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Inside the Studio: Is seeing really believing?

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I often get asked about the difference between analogue and digital or working ‘in the box’ opposed to using external signal processing.

For those of you without any background in music production ‘in the box’ means doing all of your editing with a piece of software, otherwise known as a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that is installed on your computer instead of using external analogue gear.

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There seems to be a common misconception that analogue sounds better than digital but the fact is that you can get great sound out of both and the main difference between the two is in the workflow.

When you produce music on a digital system (i.e a laptop with Logic installed on it) your decisions are heavily influenced by the visual feedbacks your software is showing on the screen.

These visual feedbacks can sometimes trick you in to thinking that you are hearing changes in the material when in fact nothing has changed. One example that I’ve experienced a few times is hearing a specific channel (piano for example) getting louder whilst moving a fader up or down and later realising that I’ve been moving the wrong fader and the signal I was monitoring did not change at all!

This mind trick is related to the McGurk effect which demonstrates the interaction between hearing and vision and how our brain can misinterpret visual feedback into sound that doesn’t really exist, you can watch this video to understand more about the McGurk effect:

Working with analogue gear is very different.  For starters, because there is often no screen you have to listen for changes instead of relying on visual feedback.

Another difference is the comfort element – on an analogue system every parameter has its own physical knob which you can fine tune using your fingers, which personally I find  much more comfortable than using a mouse.

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It is clear that modern technology keeps making the process of music production easier and more affordable. With the use of recently developed audio apps, musicians and engineers don’t even need to use their ears in order tune their instruments, kill feedback loops coming out of a PA system or even decide on where to position the microphones when recording.

One has to ask the question whether these new methods of music production come at a price? In my opinion these new technological twists take the focus away from using your ears and hinder the development of the listening skills that are crucial for anyone interested in having a career in music production.

To summarise, there is really no problem with the sound of modern digital systems, but only with the way people are using and relying on them to make music.

In my opinion making music is much more fun and natural with a hands-on approach that allows you to really listen without staring at a screen and insisting on getting everything  ‘just right’. Sometimes what is right on screen, isn’t what sounds right.

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Guest post by: Idan Altman – Owner of Altman Audio Services – Visit their:

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Founder & General Manager

Manager and Co-Editor of @holdupmedia. I'm constantly trying to break up with my computer but never quite succeed. Feel free to get in touch with me at jack@holdupnow.com for any coverage requests, collaboration ideas or anything else you fancy.

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