Main indexether.netPhotosFunContact
TransmittersTeletextMHPTBSAstrohosts

A GLOSSARY OF RECORDING TERMINOLOGY
First published in Studio Sound magazine, April 1983.

"It is only fair to point out that some of these definitions are not entirely original, although some of them include a fairly high proportion of innovation. The original idea started from Brian Southall's glossary in his excellent Abbey Road book, the definitions therein being sensible, rather than these, which are silly. Another influence was the 1983 D.E.A.F. Diary, which is also to be recommended. As several of the definitions in the latter source were apparently culled from other publications, as yet unknown, only a few of them have been stolen, and they have been massively misquoted and distorted." 

MICROPHONE An acoustic-to-electrical transducer designed to be placed inside a musical instrument to examine its distortion characteristics. Originally designed to pick up musical sounds from a safe distance.
VOCAL MIC A microphone designed for internal use only, available on prescription.
MASTER The second best performance of a musical or other recording, and the one used for the eventual record or other product, the best having not been recorded or having terminal recording faults (e.g. no signal on track 3, a nasty fizzing on track 10, an edit in the wrong place, etc.)
MONO Single channel reproduction (monophonic)
2-TRACK MONO A form of monophonic system in which different elements of the sound are positioned in a line between two speakers by means of pan-pots, resulting in no apparent 'depth'. developed to facilitate the use of expensive echo plates, digital reverb units and other signal processors which would otherwise be unjustifiable capital investments.
STEREO (1) An archaic method of recording in which two microphones were placed a safe distance away from the musicians.
STEREO (2) 2-track mono.
QUAD or QUADROPHONY (1) 2-track mono, twice (4-track mono)
QUAD or QUADROPHONY (2) A now little-used method of reproduction based on three false premises:
  1. That four totally dissimilar signals could be made to sound like a real soundfield
  2. That these four channels could be mixed into 2-track mono and then changed back into four totally dissimilar channels by obscure mathematical means which were both theoretically and practically impossible
  3. That a sensible name for something could be created for something by mixing Greek and Latin words.
NOISE REDUCTION A signal processing system designed to stop noise and other musical sounds getting on to or off tape without being altered in a random or otherwise difficult-to-predict fashion (see also EQUALISER, LIMITER, etc.)
MICROGROOVE RECORD (1) A test pressing which causes the replay stylus to jump because it has been cut at - Record 25dB with very narrow groove spacing to get 62 minutes on one side, but otherwise suffers from virtually no production faults such as warping, eccentricity, surface noise etc.
MICROGROOVE RECORD (2) A production record bought by a member of the public in a record shop, which causes the replay stylus to jump because of the above faults.
RECORD SHOP A retail source of low quality copies of musical and other recordings and recording raw materials (e.g. blank tape), destined for domestic disc-to-tape transfer suites.
MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC Owner of a domestic disc-to-tape transfer suite.
TEST PRESSING One of the few initial records which are manufactured to assure the record company that the cut is OK. As they have no relation in sound quality to production copies they are not played to artists, engineers etc. who might consider criticising them. If artists etc. do criticise, the fact that the production copies will be different is pointed out in a manner almost indistinguishable from the truth.
FLOPPY DISC An American test pressing that has been inadvertently left on the coffee machine overnight
MUTING (1) A method of switching off a console channel inadvertently at any time, but not allowing it to be switched on again. Primarily used by producers leaning across to talk to the engineer just at the start of the guitar solo. You could switch it on again if you knew which one it was.
MUTING (2) A button which produces a loud bang when pressed.
PROGRAMMABLE MUTING A form of MUTING which may be preset to switch off a vast number of console channels at once, inadvertently.
TOP Frequencies on a recording that cannot be transferred to disc. In digital recording frequencies that still cannot be transferred to disc.
FADERS Linear level control devices which allow the sound level to be adjusted so that the meters read in the red, and permit the addition of pops and crackles to simulate the sound of the final pressing. Some model also provide liquid collection facilities to prevent beverages from dripping onto the knees of recording personnel.
EQUALISER A sophisticated tone control which allows the engineer to correct the problems created by using MICROPHONES and other methods of applying audio signals to the console and to alter the sound so that it differs from the sound of the instrument or other source as much as possible. It is usual to equalise one channel first, as an experiment, to ensure that all the other channels will also need modification.
GRAPHIC EQUALISER A special type of EQUALISER which is too big to go in the console. It has many FADERS which enable assistant engineers to create picturesque curves (graphics) for advertising brochure photo sessions. It may also be used to 'cancel out' or otherwise enhance, poor acoustic design in the control room by placing several in the monitor chain and adjusting the faders so that they are as far away from zero as possible.
CONSOLE EQ A form of EQUALISER built into the console channels which enables the recording engineer to create a frequency contour which it is almost impossible for the mix engineer to cancel out.
PARAMETRIC EQ (1) A form of EQUALISER which it is totally impossible for the remix engineer to cancel out.
PARAMETRIC EQ (2) An especially complex form of equaliser which it is impossible to adjust without listening to the signal. If this is done the knobs will be found to be finally pointing at 'flat' or in a position indistinguishable from 'bypass'.
C.C.I.R. CHARACTERISTIC A RECORDING CHARACTERISTIC adopted by US and UK recording studios which cannot get their monitoring to sound right, and by European broadcasters who can't be bothered anyway.
N.A.B. CHARACTERISTIC A RECORDING CHARACTERISTIC
  1. Designed to make American recordings sound better than European ones by enhancing the level at 50Hz mains frequency
  2. Adopted by European studios which cannot get their monitoring right either
RECORDING CHARACTERISTIC A set of defined parameters laid down by groups or individuals with as little connection with the recording industry as possible, designed to restrict the recording capability of tape machines so as not to threaten live broadcasting. By definition, all recording characteristics are designed to optimise performance of tape types which were removed from the market 25 years ago. If they were invented recently, and no- one can agree on them they are called standards.
LIMITER A signal processor which prevents loud noises from exceeding a certain level and amplifies quiet signals to a certain, higher level. Cutting engineers like them because they can go for a drink during a cut.
COMPRESSOR A limiter which doesn't work. Instead of preventing loud noises from exceeding a preset level, it just turns them don a bit, according to the ratio set on the front panel. This is usually calibrated from 1:1 (i.e. it doesn't work at all) to n:1 where n isn't very much, but less than infinity (i.e. doesn't work very well). It also adds a lot of noise, 'breathing' and other things which producers like on their records to enable them to blame engineers when it isn't a hit.
EXPANDER  A signal processor which increases the level of noise and other loud signals to infinity and leaves other signals below a certain threshold alone. An expander is thus a kind of inverse limiter which also doesn't work very well.
STANDARDS  A set of often sensible suggestions and agreements on a certain subject argued out over a long period of time by manufacturers and experts all over the world so as to form the basis of anti-trust litigation. The theory is that Murphy's Law of Technological Standardisation states that "Any standard will be superseded technically after a period of time inversely proportional to the time taken to agree to it". This is usually shortened to "Standards are international agreements which are already out-of-date". (See also RECORDING CHARACTERISTICS)
(In other words, standards are really good, that's why we have so many of them - MB)
CLASSICAL Music which is beautifully recorded but nobody buys
POPULAR The opposite of CLASSICAL
M.O.R. Music which is neither CLASSICAL nor POPULAR but combines the negative characteristics of both.
A.O.R. POPULAR music of a style that everyone bought ten years ago (See GOLDEN OLDIES)
GOLDEN OLDIES Music which would have been called A.O.R. ten years ago.
AUTOMATED MIX-DOWN Computer system which enables you to have extended breaks during mixing sessions while Maintenance fix it.
MAINTENANCE ENGINEER Someone employed by a studio because of their extensive knowledge of manufacturers' telephone numbers.
MANUFACTURERS' MAINTENANCE DEPARTMENT A group of MAINTENANCE ENGINEERS employed by a manufacturer. They don't know either, but the only person they can telephone is you.
WORKSHOP The only place in the studio complex where
  1. anyone does any work
  2. you can get a cup of tea without doing it yourself
  3. you can sit down quietly and see if any of your records are getting any airplay
POT Type of FADER used to enhance the awareness of studio staff. Has the advantage of raising the subjective quality of good recordings to infinite levels whilst reducing their negative aspects to zero; in other words it does what a LIMITER ought to do if it worked. A mental amplifier.
COKE Type of mental amplifier used by some automobile manufacturers. Operates in the same kind of way as POT on studio personnel, enhancing awareness, but with the reverse results. It is thus known as a type of EXPANDER.
L.S.D. Used to pay engineers for late sessions before the advent of decimal coinage. Now replaced by COKE. Rumours of a return to the Mescaline standard might be true if there ever really was any.
TAPE  Rusty plastic used to store engineers' mistakes.
MASTER TAPE Tape containing one take of each song, which is neither the best performance nor the Master. Also known as the Master Reel.
OUT-TAKES Reel containing the MASTERS, if they haven't been edited out and thrown away, hidden amongst other versions of the song which also aren't indicated on the box label, which refers to another reel. Murphy's 14th Law of Recording states that 'Masters are always on an out-takes reel unless you look there first'.
AMPLIFIER A device which takes a signal as its input and delivers distortion and noise as its output, generally associated with other modifications of the signal.
MONITORING AMPLIFIER A type of amplifier in which the output is louder than the input and therefore correspondingly more noisy and distorted.
MONITORING LEVEL A studio listening volume level sufficient to drive the engineer out of the control room. This is equivalent to the producer's threshold of hearing. After the labelling at the top of the control room monitoring knob this level is referred to as 'zero'.
SIGNAL PROCESSOR Any type of amplifier in which certain distortion elements may be added as desired, or at random, with a corresponding increase in noise.
DIRECT INJECTION (D.I.) BOX (1) A type of FADER used in conjunction with certain types of mental amplifiers (see POT, COKE etc.)
DIRECT INJECTION (D.I.) BOX (2) 5.00 worth of components in 25.00 worth of box used instead of a MICROPHONE.
TAPE HEAD (1) The end of the reel with red leader or no leader at all. (TAIL is thus the other end.)
TAPE HEAD (2) Device used in a TAPE RECORDER to impede the passage of signals to and from the tape.
IMPEDANCE The amount of signal lost when passing through any studio equipment.
ERASE HEAD A TAPE HEAD with infinite IMPEDANCE.
RECORD HEAD A high-impedance TAPE HEAD designed to minimise the signal level being recorded.
SYNC HEAD (1) A RECORD HEAD connected up backwards by a MAINTENANCE ENGINEER
SYNC HEAD (2) A TAPE HEAD which plays back out of synchronisation with all the other tracks and increases the probability of a re-take of the guitar solo (see MASTER)
PLAYBACK HEAD A type of SYNC HEAD which produces a greater level of hum
HUM A low frequency signal produced by all studio and musical equipment which will not go away. Hum frequency is automatically optimised to coincide with the LF 'hump' in a recording characteristic.
HUM LOOP A type of hum which gets worse when you try to reduce it.
R.F.I. (RADIO FREQUENCY INTERFERENCE) The ability of all studio equipment to amplify, without noise or distortion, a signal outside the audio band, whilst simultaneously decoding any information on such a signal and raising it to +13dBm. Such modulation generally includes the words "Breaker, breaker" or "Romeo one-seven to control, P.O.B. at Bloggs Studios" and will be noted just before the fade during the master take.
TAPE RECORDER An expensive device used in modern studios to allow, simultaneously, the replacement of good recordings by progressively worse ones (see OVERDUBS); the recording of different signals many times when one would have been better; the addition of noise and distortion to mask record pressing faults and to confuse reviewers of allegedly Digital recordings; the loss of the best elements of recording sessions (see MASTERS) and the production of short, unexpected periods of total silence and following hysteria when the 'record' button is pressed during overdubs.
OVERDUBBING, OVERDUBS The process of replacing an excellent recording with progressively lower quality Overdubs attempts
24-TRACK A recording process in which progressive OVERDUBS may be stored instead of being erased (except for the best one), so that the worst attempt can be selected on the mix or constructed out of a minimum of 14 separate and unrelated attempts at a later date, when there are no tracks left.
ECHO (1) A type of reverb produced by a machine
ECHO (2) The addition of noise and distortion to justify the selection of a particularly bad overdub when better attempts have been erased
ECHO (3) A method of masking problems that would normally be dealt with by vibrato.
REVERB The intended sound of a room which studio designers and engineers do their best to avoid encroaching on the recording process (if they fail, designers strive to make it as boring or as nasty as possible). This enables engineers to add it again with expensive signal processors (see 2-TRACK MONO).
VIBRATO Cyclic or otherwise variations in pitch designed to overcome tuning problems
PITCH-SHIFTER SIGNAL PROCESSOR designed to produce VIBRATO to apply to recordings of instruments where it was not provided by the musician. Also used to attempt to correct pitching problems by altering the pitch so that all the notes except one are out of tune, the reverse being previously the case.
TREMOLO (1) Guitarist's name for VIBRATO
TREMOLO (2) Amplitude-modulation effect produced by moving a FADER up and down very rapidly to attempt to clear the cause of the problem that ruined the previous take (see MASTER).
DIGITAL, DIGITAL RECORDING A system designed to enhance almost infinitely the already prodigious ability of consumer is to have access to equipment which is capable of far better results than that in the recording studio

Back to Serendipity index


mb21 by Mike Brown
Hosted by Astrohosts

Top