Need to know what an abbreviation stands for? Don’t worry! Make That Louder, your new favorite audio e-magazine, is here to help! And before we go any deeper, XLR stands for External Line Return. Weird, I know.
This is a living document, so more terms will be added over time!
Acoustic treatment: Panels made from foam, fiberglass, wood, or really any material that help cut down on reflections in a room, reducing echo and improving the acoustics. You’ll often see tons of this on the walls of a movie theater, but none in your bathroom (hopefully that helps you recognize the difference between a treated and untreated room)! Learn more here!
ADR: Automated Dialogue Replacement. This is the process of replacing the dialogue in a piece of film with a voice-over recorded in a studio. ADR is a way that some recording studios make extra money between recording bands, and there are also full-time ADR studios in cities where movies and TV are made. Some film studios also have their own ADR department.
Audio interface: This is what converts an analogue sound into a digital one. Typically, this piece of equipment connects to your computer via USB, then you can connect your microphone or instrument for recording! It also has outputs for your speakers and headphones so you can listen to what you’re working on. You can get a great one for ~$200!
Audiophile: Someone who enjoys listening to music for the sonic qualities. They enjoy trying different combinations of gear, such as headphones, amps, speakers, and even audio players.
AUX Track: A track that you can route multiple other tracks to, allowing you to add the same effect to multiple tracks. An AUX track doesn’t contain any audio. Combining all of the tracks that have the same effects allows you to only use one instance of the effect plugin, saving computing power.
Baffles: These are movable acoustic panels, meant to move around whatever it is that you’re recording. Check out an example here.
Bit Depth: Bit depth is factor of sound quality, measuring the amplitude resolution of a recording. To put it simply, imagine a sound wave drawn with pixels. If you made a picture of that wave using only 32 pixels, it might not look as smooth as one that you made the same size, but with 64 pixels. Typically, the lowest bit rate you can use (24) is acceptable, but when applying effects and time manipulation, it is nice to have extra bit rate to work with. See also: sample rate.
Bus (or buss): See: AUX track
Clipping: When a sound source has too much gain for a pre-amplifier, the peaks of the sounds are “clipped” off, leading to distortion. This is what leads to a distorted sounding microphone when using a PA that is too small. On a recording interface or DAW, it’s shown with a red light. You may use clipping as an effect. For example, guitar amps tend to sound good when they clip, leading to an effect called “breakup.” To fix clipping, simply turn down the gain on your pre-amp. You can add compression to your track to add back some of the volume you’re missing.
Compression: Compression is a way to tame the dynamics of a track, by bringing up the volume of the quiet parts, and putting a volume limit on the louder parts. This allows for a track that has a more consistent volume level (this is the most basic explanation of compression, but you could teach a university level course just on compression and its uses).
DAW: Digital Audio Workstation. This is the program you’ll use to record music on your computer or mobile device. Examples include Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Garage Band, Reaper, Cubase, etc…
Decibels (dB): This is the unit of measurement we use for the volume of audio. They’re measured logarithmically, meaning that 10dB is 10x louder than 0dB, and so on. A typical rock concert is supposed to be around 110dB. 85dB is considered the top end of the safe zone for long term listening, meaning you should try to keep your recording sessions around that level.
I keep this cheap decibel meter handy, and I’ve gotten used to keeping the volume of my speakers around or below 85dB. This is super important for the long term health of your hearing! If you go to a lot of concerts, check out our Best Ear Plugs for Concerts article to limit the dB you’re exposed to!
Delay: Delay is an effect that takes your audio and replays it a set number of times. When someone yells “echo” into a cartoon canyon, and they hear “echo..echo..echo” back, that’s delay. For an example of what it sounds like on a guitar, check out “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap.
Double, doubling: This is a technique where you record two performances of the same instrument or vocal, typically panning one to the left and one to the right. This is commonly used for lead vocals and stringed instruments. For example, listen to the difference between the verses (single tracked) and chorus (double tracked) in Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So.”
Ear fatigue: Temporary diminishing of hearing due to exposure to sound. Full article here!
EQ, equalization: This is how you adjust the levels of different frequencies on a track. Sound has a whole host of frequencies, from bass, to mids, to treble, and you can adjust the levels of each frequency using EQ. This is what you do when you adjust the sound settings on a car stereo, and you can do the same to any sound in your DAW using an EQ plugin!
File Types: There are different file types for audio, including lossless, uncompressed files (WAV, FLAC) and lossy, compressed ones (MP3, AAC). The compressed files are smaller, and therefore take up less room on your hard drive, but they also lose some audio quality as a result. You should use lossless file types when delivering mixes to clients or uploading to streaming services. Lossy files are fine for sharing with listeners or adding to your music player.
Gate: A gate, short for noise gate, is a plugin or hardware effect that silencing sound under a certain decibel threshold. For example, if you record some vocals, and there’s background noise in the room, you can set a noise gate to mute the track when the singer isn’t singing. This will automatically stop the background noise from making its way into your final track in between lines. That doesn’t mean that the background noise won’t still be there when the vocals are going on, but it will cut out the distracting noise during the parts that are meant to be silent.
Gobo: See: baffles.
Headroom: This is how much wiggle room you have before a track starts clipping. If your preamp will clip at 70dB, and you’re currently set to 60dB, that means you have 10dB of headroom. It’s important to give yourself a bit of headroom when recording, because you want to have some room to add volume later without clipping.
Latency: This is the amount of time it takes audio to get through a system. More latency is added when you add plugins to a track or run audio through hardware. Higher end recording interfaces are typically low-latency. If there’s too much latency, you’ll have trouble recording more parts. You’ll notice a delay or lag between what you’re singing/playing and what you hear back in the speakers. Latency can be reduced by changing your recording sample rate settings, freezing tracks with lots of plugins, and by making sure that your computer is running just the most essential software (not streaming Netflix in the background!).
Master Bus: This is an AUX track that all of your tracks go through. Effects added to this track will effect the song as a whole. Waves has a video about master bus plugins here!
Mastering: Mastering is the final step of creating a song or album. Effects are added to the entire song, typically as one file, in order to prepare it for distribution. This includes EQ and compression to make the sound uniform across many different speakers and headphones, and to make the song similar in volume to other professionally released music.
Mixing: Sometimes confused with mastering, mixing is the second to last step in creating a song or album. The volumes of individual tracks will be balanced by the mix engineer, making sure that each part of the song meshes well with each other. EQ and compression are also a factor in how the tracks sound together. Effects like reverb and delay can also be added to create depth and space in the song. Check out our Best Open Back Headphones for Mixing article if you’re looking to get into mixing!
Noise Floor: The noise floor of a piece of audio equipment is the level of unwanted noise it produces in operation. In a perfect world, your gear with add zero noise to your signal. However, electronics do generate unwanted static-y noise. However, most modern audio equipment has a generally low noise floor, to the point where you wouldn’t even perceive it. See also: Signal to noise ratio.
Phasing: This is another complicated one that probably requires its own college class. To put it very simply, every sound source creates its own sound waves. Those waves have peaks and troughs that travel through the air. When you record those waves with a microphone, you’re capturing the peak or trough of the wave at a certain time. If you move the mic closer or farther away, it will change the point in the wave that you’re capturing.
This doesn’t really mean much when you’re using one microphone to record one sound. However, if you add a second microphone, that is also recording the peaks and troughs. If you were to take a sound wave, and play an inverted version of the sound wave over top of it, it would cancel out, meaning no sound is produced. When recording one sound with two mics, you need to have them physically spaced in a way that captures those peaks and troughs at the same time, so they don’t accidentally cancel each other out. Otherwise, your recording will sound “out of phase,” which is basically when those peaks and troughs are fighting against each other through the different mics, momentarily cancelling out bits of the sound. Typically, the low frequencies are where you’ll notice phase problems. You can invert the phase of a source (represented by the ø symbol) to flip the wave of a sound upside down. This will typically fix any phase problems you may have. You can flip the phase of one channel on and off while listening, and then go with your gut to choose the one that sounds fuller and more “in phase”. Again, this is a super basic explanation, but the idea is simple enough if you think about it in terms of waves that you don’t want to cancel each other out!
Reverb: This is an effect (sometimes natural!) that adds reflections (or echo) to your sound. A nice sounding reverb makes you feel like you’re in a beautiful concert hall. Sometimes, you’ll want a reverb that sounds like the listener is in a giant cave. There are tons of different types of reverb (hall, room, spring (which plays the sound into a literal spring), chamber, plate (which plays the sound into a giant metal plate).
Sample Rate: A component of audio quality, the sample rate is how many samples (or bits of musical information) are in one second of audio. This is similar to frames-per-second in video, or pixels-per-inch in a photo. Since sound is linear, you can measure the sound quality with how many pieces of audio are captured in a second of recording. On most recording equipment, this starts at 44.1kHz (kilohertz) and goes up to 192kHz.
Signal to noise ratio: This is the ratio of the decibel level of the sound you want to record, compared to the level of noise being added by your equipment, background noise, etc. If your signal to noise ratio is too high, your tracks will be hard to use, especially if you want to add compression or boost certain frequencies using EQ. That’s why it’s important to record your tracks with as little background noise as possible, and you may end up wanting to re-record any parts that have too much noise. If you’re having a problem with too much noise, check out this post about using a Cloudlifter.
Soundproofing: Commonly confused with acoustic treatment, soundproofing is all about keeping sound in or out. A sound proofed room will basically be isolated from the rest of the world, meaning that sounds played in the room are not audible to people outside the room, and noises from the outside world don’t get into the room. A good recording studio will be both sound proofed and acoustically treated.
Snake: A thick cable that contains multiple cables combined into one. Typically used to combine XLR cables and reduce the number of cables on the floor. Example here.
VST: Virtual Studio Technology. A VST is a type of software that allows you to add effects or virtual instruments to tracks in your DAW.
XLR: External Line Return. This is a type of 3-pin connector that is used on microphone cables. You can use it to connect your microphone to a mixer or interface. Some speakers and effects also use XLR cables. Most studios have dozens of these, and hopefully most of them work!
Other resources to check out:
http://killerguitarrigs.com http://killerdrumrigs.com http://makepopmusic.com http://theawesomemix.com