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In The Studio: Bruce Swedien On Developing Your Own “Sonic Personality”
Insight on finding a benchmark for our mind’s ear that has as its basic component true “reality” in sound
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Once we know what music sounds like in a natural setting with good-quality acoustical support, we can then take that “audio benchmark,” and through our work, give our sonic images our own distinctly personal touch.

An engineer’s or producer’s listening ability does not descend on him in a single flash of inspiration. It is built up by countless, individual listening experiences. So let’s make a real effort to hear the music and sound with as open a mind as possible.

One of our most important abilities as a professional listener is judging balance. So let’s consider balance as the first thing to listen for today. The balance of an orchestra’s instruments in classical music is the sole responsibility of the conductor.

In our work of recording music, that responsibility is transferred to us. It doesn’t matter whether the orchestra is acoustical instruments or the orchestra is represented by a synthesizer. We must be able to judge balance.

Over a long period of time, if we have the native ability, we will develop a seemingly uncanny sense of hearing nuances of balance and sound that would pass unnoticed by the inexperienced.

This ability seems to be acquired almost by osmosis through thousands of seemingly insignificant listening experiences. This random approach is effective and vital.

The antithesis of balance is imbalance. When you are at a concert listening to good music in a good acoustical situation, listen for any imbalances that might be there. Think about your spontaneous reactions later.

When you are at a concert, ask for very good seats. That way, you should be able to judge balance and many other elements with a certain amount of accuracy. Listen for spectral balance. In other words, how well balanced is the frequency spectrum of the orchestra in that specific acoustic setting?

See how your ears and psyche react to the overall volume level of the orchestra, particularly at fff (extremely loud) dynamic levels. How does the orchestra sound at ppp (extremely quiet) dynamic levels?

Make sure that you have a good working knowledge of the different levels of musical dynamics and learn how they are expressed in musical terms. This will help you later on when you discuss these very important values with the musicians and composers that you will be working with.

Here are some important aspects of sonic values to listen for when you are listening to good music in a good acoustical situation:
—Listen for early reflections in the acoustical support of the hall. Listen for the reverb quality of that specific room.
—Listen for reverb spectrum.
—Listen for the amount of reverb that you perceive in relation to the direct sound of the orchestra – in other words, reverb balance.

Let’s Talk A Bit About Reverberation And Echo
Most of the time, we are unaware of how much of the sound that we hear comes from reflections from environmental surfaces.

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