Recording by Ear, part 4: Reassurance

Whether in studio or concert-hall, recording involves an engineer and audio equipment; and it’s reassuring to know that we needn’t be intimidated by them, for we already have the tools for making independent judgments in this field: our ears! We judge an engineer by listening to his or her recordings, and judge the recordings by listening to the sound as though it were live.

Live music has beauty: it draws you in, instead of putting you off. It has individuality, in each player’s sound. It combines delicacy and power. All your life, you’ve been using your ears to create these qualities in your playing. What could be more natural than to use the same ears to judge the same qualities in recording?

So! To evaluate an engineer’s work, listen to his or her recordings, played on good equipment. Eyes closed, ask yourself, “If the live sound were in front of me, is this what I’d hear? Could I use this sound to say how to improve the performance? Does the sound draw me in, or does it put me off? Can I identify the players by their individual sounds?” Now you’re listening objectively, and you’re in a position to choose an engineer.

Having chosen your engineer, now work with him or her to choose the equipment for recording you or your group. Comparisons focus perception, so try two different microphones or two different microphone positions, remembering always to judge the sound as though it were live. This experimentation is fascinating and fun, and can cement a fruitful and mutually respectful relationship between artist and engineer.

Now you’re ready to record! But if you want a bit more info before starting, read the section called “Recording Equipment” in my book To Hear Ourselves As Others Hear Us. (See Books tab at top. For more on my background, see Bio tab.)

Here are examples of recordings made as I describe:

Beethoven Bagatelle, Op. 33/7


Prokofiev Sixth Sonata: Finale


Bach Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue, BWV 903


Weber Grand Duo Concertante, 3d mvmt.


Debussy “Reflets dans l’Eau”


Thanks to: Margaret Thornhill, Doug Sax, Ariadne Greif, Katherine Growdon, Alexander Zeyliger, David Hattner, Carol Boyk, Sophia Gilmson, Don Allen, Natalie Khatibzadeh. All errors the responsibility of the author.  

Copyright © James Boyk 2013. All rights reserved.
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