sure to be legal soon right? I think I'll have a blue one, to go with my Blue microphone that I apperently don't own anymore, as it will surely be part of my governed-music-production-sub-company.I can't believe they changed the biz into this, deliberately in the 90's, made it a kindergarden where outlaw kids run the game, good on ya' people!How's it looking in that wallet of yours. T.V is the new thing I guess, how sad : (

In response to Readers' Letters: Do famous artists use studio tricks to enhance their voices?, and more..., DanG writes...

Pitch correcting the lead vocal isn't something that was invented during the computer age of recording. Fixing lead vocals has been going on for decades. I learned how to comp a lead vocal and pitch correct the track over two decades ago (using an Eventide Harmonizer and bouncing sections of each take to another track of the recorder). Auto pitch correction and DAWs have just made the job a lot faster and more precise.

Pitch correction is necessary in todays production environment due to the now universal use of electronic tuners and instruments. It all has to do with how wide the pitch center is. Everyone loves to refer to how great old Beatles, Beach Boys and Motown records are because there wasn't any pitch correction used on the vocals. During that period of recorded music instruments were tuned by ear - something very few musicians do now. This created a pitch center with numerous small discrepancies and detunings (this practice remained in place through most of the 1980s). In these recordings errors in pitch made by the vocalist were less noticeable because it wasn't the only instrument off the pitch center. Because the pitch center of modern music has become so precise even small errors in pitch made by a vocalist are immediately apparent (even to the untrained listener).

Using pitch correction on vocals is not a case of cheating. Vocal pitch correction is necessary due to the way in which modern music is recorded. Vocal pitch correction has become an obligatory part of the production process in the same way that compression and reverb have.

RP response: Thanks DanG, your comment regarding the precision tuning of modern instruments is particularly insightful and is something we will definitely follow up in a future article.

In response to Do you drink coffee in the studio or, worse still, sticky soft drinks?, Mearc writes...

Re spillage....One sunny afternoon while relaxing I broke one of my main rules and I put a can a beer on the table, then swiftly knocked it over and spilt it over my brand spanking new mac it turned out it forced me to use my logitech mouse and keyboard which is way better in use....but the lucky bit was, 2 more inches or so and I would've spilt beer all over my (also brand new then) Mackie Control me don't put drinks near kit no matter how sober or safe or careful you are!

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Christian Garcia. writes...

Definitivamente que los creadores deben recibir beneficiioo economicos por la utilizacion de sus obras musicales en cualquier sentido,solamente aquellas mentes corruptas pueden estar a favor de lo contrario, pero acordemonos que estamos en un mundo sin runbo y los que deben de hacer cumplir la ley , lain nfingen, solo nos queda seguir defendiendo nuesdtros derechops, pero repito la realidad es muy triste, personalmrnte resulta imposible hacer cumplir la ley , eso le corresponde a los gobiernos pero se hace muy poco y es una verdadera lastima, pero no todo esta perdido mientra haya alguien que luche por que se cumpla la ley habra esperanza.

RP response: "Definitely that creators should receive beneficiioo economical for the use of their music in any sense, only those corrupt minds may be in favor of the opposite, but acordemonos us in a world without runbo and those who must enforce the law, lain nfingen, only we have to continue defending nuesdtros derechops, but again the reality is very sad, personalmrnte impossible to enforce the law, that it is up to governments but little is done and it is a real pity, but not everything is lost while someone has to fight for compliance with the law will have hope" says Google Translate.

In response to Q: Can an expert engineer make as good a recording in a home studio as he could in a million-dollar studio?, Barney Conway writes...

Having been in recording since the 60's, I have been in studios with the million-dollar lineup of equipment and in basement studios with only $10,000 worth of equipment. All things considered, I would always prefer to work with the equipment-heavy facility but the song is the thing. There is such a thing as "feel" or "grove" that overrides almost any equipment issue. In the 70's my friends and I were charting records (28) in the R&B market using the old Tascam Mod. 10 console and a 4-track recorder while across town (Atlanta) the hottest studio in the south with the Neve boards etc. couldn't buy a hit record. Sometimes it just boils down to the material being recorded and how the artist feels at the time of the recording. The key to recording on "semi-pro" equipment is simple... know the limitations of the equipment and don't exceed them. Today's semi-pro equipment is probably better than a lot of yesterday's top end equipment. Compare music production to real estate. The realtors say "location, location, location." The record producers should say, "material, material material!"

RP response: Thanks Barney. Great comment.

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Matthew Speno writes...

I feel that when it comes to the illegal downloading of music I have come to a moral compromise with myself. I as a musician and a supporter of all types of music find it completely fine to illegally download music. This is because I want to listen to as much music as possible and quite frankly i do not have the money to buy the amount of music i listen to. I also feel that this really isn't a slight to the artist simply because if i buy their album and love it I will most likely go to see them live where they make most of their money. I also feel that torrents and limewire are a great method of finding rare albums. Many places like iTunes and slowly dying record stores don't have a good amount of music people listen too and sometimes the only place to get this stuff is illegally. Not to say I never buy music. If it is a truly indie band or artist i will normally buy their album b/c they need it badly. Or if it is a band i have been a fan of I will always buy their record. But, in my opinion illegal downloads are somewhat of a necessary evil in the pursuit of new music.

In response to Readers' Letters: Do famous artists use studio tricks to enhance their voices?, and more..., Sködt writes...

I cannot even fathom why this is being discussed! Using AutoTune for anything other than dated stylistic embellishment is ridiculous! If your vocalist cannot sing, then they are not vocalists. Kindly suggest that they take lessons. If you do not think that you have any other choice, then it is your responsibility to SAY NO!!! Use the last 90 years of musik as your defense. You are personally responsible for the musik that you put out in the world. If you do not love musik enough to say no to this most heinous of crimes, you should not be in the industry. If you are responsible for contributing to the horde of Autotune crap that is frequenting the airwaves I will personally hunt you down and destroy your studio! If you are 'just trying to do your job and get paid' then go work at McDonalds and sell your McNuggets there, you losers!

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Marty 'H' writes...

I'm really glad you took some time out to write this article. The fact is that copyright exists to protect Major and Unsigned artists alike. We spend a great deal of time and money writing and recording and all dream of being able to make enough money from our music in the hope that one day we can do it full time. Copyright is of paramount importance to people like me and in any case, why should someone be allowed to steal something you've created and own or get it for free and then make money for themselves as you described? We all need to get this message accross whenever we can, so that people who do download illegally can appreciate the harm it does to the industry as a whole and to unsigned artists/singers and songwriters in particular, who have the right to benefit from their music and protect their work.

In response to Do computers give you a headache??, Calaveras writes...

I am a musician and audio engineer. But I make my bread and butter as an IT guy.

A couple of words about DAWs. It is not so necessary to have the fastest processor in your computer to do music. What are more important components are your hard drives and your ram. Pretty much every chip out there is more than fast enough these days(unless you are running Vista!) Make sure you get at least 1gb of ram, 2gb is better. And yes it is imperative that you have a 2nd hard drive. Regarding external drives, I have found the most stable configurations have the audio interface on one bus (USB for example) and the external drive on another (firewire).

Also, whatever audio interface and software you choose, get on the internet and find the associated online forums. Whatever problems you encounter, somone else has probably figured a work around. Just be sure to still make music and not spend all day online!

RP response: "Just be sure to still make music and not spend all day online!" - Wise words indeed.

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Mixmono writes...

While we're at it, lets abolish laws against shoplifting. I mean, if I can see it in plain sight and I have a bag handy, why shouldn't I just be able to have the MP3 Player on the store shelf. Nobody put time and money into producing it and delivering it to market.


In response to Q: What is a good order to follow in achieving a good balance of music and vocals?, Calaveras writes...

I never have a problem if I leave plenty of headroom for the track. I generally mix to -20 to -12 dBFS. Then if the vocal isn't sitting on top enough with some mild compression, I just goose the fader up 2-4dB and hey presto!

If you paint yourself into a corner by not leaving yourself any headroom than all you can do is turn down everything else by the same amount.

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Maurice Calloway writes...

This is a fascinating discussion.

I have some thoughts. First, This same issue has plagued the software industry much longer than the music industry. As a Microsoft Engineer by trade, we could learn of few things from them. This issue (Copyright Infringement or Violation) also has plagued the clothing industry for years, with overseas delivering millions of "Knock-Off" brands to the US each Year.

And when it comes to music, the issue is not much different that television. TV has always been open to people recording their shows on video and redistributing them for profit - called "bootlegged" movies.

So in the spirit of Copyright Infringement, the Medium of music (CDs, Vinyl, etc) are actually arriving to the party late. Others have been victimized by copyright violations for a much longer period of time.

So what's my point? We have to think beyond our illegal downloading thorn and think bigger. We never really had a way to control re-distribution of music. Even in the Vinyl days, you could record the record to Tape and make a copy of a tape - Remember Blank TDK's and Maxwell tapes?? Remember Double Cassette Decks? Well, the former and the latter were all tools to copy music.

I should note that the rate of re-redistribution was much slower with cassettes because of the time and cost to accomplish such. So this is isnt a new problem for artists and labels, just the same problem recast in the Digital age - where digital media and electronic transmission enables music to be re-distributed many thousands of times over for virtually no cost to the perpetrator.

But in Summary, I'll say music copyright viloations are not new, they're just being accomplished differently.

As I said initially, the digital media industry is facing this issue and we in the music industry should'nt go this alone and try to forego all our rights to our works without understanding what's going on in the other industries like software, video games, etc.

I wish I had more time and a coalition to sound off too... but your site will have to do for now!


M.L. Calloway Sr.

[Note from Audio Masterclass - The email address has been adapted to reduce the risk of harvesting by spam-bots. Replace "-at-" with the @ sign.]

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Mrdelurk writes...

I think the answer is neither copyright nor a lack of it. The answer is a different distribution system of all intellectual property, modeled on some public utility, e.g. city water.

As with city water, you'd have a mass user base, = low per person cost. As with water, users would pay the monthly bill and not bother with stealing, because, even if doable, it just wouldn't be worth the hassle. (Do you know anyone who steals water?)

Even better, unlike city water, here we could have a healthy market competition between intellectual property providers.

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Peter Morley writes...

Does copyright law benefit small independent musicians/producers/labels, like me?

Of course it's a no-brainer. Many of us would like to give away our music so that it may benefit others - and many of us do. But we also need to sell most of what we create just to try to make a living.

Last time I looked, my supermarket wasn't giving away groceries, and my landlord still isn't giving me free rent. Unfortunately in this world, we have to pay for everything. If we choose to create music for a living (a living?)... then we should should support the copyright laws as they stand.

Also, next time you are having a coffee in a cafe, or eating in a restaurant and you hear music playing in the background, ask the proprietor if they have a license the play that music. If not, in most countries at least, they are breaking the copyright laws and are ripping off some poor hard working independent artist. Usually they are unaware that the fine print on CDs about copyright has anything to do with them. They amume (wrongly) that they can buy a CD, bring it into their business and play it for their clientele. They are usually very surprised to find out that they are breaking the law.

Should we close our eyes and minds to this, just because this sort of practice is rampant? I say no, because someone has spent days, weeks, even months creating something very special... music is hard work, and selling it even harder. Do these cafe's and restaurant give away food? Answer: NO.

Keep on making great music... the world needs it. But realize its value, to you and the community.

Peter M. Morley

President / Producer / Composer

Energi Music

California. USA

In response to Microphone preamplifiers - can *YOU* hear the difference? (with audio), Anonymous writes...

To me #3 sounded the best (most expensive) and #2 sounded the most coloring (least expensive), with #1 being in between the two. I did not notice a major difference overall.

I listened to the files in a typical office environment with residual noise (AC in the background, 4 computers and 2 printers humming around me, etc.) In a car, where residual noise is 4 times as high as this, the difference would be even less.

In response to George Martin *was* the Beatles, WT writes...

George Martin *was* the Beatles??? I don't think so. A skilled arranger who had a complete grasp of Abbey Road's capabilities, yes. He happened to be the ideal producer for the Beatles because he could make whatever they heard in their heads a sonic reality and mix it all down on a 4 track.

Regarding the modulations in "Penny Lane": if a songwriter hears pure melody in his head and does not write it around an existing chord sequence it does not necessarily stay in the same key going from one section of a song to another. I wrote songs like that when I was in my early twenties and well before I had the musical training that I have now. I would simply write the melody down and let the chords follow wherever the melody went. The trick is not limiting it to chords one has already decided on. Not everyone can do that, but all evidence points to the fact that McCartney could. Did he get some help from his producer to navigate those key changes? Maybe, but look at what Brian Wilson was writing at the same time. Analyze "God Only Knows" if you want to see some sophisticated and seamless modulations.

I have a book that details all the recording sessions by the Beatles, and this is, by and large, how they worked: an idea for a melody, then writing the lyrics, then framing the melody in whatever way seemed most appropriate. George Martin could frame it in a way that no other producer could, but always in collaboration with whoever wrote the song. That was his gift.

He went on to produce a number of best selling albums by America. The fact that America's songs cannot compare with what the Beatles came up with can only confirm that it was the musical marriage between the Beatles and Martin that was so magical.

In response to GarageBand is killing music!, Mrdelurk writes...

I think loops are great. Like MIDI files, they let you learn from (and build on) the best talents in something, be that slap bass phrasing, female backup choir harmonizing, virtuoso piano lines, whatever, once you pry the files open. Sure, if you keep playing the same loop over and over, it's awfully boring. Knowing how to use loops to sound good takes some learning like any instrument wood.

People who hate loops because they make Joe Sixpack weekend amateur sound like a pro without musical training seem to be saying: I hate loops because I cannot use loops on any higher level than that Joe Sixpack weekend amateur does. Well, my heart goes out to you, but it's not the loops' fault, you know.

In response to The shocking truth about working in pro recording studios, Colossale writes...

Actually I think the studio manager needs to get his ass kicked 'till it bleeds'. I do realize the guy DID say something rather dumb, but this does NOT justify the manager's behaviour. Any serious person shouldn't have even bothered.

I really do not care about how life in the studio is like, i have NEVER, EVER seen anybody, not even a coal miner or a surgeon treating people like this, and i hope I never will.

Studio or not there ARE a few rules that teach us how to relate with other people, and they are UNIVERSALLY EXTENDING, and apply to astronauts, studio engineers, mechanics, chemists and carpenters alike.

Again, the studio manager & engineer should get their butts roundhouse kicked all the way down to hell.

P.S. Please excuse my awful english

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Dominic writes...

I think copyright laws should stay but be modified. Clearly the consumers, myself included, are trying to make a statement: we are tired of paying and to have been paying for music that sucks. No more buying albums on which there is only one song worth listening too... but you have to listen to the whole album to be able to determine if it's worth listening too...

As a musician, composer and performer, I feel that I should make enough money to make a living off of it and keep making more if people like my music.

Bottom line, there needs to be some change in the music industry if it is to survive. I don't pretend to have all the answers but as a music performer the place I like to be is performing on stage so I strongly beleive that albums should be released freely on the internet to promote the tours and not touring to promote albums.

I don't know how the music giants would feel about that though....

In response to Shock! - Coffee shop owners forced to PAY to play music for their customers, Ward writes...

Unfortunately some of this article has it's facts wrong. While I agree with owners having to pay license fees on recorded music, there are no laws (at least in canada) that say an shop/club owner has to pay "performance rights" for a song. Once a song is recorded and released it becomes public domain as far as performing the song live is concerned. Think about it, Bob Dylan doesn't pay the Beatles a "performance fee" if he plays a Beatles song at one of his concerts. As a musician I would quit playing if every time I wanted to play a cover song I'd have to account for it,,,,jeeesh think of the legal bullshit that would bring up, come on now.

RP response: With respect, the article has its facts correct. Songs do not become public domain for performance just because they have been recorded. SOCAN issues licences to perform music in Canada, and is legally entitled to do so. This applies whether or not the performance is live or recorded. To quote from SOCAN, "If you use music as part of your business or functions, you are a music user and require a SOCAN performing rights licence".

In response to Yes, apparently it is OK to cheat in your vocal recordings!, Kevin Cornwell writes...

It is a referendum on the 'state of the art' when folks, calling themselves musicians, use auto-tune or any other gizmo to pretend they are what they are not. I've noticed over the years that many people strive to be something that they are really not cut out to be. "I am a broadway dancer!", from the guy with a short leg. "I am a glamour model!", from the gal with a crooked nose and teeth. "I'm a writer!", from the one who will 'axe you a question'. This doesn't imply that these individuals can never achieve some level of their desire, but it will take serious work. I've seen more musicians 'make it' that had little talent and many who had disgusting amounts of talent fail. The little guy worked hard for years, while the disgusting guy rode the wave of his talent until he beached - then gave up. BUT to use gizmos to create the false impression to you and everyone else that you've achieved some holy grail will only eventually end up as pie in your face. What a crock! Forget the gizmos and get some training. Practice. Hard. Become something, rather than pretend something.

It's beyond my comprehension that anyone with the slightest grain of self-respect would record anything less than honest. You do it for money!? That's called prostitution. Look it up.

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Steve Smith writes...

I like Radiohead's idea of letting people pay what they think its worth, for me the reward for writing a song is the fun i have doing it and listerning back. I am not driven by money and find it just gets in the way of the creative process. It's good if you have someone to take care of that for you but I believe you can lose sight of a good subject for a song if you aren't living it.

In response to Do famous artists use studio tricks to enhance their voices?, Kevin Schroeder writes...

I'm somewhat ambivalent about "cheating" on audio tracks. Everyone has different strengths. Perhaps someone has a really good sounding voice but are often off just enough that it's noticeable. Other people, like myself, do a wide range of things from guitar, to MIDI, to orchestration to vocal recording. I enjoy doing it all. While I can sing I often need a little bit of correction.

And I think if music is truly about expressing yourself then having a little help isn't so bad, and I don't think that artists should have to make it known when they use some kind of tuning help.

In response to What is the difference between gain and level? A sound engineer should know..., Mitch writes...

Another gain and level difference is that your signal-to-noise ratio of the resulting signal changes differently.

When you use Gain the noise, that is present in the signal, will be boosted and therefor more noticeable.

You want the Level (the position of the faders) to be in a neutral state (0 dB) and put the Gain to a maximum value, but so that the incoming signal does not yet clip (no red lights).

Otherwise, if you increase the Gain and put the Level fader to a low position (cutting the signal immensily), certainly the resulting output signal have the maximim amount of noise. Which of course is bad.

I still see a lot people do this!

You should make sure that through your entire signal loop (full with Compressor, Effects, EQ, etc) the level of the signal is as loud as possible without clipping of course.

Because if your compressor first cuts the signal to a low level and then your EQ boosts the signal.. you end up introducing noise (your signal-to-noise ratio goes to waste)!

Which is bad.

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Montgomery Fox writes...

Copyright is under pressure. The album/single/demo format is no longer valid, and anyone can release a track themselves, to an international market.

Whereas before the labels were the artists interface with the public now the search engines are. They will become the new labels.

If you want to discover an artist it's likely you'll Google them. So somehow Google (with MCPS etc) count the hits to (artist name) with (track name) etc and assume that someone has listened to that track. They than pay a royalty to the artist. This cost is covered by search engines' advertising fees.

So effectively, before we sold CDs, now we sell links to our product.

In response to Microphone preamplifiers - can *YOU* hear the difference? (with audio), Jon-paUL JONES writes...

I laked A2 and B3 best, but if I had to guess I would say 1 is the most expensive because it varied the least

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Bart writes...

If anyone can loot music, software, movies over the net then it is a security breach. Who is responsible? Is it the resonsibility of record companies, gear manufacturers, the individual?

Do you want to get rich? Design and produce the piracy protection device that has no security breach and prevents Reverse Engineering as well. Could be part of any program, any file and is forever secure. Call it Fortress and sell it to those who are losing potential income thru widespread theft.

I think that this will happen and not too far from now. It has to.

In response to Piracy made legal - how will *you* benefit?, Brian writes...

Musicians should make their money from performing, not selling recordings. The distribution of an artists recording should be used to promote concert attendance not replace concert attendance. Otherwise you end up with musical groups who sound good using studio wizardry but in a real performance setting sound like crap. Also you end up with a smaller pool of musical acts reaching the public because of the high cost of promotion and distribution of recordings. Most people will only buy a $17 CD if they have seen the artist on MTV or heard them on the radio. If CDs cost a lot less or nothing people would be exposed to a larger variety of music, and fans would naturally gravitate toward the best musicians, not necessarily the ones being promoted by the big labels.

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