Week 1: The Art of Detail

This past week was my first week at my internship. I spent Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday working with producer and engineer Daniel Naiman during his home sessions.

On Tuesday when I first came in, he was putting the final touches on a track an artist had sent him and asked him to polish up. When doing this, sound engineers go through a process called mixing and mastering, which involves taking an artist’s vocals and the music and adjusting different parts of the sound to make it more listenable on the radio and such. While this may sound relatively simple, it is one of the most important parts of producing a song for professional musicians. It also requires a highly skilled ear and a knowledge and understanding of how sounds are constructed on a fundamental level. To do this, we had to listen through the track repeatedly, and spent at least an hour going between the studio room and his outdoor shed, testing the mix on different speakers to see what it would sound like in a real life setting, and then going back to re-adjust any flaws we heard. Finally he decided the mix was satisfactory and saved the final cut on his computer. It had already been a busy day.

Daniel then gave me an overview of the music process and what his job was as an engineer. His house was filled with old tech, monitors, and systems. He told me how the growth of commercial music originated all with the introduction of a simple tool: the amplifier. Because amplifiers made it possible for music to be heard by a greater number of people, music gradually transitioned from being a small-scale, intimate practice to a large-scale, performance-oriented entertainment form.

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Old School Amplifier

As tech advanced further and digital recording came along, people were soon able to capture an artist’s voice and mass-produce it for millions of eager listeners. This is how the music business began. Daniel told me he had started as an independent artist himself, and had expanded his areas of profession as he got older to accommodate his changing lifestyle. He now works from his home, chooses his own hours, and still makes enough to support a family and live relatively comfortably. He told me that as a musician I’d have to choose my own path and figure out what works best for me, but having knowledge about different aspects of music would only give me a better understanding of the detail of the craft, so I sat down and watched as he continued to set up and explain the systems.

At the end of the day, he had to get equipment ready for an artist named Chris coming in the next day. Since he was getting paid by this guy, everything had to be prepared in advance to not waste time. He had me go over to the booth area and help test the mic. Once he had the levels set and the session set up, we called it a day, and I headed off.

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Testing the Mic

The rest of the week he was working with Chris, a tall curly-haired guy with dozens of sheets of songs in hand. Daniel pulled up some of the recordings they had worked on on his computer. They talked for awhile and exchanged ideas about potential production styles on each track. Then Daniel went down to his shed and got a live synthesizer where they started experimenting with sounds over Chris’ vocals and guitar.

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Working with Chris

They tried some thick grungy sounds and some spacey sounds that vaguely reminded Chris of David Bowie. I chimed in and suggested a lighter sound to balance out the existing bass in the song like a flute or string. They discussed this idea too, and tried some things with that, until Chris got an idea and decided to put harmonizing vocals in the background of the chorus with a slow, faint drum kick underneath. Daniel made him a new draft and they went through some other songs until the day was over.

The next day before Chris came in, I was also able to show Daniel some of my own tracks. He said my stuff was pretty good but suggested a dynamic mic instead of the compressor I currently use for a warmer sound with less detail. He gave me a few other technical suggestions but encouraged me to keep working and making new songs overall. During the week, even as a producer I was introduced a lot of things I wasn’t too familiar with, but I’m hoping with this internship I can learn more about these things and become more educated about the music process in general too. Pretty sure I’ll be doing some reading on all this stuff soon.

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Daniel’s Record Player and Vinyl Collection

 

 

 

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