In this module, you’ll be introduced to techniques for identifying instruments, sound sources, and vocal timbres (e.g., guitar, bass, synths, lead vocal, background vocal, etc.) in recordings, how to isolate and place them in perceived space, and how to become more precise in the language you use to describe recorded sounds. We’re beginning this course with a project in recording analysis because critical listening is 90% of the day to day work of a music producer or audio engineer. Through isolating and describing timbres and positioning them in perceived space, you’ll better be able to work with these concepts in your own tracks, no matter what genres you work within and across.
We've divided this module into 4 sections:
- A. Project: Listening for timbre and space in Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer
- B. Video: Alex Case: Listening for timbre and space in recorded music
- C. Project: Analyze your favorite tune and share it with your Crew and the PWYM community
- D. Further Resources
This module ends with you creating a PWYM Perceived Space Graph for a section of a musical recording you love. We encourage you to find other PWYM participants (your crew!) to share your graph, and to give feedback to others on their graphs.
Diving deeper into the musicians and sound sources
PWYM co-creator Ethan Hein will demonstrate the process of listening to and analyzing music recordings. In these videos, Ethan will walk you through our approach to listening critically for timbre and space within Peter Gabriel's song "Sledgehammer" starting first with listening for timbres, then graphing them in perceived space.
Graphing timbres in perceived space
To create a perceived space graph of your song, you need to figure out where all of the sound sources are located in the perceived space of the recording. Are they on the right, left or center? Are they in a specific location or spread across a range of the stereo image space? Do they sound like they are right in front of you, in the middle distance or very far away? And do any of the sounds change location over the course of the song?
Here is a completed perceived space graph for "Sledgehammer" that we created as a reference for you. You may hear things differently, which is why we call this a perceived space graph. We are using a Google Charts template to make it easy for you later in Project 2 of this module to share, edit and collaborate on your graphs with other PWYM course participants.
A quick recap of our analysis process:
- Listen and identify each timbre/separate sound source that you can hear
- Listen for where you hear each sound left to right
- Listen for where you hear each sound front to back
- Listen for whether each sound seems to surround you (wide) or come from a specific location (narrow)
Our approach is based on strategies for critical listening and analysis from William Moylan's Understanding and Crafting the Mix: The Art of Record Production if you are interested in learning directly from the source!
Exploring these ideas through other music
In PWYM 1.0, Bradford Swanson introduced these concepts through the music of Clara Berry and Wooldog, a singer/songwriter duo out of Kennebunk, Maine. If you'd like to approach this through that music, see the following videos: