Music touches every person in this world in a big way and the society as a whole is influenced by it. Music, as we hear it today, has evolved during the last 100 years due to advancements made in technology and production techniques. These techniques have helped to present music in its purest form for the benefit of music lovers and as technology progresses, these techniques are expected to become more refined, thereby delivering an even better quality of music to the audience. This paper will explore the history, working and influence of two of the production techniques, namely, mixing and equalization.
Music is an integral part of our society today and we cannot imagine a world without music. This music, as we know today, has been influenced by numerous techniques, sound engineering principles and technology. Many techniques like mixing, equalization and mastering have a profound influence on music and it has positively altered the way humans perceive it today. This paper will focus on two techniques that have transformed music in every sense to the audience, recording artists and sound engineers and these two techniques are mixing and equalization.
Mixing is the process by which different recorded music is combined together into two or more channels. It has been defined by Izhaki (2009, p.4) as, "A basic definition of mixing is a process in which multitrack material -- whether recorded, sampled or synthesized -- is balanced, treated and combined into a multichannel format, most commonly two-channel stereo. But in addition to that -- and more importantly -- a mix is a sonic presentation of emotions, creative ideas and performance."
From the above definition, we can infer that mixing is not only about manipulating the effects of the music, but also adding emotions that can enhance its quality. The idea behind mixing is to produce or enhance the existing music to make it more appealing to listeners.
The evolution of mixing can be traced back to the 1960s when the eight track tape recorders were introduced. This provided an opportunity for people to record sound on different channels and treat them at a later point so that it sounds best. It gained more popularity when Bruce Springsteen released the album Nebraska in 1980s. Also, the role of a mix engineer began to take shape and the importance of this role was understood by the producers and artists.
One of the first mix engineers who had a prominent place in the industry was Andy Wallace who shot to fame for the mixing of the album Nevermind by Nirvana. In fact, many producers and fans believe that the fly away success of Nirvana was due to the brilliance of this sound engineer (Izhaki, 2009). Since then, mixing engineers play a vital role in every album and the record companies pay a hefty amount of money to the right mixing engineers.
How it works?
The primary equipment required for mixing is the mixing console. It is an electronic device that has controls for different aspects of music so that the mix engineer can work on the different signals to produce the right effects. Most mixers allow the use of analog and digital signals as inputs and provides a unified output as desired by the engineer. The mixing console has numerous processors for performing various tasks such as fading, equalizing, panning, reverbs and delays (Sommers and Steiner, 2003). Using these different controls, the mix engineer can change the effect of songs and also enhance its quality for a better listening experience.
Mixing can also be done with the help of mixing software. In this case, the mixing is done on the screen and the mix engineer can control the different aspects of the song. The final output can be recorded on a CD or transferred to an external storage device. The best part about the software is that it is less space-consuming and the mix engineers can work from home without the need to travel to a recording studio everyday.
Influence on music genres
Mixing changed the way we listen to music. It led to the rise of CDs and contributed to a large extent to the decline of audio cassettes. The superior quality of sound coupled with the elimination of background noise made it perfect for music lovers. It was applied across all genres of music including the classical ones. Many digital music companies began to record the monophonic classic albums on CD and the sound quality was better than the original one. This led to a surge in the popularity of classical music among novice music lovers and the younger generation and this contributed in a big way to the continued existence of classical music albums.
Equalization or EQ is the process of boosting or reducing the strength of the frequencies of different audio signals to produce a better effect. It is also used to correct the signals that do not sound right to the human ear and to eliminate unwanted noise in the recording. Bazil (2009, p.1) has defined EQ as, "A dynamic process which uses filters to alter the balance of frequencies in a sound. This is achieved by using a number of filter circuits which apply positive or negative gain to selected frequency ranges. The positive gain is referred to as 'boost' and the negative gain is referred to as 'cut'."
The most fundamental EQ process that everyone is familiar with is the adjusting the volume, bass and treble in home speakers to produce a sound that is pleasing to the ears. At the professional level, EQ is about fine-tuning narrower frequencies as well without affecting the other frequencies in any way.
EQ helps to correct the problems that can occur as a result of bad acoustics in the recording room and to enhance the presence of one or more instruments for brief periods during the sound recording.
EQ has always been present in audio equipment and a good example would be the bass and treble controls that most music lovers are familiar with. As technology and sound engineering evolved, it became a necessity to have an instrument that made it possible for engineers to control every frequency and this led to the creation of graphic equalizers. The first equalizer was the Langevin Model EQ-251 A that made its appearance in the 1960s. The parallel development of R-C filters during the same period led to the creation of equalizers that could control more than one frequency without affecting the neighboring ones (Bohn, 1997). Since then, it had developed steadily and during 1990s and 2000s, it got a further boost with the advancements made in the field of Digital Signal processing (DSP).
How it works?
Many types of equalization are used in sound recording. In the shelving EQ, all frequencies that are more or less than a central point is boosted and this creates two or more "shelves" in the frequencies. This is why its called shelving equalization. The next kind is the Bell equalization in which frequencies around a certain point are boosted and this results in more attenuation among certain frequencies while the ones that are farthest from it are least affected thereby creating a bell. The Parametric EQ is Bell equalization with more controls for frequencies so that the sound engineer can change almost everything.
Lastly, the most popular kind of EQ is the Graphic EQ. In this kind, there are separate sliders for each frequency and the sound engineer has the maximum control over every frequency. Each slider in the equalizer has a filter and this allows only certain sounds to pass through. This helps to reduce background noise and acoustics problems to a considerable extent. When a slider is moved up, it allows all sounds below that threshold point on the chosen frequency and this makes it easy for the sound engineer to experiment with different frequencies with a lot of ease (Atkinson, Overton and Cavagin, 1995).
Digital graphic equalizers create a digital image and the sound engineer can make the necessary changes based on the amplitude that is visible on the screen. This makes it easier to operate and is a lot more effective when compared to older analog equalizers.
Influence on music genres
EQ has contributed significantly to the way we hear and perceive music today. Its influence is spread across all genres and it plays a big role in making music sound original and noise-free. Its impact has been profound in live performance recordings because many engineers would want to record the energy and enthusiasm that performers have on stage. Prior to the development of EQ, this posed a big challenge to sound engineers because they had no means to eliminate the background noise and boost the singers' instruments and vocals. EQ has helped to overcome these problems and today, live performances are recorded…