Show 117 – What’s an audio engineer? and more

This week we talk about the definition of “audio engineer” and in the Rapid Fire section we talk about processing 808 kicks; best mic for under $100 (that’s not a 57 or 58); and advertising to get new clients

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Fellow podcaster and friend Derek K Miller from Inside Home Recording passed away today. You can read his final message here:

Goodbye Derek

17 thoughts on “Show 117 – What’s an audio engineer? and more

  1. Free options for absorbing sound in your studio: anything you already own that absorbs sound – blankets, pillows, furniture, etc. You can make a room sound better just by cluttering it up (absorption and diffusion). I like bookshelves, plants and closets full of clothes with the door open. Some free stuff looks ghetto, granted. But you only need to worry about how it looks if you intend to record with clients. I don’t have any secret sauce, but I don’t think taming a room is best addressed by an overpriced, baffled piece of foam located where the mic is least sensitive.

  2. I guess I typed too casually but yes, Jon, I speak A-B as “A minus B”. Flip the phase to eliminate the center channel, just like you said.
    When I first came upon that trick for dissecting a mix was back in my audio school days, they were calling it a minus b.
    Anyway, sorry for being unclear!

  3. Jon and Ryan. I’m curious what it is you dislike about the AT 2020? I’ve heard it used fairly successfully IMO, but my experience is probably not as broad as yours.

    • I would say in its price range, it kicks the crap out of most of the competition. On the other side of that, inexpensive condenser mics generally tend to sound like inexpensive condenser mics. I was not happy with what they did to my voice and the off axis sound was less than desirable. I did not not extensive testing, but that was my initial impression.

  4. Years ago I was told that there are 3 learning paths into recording:
    1. Theory (book learning)
    2. Apprenticeship (being mentored)
    3. Hands-on Experience (actually doing the recording yourself)

    I think it is nearly impossible to learn with only one method. All 3 would be ideal. Of course you can’t really skip hands-on experience.

  5. Listened to the show and was going to essentially say what Randy said…

    Wikipedia has an interesting post on the origin of the term “engineer”: – originating as a term to label someone who builds, maintains and operates a machine.

    Personally, I think it’s a moot point. The term engineer has deviated so much from it’s original intent that, I don’t think anyone outside of “traditional” engineering (applied science) can successfully argue either way. You’ve got sanitation engineer, social engineer, relationship engineer(?)… it’s a label that is constantly being used loosely.

    With that in mind, unless there’s some sort of accreditation body or process to vet people, whether one labels oneself an “audio engineer” correctly or not is always going to be a matter of personal opinion and constant debate.

    Regarding the AT2020 – The only thing I use mine for is voice overs. It’s a solid mic and it’s very easy to use, but it behaves more like a dynamic than a condensor in my opinion.

    Cheers, Dave

  6. Regarding Randy’s comments about acoustic baffles used behind microphones: I tried the RealTraps PVB on an evaluation, and ended up buying it. I published audio samples comparing the PVB to (a) the empty room, (b) “Audimute” blankets draped over mic stands, and (c) Auralex Studiofoam. The PVB sounded great, and moreover I really appreciated its ease of setup and its non-ghetto look. Your mileage may vary, as might your budget, by which I mean: don’t be afraid to record vocals in a closet, if that’s all that’s available.

    The back end of a cardioid mic is indeed its null point, but as Professor Coppinger knows, most cardioid mics are only truly cardioid at 1kHz. Check out the polar graphs of the U87 Ai as an example.

    The size of such a baffle matters. A small panel placed behind the microphone is unlikely to make an audible difference. The PVB actually wraps around the microphone — it is a pair of 2×2-foot panels, hinged in the middle. Shape it into a narrow ‘V’ and put the microphone in the crotch.

    My test was flawed because the room was so big, and the mic should have been further back into the PVB, all of which goes to show that technique still matters, even with nice gear. But I continue to use the PVB when recording vocals or VO with a condenser mic, because the resulting tracks sound better than without. I even bring it with me for location work.

    Here’s the PVB audio test:

  7. Hey guys – great discussion on the Engineer title business. I found myself getting sucked down a rabbit hole of semantics, which I’ll try to untangle hereinafter.

    First, there’s the matter of role/title versus profession. Each recording has a set of roles filled by individuals. So, there could conceivably be the role of, say, “mastering engineer” or “mastered by” Master Plumber John Grumsclutch. Even if Mr. Grumsclutch does not consider his main occupation to be “audio engineering,” maybe he has enough intuitive ability – or luck – to fill that role on a recording.

    In my personal case, I’m a “Project Engineer” for the company I work for, but whatever my job title is, I always refer to myself as a Mechanical Engineer. That’s how I was schooled, what the main bulk of my work experience is, and what my PE license says.

    Next, you asserted that crafting a recording is not the same as designing a bridge, but is no less a form of engineering. But then you seem to struggle with whether, and in what form, to use some sort of accreditation for giving someone the right to use a title with the “E” word in it. So at first, you were losing me, as I thought you were going to go down the road of “Damn those snooty knobs from the engineering community and their ivory tower attitudes!!11!” But you drew me back in as the accreditation aspect came into the discussion.

    To the NSPE (National Society Of Professional Engineers), getting the legal authority to call oneself an engineer, as one’s personal profession, requires a minimum level of formal education, followed by a number of years of work in an engineering environment, and the passing of a couple of exams – somewhat like board exams of Docs and Lawyers.

    This whole process isn’t too different than what you were hashing out for the question of how one can consider one’s self an audio engineer. It could be a blend of formal education (from some industry group-accredited institution) and practical experience. Exams – I could take or leave them, to be honest. I think the main value of tests is what you get out of studying for them, in terms of refreshing any chops before getting the final certification.

    And in the engineering world in which my own day job is centered, there are examples of individuals who may have enough experience and general wherewithal that Management considers them to be, in terms of job title within the company, engineers. I suspect it’d be no different in the recording world – as you alluded to with examples of top people who’ve just done it on their own.

    So yeah. I think you’re on to something!

    Keep up the great and informative work on the show!

  8. So this is nitpicking. But…

    While *I* agree with pretty much everything said on the topic of audio engineering it is worth noting that capital E Engineers do not agree.

    They went to school (Uni), had a secret dinner, got a pewter ring (for their pinky fingers) etc. In some cases they have additional legal obligations under labour codes (the phrases like “dereliction of duty” and “professional miscondut” come up). They get to put P.Eng. after their names, etc. Some googling shows that in some places, like California, they are licensed.

    In a past life working for a large computer company as a software developer, titles using Engineer were changed as a direct result of pressure from the professional organizations. Further digging suggests that where I live it’s law:

    And here are some specifics on titles:

    Aren’t you glad you moved Jon? 🙂

    The AES doesn’t seem to be quite so fussy but even they (on paper) limit their membership to the properly accredited. The rest of us can only be associate members.

    And +1 on Randy’s comment.

  9. School has almost NOTHING to do with being a Recording Engineer.. If you check the industry, you will find the majority of Working Engineers, Professional Engineers, Studio Engineers get their schooling the only real way you can, by Mentoring with a professional.. Like most trades you MUST do this to properly learn the craft…. Dont waste 20k on a recording course when you can read the same info online or in books… Dont do it kids, cause your only compeating with the guys who think they have a studio because they bought an mbox at Guitar center and you will be FOREVER trying to pay off your student loan.. IMHO 🙂

  10. Hey Guys, I love the show.

    Think of it this way: If your garbage man of 25 years (Joe) retires and is suddenly replaced by a new garbage man (Tommy) who constantly leaves trash in the street and your cans in the street to get run over, I guess you have a right to say, “Joe was a master. Joe never made a mess of things. Tommy shouldn’t even call himself a garbage man!” Well guess what, Tommy IS a garbage man. He happens to suck at it.

    Likewise, it’s the same with audio engineers. I do not do audio to make my living, but when I record and mix my songs I am the engineer. And yeah, sometimes I listen and say, “I really should have called Joe.” But eventually, like Tommy will, I’ll get a clean throw from can to truck, and damnit, the cans will be upright and curbside.

  11. Guys,
    Love the show. This has nothing to do with this show but I didn’t know where else to put it. I have a question about ear care. I hear a lot about watching the decibel levels around you but what about care and cleaning. The Ear Nose and Throat doctor I go to has told me to put drops of peroxide in my ears every few days to keep wax soft and to keep from building up. But, after hearing the lady from H.E.A.R on your show talking about diet effecting your ability to hear I am concerned about the long term effects of peroxide in my ears. What methods do you guys use to maintain your ears?


  12. I know this goes way back, but in show #100 there was talk about placing a Shure “green bullet” mic under the snare drum. I am going to be tracking a drum session soon and was thinking about trying this out. I was wondering if anyone has tried this, as I’m curious how to go about mounting the mic. The current model 520DX does not have any way to mount to a stand. Any thoughts?

    As always I love the show guys! F98’s forever!

  13. Beating a dead horse here but… I went to College in the 90s at U Mass Lowell starting at the College of Music as a performer and ending up with a degree from the College of Management. Several of my good friends made it through their highly acclaimed and grueling Sound Recording Technology program which included a lot of actual University engineering requirements. They left with a profound understanding of circuitry, signal chains, the science of sound, the history of recording etc… I operate a small studio today and we get professional results, but I just can’t label myself an “engineer” in good conscience. I much prefer Mixerman’s terminology, “recordist” and “mixer”.

  14. About the term producer and hiphop. My theory is that crossover between producer and beatmaker happen early in hiphop, at that time, in most cases, the beatmaker was in most cases the producer as well as the AE, since most of the time they where the only guy knowing how it worked. Many of the early groups where started by the beatmaker, as is the case with wu-tang. I always use the term beatmaker or the compromise hiphop producer.

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