Sound­box as tool in record production #arp2015

Emil Kraugerud, University of Oslo, Norway

Dingus – two mixes of their song ‘Die Young’ were compared for soundbox analysis.

Abstract: In Rock: The Primary Text (2001), Allan Moore defines the sound­box as “a ’virtual textural space’, envisaged as an empty cube of finite dimensions, changing with respect to real time (almost like an abstract, three­dimensional television screen)” (2001:121). The dimensions in question refer to listeners’ perceived illusions of depth, width and height in recordings, which in turn are affected by properties such as sound level, stereo placement, reverb and frequency range. In Moore’s definition, the sound­box represents a visual metaphor for what producers and engineers would often call ‘the mix’. Why, then, should we apply the term ‘sound­box’ when ‘the mix’ seems to be an adequate term in the context of record production?

In the proposed paper I seek to extend Moore’s (2001) definition of sound­box, to also encompass record production in a practical sense. Although the sound­box is intended as a model for music analysis, I believe it can be adequate also in record production. Certain models bare certain similarities with the sound­box, and are widely used in record production, e.g. William Moylan’s sound stage (2015) and David Gibson’s three­dimensional model (1997). However, as I will argue, while these models seem to be focused on mixing, the sound­box has the potential to be a tool embracing all parts of the production process. My overall argument in this paper, then, is that practical applications of the sound­box as a tool for record production, can contribute to an increased awareness of how producers and engineers work. Thus, it is my belief that an extended definition of the sound­ box as a unity can be a good tool for working with the ‘total balance’ of a mix, in which frequency balance, stereo balance, level balance and mix density is represented.

ARP Intuition and Collaboration in Popular Music Production #arp2015

Philip Chambon.


Collaboration in a creative partnership is often an intuitive process in which separate artists interweave their experience and skills to inform an amalgamated product.

The process in popular music production from the initial inspiration for a track, through to the song writing, rehearsing, arranging, programming, performing, recording, mixing and mastering inevitably involves collaboration at some, if not all stages of this process. Music production has become “…a collective project between recording artists, musicians, producers and recording engineers” (Watson, 2014).

Even when one artist in the home digital studio performs these multiple roles, there is collaboration between the self, the subconscious and the imagined audience for the work (Harvey, 1999).

Intuition is a fundamental element in these collaborative processes, and is particularly relevant in the field of popular music creation and production. It can inform decision­making. It can discover problems that need solutions. It can find solutions in a flash ‘peak experience’ moment arising from apparently little pre­conscious thought. (Boyd, 2011: Csikszentmihalyi, 2013: Dewey, 2005: Harvey,1999).

This paper will explore how the role of intuition can underpin creative partnerships, and how this can contribute to innovation in the field and the dissemination of knowledge across both the academic and practice­based creative industries.

As well as providing an academic research context, the paper will draw on the author’s background as a practitioner in the areas of songwriting, performing, bands, sound engineering, production, and composing for contemporary dance and ballet, and film and TV.

Boyd, J. (2013) It’s not only rock ‘n’ roll. London: John Blake Publishing. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Creativity: the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Collins. Dewey, J. (2005). Art as experience. New York: Perigee. Harvey, J. (1999) Music and inspiration. London: Faber and Faber. Watson, A. (2014) Cultural production in and beyond the recording studio. New York: Routledge.

Art of Record Production 2015

Drexel University, Philadelphia, venue for th e2015 Art of Record Production Conference.
Drexel University, Philadelphia, venue for the 2015 Art of Record Production Conference.

I’m here in Philadelphia at the #ARP2015 conference. There are four conference tracks and around 100 papers. The tracks are:

  1. Agency: Content Creators in Record Production.
  2. Multi-Polarities: Contextualising the Art of Record Production.
  3. Education: Connecting Research to Practical Education.
  4. Ten Years On: The Art of Record Production.

I’ll be presenting a paper on Sunday with Jon-Marius Aareskjold (University of The Arctic, Norway) about creative collaboration in Beyoncé’s Irreplaceable – more on that in a later post.

As before with previous ARP conferences these blog entries will provide abstracts for each paper and a live blog summary of each presentation. 

Authenticity and the role of live musicians in hip hop production #arpOslo2014

Alex Stevenson, Leeds Metropolitan University

Author keywords:      ­Hip hop, Authenticity, Live, Sampling

EMU SP12/1200
EMU SP12/1200

Authenticity and the role of live musicians in hip hop production

ABSTRACT: Despite hip hop music’s origins as a live performance-based art form, utilising turntables and sound systems, the incorporation of digital sampling technologies gave rise to a sample-based aesthetic within hip hop production which traditionally rejected the use of live musicians. In his ethnographical study of hip hop production, Schloss goes as far as stating that as a hip hop producer ‘…it is the lack of samples – the use of live instrumentation – that must be justified’ (Schloss, 2004, p.67).

This sample-based aesthetic is strongly linked to the notion of authenticity within hip hop production (Schloss, 2004; Williams, 2010), however use of live musicians has been evident throughout the history of hip hop; from live hip hop band The Roots , the use of session musicians to re-play samples in Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001 (1999) to the self-sampling approach of Portishead’s self titled album (1997). More recently in the UK, the formation of bands such as Introducing Live whose debut project in 2009 was to recreate note for note the entirety of DJ Shadow’s exclusively sample-based album Endtroducing (1996) with a 10-piece live band and the Abstract Hip Hop Orchestra who, inspired by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson orchestral tribute to J-Dilla (2010), perform live versions of classic hip hop tracks with a 16 piece ensemble, demonstrate the integral role that live musicians can occupy within hip hop performances that were once the reserve of the DJ and MC.

Mixing Time… recording technologies in live music performance #arpOslo2014

Mixing Time: The Use of Recording Technologies in Live Music Performance

Yngvar Kjus and Anne Danielsen, University of Oslo

Hanne Hukkelberg

Author keywords:      Recording Techniques, Live Performance, Creativity, Communication

ABSTRACT: Along with the rise of computer-based music technologies, artists are bringing studio-related practices on stage. This allows different forms of composing, recording and sound processing to become integral elements of live music. In this paper, we study the considerations, efforts and skills involved with using these studio-related techniques in live settings, and ask how artists’ sense of creativity and communication are affected. The paper assesses existing research on the use of technologies in live music performance and attempts to establish a theoretical framework for studying evolving creative and communicative challenges of contemporary musicianship. We then present an interview-study with six artists in Norway, engaged in genres ranging from electronic dance music and electro-pop to improvisation-based live electronics. The analysis is organized in the same manner as concerts, starting with the preparations and then addressing the execution and the encounter with the audience. We identify substantial differences in the use of technology, particularly depending on whether performances are based on a studio work or are improvised live. The first requires transforming a record into a live performance, whereas the second entails the creation and manipulation of recordings on the spot. These endeavours demand different practical, creative and expressive efforts, which might fuel artists’ awareness of creative and communicative actions in live performance.

“What’s up with this ‘one’?!” … live and studio performance #arpOslo2014

Roland Huschner, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Sing it, Glenn…

“What’s up with this ‘one’?!!!” („Was ist denn das für eine ‚eins‘?!!!”) Discrepancies between live- and studio-performance and the consequences for musical efficiency of artists/bands in the recording studio.

Author keywords:      ­Recording Practice, Bourdieu, Foucault, Ethnography

Usually the recording studio is being thought of as an environment which enables artistic performance of the highest standard. Several of the disrupting factors of live-performance are successively removed during recording sessions or the architecture of the studio does not allow certain aspects to appear in the first place. Therefore the artist should be able to achieve individual performance of the highest level but for several reasons this is often not the case. The proposed paper deals with the question why despite all the advantages of the recording studio in comparison to live-performance the musical efficiency of artists still seems to be limited by several aspects that are the result of this specific environment. The technological, sociocultural or simply musical provenance of these aspects will be described and analyzed:

Why do even accomplished musicians for example suffer from the so called „red-light fear“ once the recording process begins? What effect does the idea of the highest possible transparency of the audio-material have on the playing technique and what does that mean for the agents? Are there specific reasons why certain studio-situations are more strained or affected by higher expectations than others and in what way do discursive formations from internal and external provenance shape these configurations between agents?

The paper draws from data that was collected from 2011 to 2014 in several Berlin recording facilities and rehearsal rooms. The data will be reflected in my PhD-thesis in musicology that deals with the role and function of the producer in popular music. The manner of collecting information consisted of participant observation and non-structured interviews. The analysis of the data is carried out with a specific model which seeks to combine elements of Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of the field of cultural production as well as Michel Foucault’s analysis of power-relations, their origins and the technologies to sustain them.

The Death of the Songwriter – attribution of creative ownership in popular music production #arpOslo2014

Screenshot 2014-12-05 18.46.19Here’s my own abstract and presentation from the Oslo conference. I was delighted to learn that in the audience was Jon Marius Aareskjold, a Norwegian sound engineer (and academic) who was actually involved in the production of ‘Irreplaceable’. We’ll be working together on a research paper about the track sometime in 2015.

Death of the Songwriter – ARP Oslo 2014 pdf version

ABSTRACT: The creation of recorded popular music has always been a collaborative process. Listeners enjoy an audio product that consists of a composition (usually with lyrics) that is arranged, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered. All of these activities combine in an object that creativity psychology would define as creative – that is, original and valuable (Boden 2004; Mackinnon 1963; Weisberg 1993). Sometimes creative contributions are fully demarcated but in practice there is often substantial overlap between roles, and individual creators frequently take on more than one role.

Drawing on the author’s research into creative behaviours in songwriting teams (Bennett 2012) and his experience as a forensic musicologist in copyright disputes, this paper discusses the challenges posed by collaborative popular music production, for copyright law and for the recorded music industry. The traditional binary allocation of creative activity across two objects (the ‘song’ and the ‘sound recording’) was developed many years ago and may no longer be truly representative of the way popular music is made. Creativity that is obviously derivative such as melodic quotation or audio sampling is a form of linear collaboration that makes authorial attribution particularly difficult, not least because of the complex interrelationship between moral and economic rights in copyright law.
Audio recordings of successful hits will be analysed to frame a discussion of the specific creative contributions that led to particular sonic outcomes; these will be contrasted with the Intellectual Property that subsists in the finished work. The paper proposes mechanisms by which the disparity between the extent of creative contribution and ownership of song copyright might be addressed.

Bennett, J., 2012. Constraint, collaboration and creativity in popular songwriting teams. In D. Collins, ed. The Act of Musical Composition: Studies in the Creative Process. Ashgate, pp. 139–169.
Boden, M., 2004. The creative mind : myths and mechanisms 2nd ed., London ;;New York: Routledge.
Mackinnon, D.W., 1963. The Identification Of Creativity. Applied Psychology, 12(1), pp.25–46.
Weisberg, R., 1993. Creativity : beyond the myth of genius, New York: W.H. Freeman.

Panel – recording aesthetics #arpOslo2014

IMG_0807Panel – Amy Blier-Carruthers, Royal Academy of Music; Phil Harding, PJ Music Ltd; Pytten Hundvin, Norwegian Record Producer and Sound Engineer; Serge Lacasse, Université Laval; Susan Rogers, Berklee College of Music; Simon Zagorski-Thomas, University of West London. Moderator: Alan Williams, University of Massachusetts Lowell.

We begin this panel with a discussion of ‘pet hates’ in recording. The panel rises to the task impressively. Some hates include the loudness wars and issues of track compression (Pytten); horrible tracking rooms in the interests of authenticity; being precious about your ideas and resisting stretching them (Susan); and the boxy frequencies between 400Hz and 900Hz (Phil – “can anyone in this room tell me a good reason for boosting these frequencies, and tell me what instrument to do it on?”).

Record Production in a Transitional Zone: Three Projects Compared #arpOslo2014

John Egenes, University of Otago

ABSTRACT: Digital technology and the culture it has engendered are causing a rapid transformation of long-held views about the value of content, our notions of authority, and our perceptions of how we as producers fit into the means of production of intellectual property. While record production is still largely viewed as an industry pursuit carried out by professionalized experts, its practical application is now part of the transcultural environments of digital networks and social media.

This paper discusses my role as producer for three albums, and the contrasts within their respective cultural environments. The albums are “Pluck”, a CD of original classical music performed by harpist Helen Webby; “Tyre Tracks & Broken Hearts”, a CD of country music by singer/songwriter Donna Dean; and “The Stone Soup Sessions”, an Americana album. Comparisons of recording methodologies and production philosophies are made, starting with the “conventional” production model of “Pluck”, and exploring the “hybrid” production methods used in “Tyre Tracks” along with the influence of digital culture upon the production of “Stone Soup”.

Opening panel – Recorded Music In the Internet Age (download presentation) #arpOslo2014

GraphHere are my own slides from today’s presentation in Oslo.

JB slides (pdf)

Citations as follows:

Adorno, Theodore W. “On Popular Music.” Studies in Philosophy and Social Science IX (1941): 17–48.

Degusta, Michael. “The REAL Death Of The Music Industry – Business Insider,” February 18, 2011.

Gordon, Steve. “Why Apple’s Acquisition of Beats Is Bad for Indie Labels, Artists, and the Industry.” Digital Music News, June 6, 2014.

Image: Australian War Memorial

Susan Rogers keynote: music cognition and preferences #arpOslo2014

Susan Rogers, Berklee College of Music

Susan begins with an audio-powered journey through her life in the music industry, including her work as audio engineer for Prince (covering the Purple Rain and Sign ‘O’ the Times eras). It is interspersed with anecdotes and career nodes commentary. This is all thoroughly enjoyable and I sense the crowd would have been happy with this being the entire presentation!

But she moves us on to the theme of the presentation, which is: what are musical emotions about? Emotions are temporary and affect the goals of the perceiver in real time. Music can’t further or block goals – so how does it affect emotion?

Susan’s academic study and research is in cognitive science, and she applies this to musical experience. She talks us through a brief ‘Psych 101’ of stages of response to a stimulus, contrasting dangerous situations with musical surprise. The stages are: cognitive appraisal (“this situation is dangerous” or “those chords are beautiful”), subjective feeling (feel afraid or feel impressed/moved), physiological arousal (heart beats faster/attention is focused), expression (you scream/smile) and action tendency.

Rethinking High-Fidelity #arpOslo2014

YannickYannick Lapointe, Université Laval

ABSTRACT: In the mediating process from musical ideas to fully realized sound, music takes a lot of different forms and is shaped by a wide variety of actors. With recorded music, the somewhat logical or typical process consists in the following: the composers and arrangers write the musical ideas (sometimes), the performers and programmers make these ideas into sounds, the record producers and sound engineers capture and organize the sound into phonograms, and finally the record consumers (usually the listeners) reproduce these phonograms back to sound, or, in cases of remediation, the DJ or remixers use these phonograms to produce new ones. Of all these actors, only one is not commonly regarded as an artist: the record consumer. This begs the question: as the one usually responsible for record reproduction, and given that his role in the recorded music mediation process is not that remote from the one played by the other actors, could the record consumer be considered a fully fledged artist in the same way as his peers?

Although the answer to this question is certainly not the same for every record consumers, this paper will argue that a particular group amongst them, the hi-fi enthusiasts, has indeed elevated record reproduction to an art form. It will explain, by drawing on a comparison between the record production and reproduction processes (and more specifically between the roles of record producers, sound engineers, and hi-fi enthusiasts), how and why high-fidelity can be considered an “art of record reproduction”.

Yannick outlines a typical production chain from creator through to listener. It’s an impressive theoretical model, incorporating traditional musicology, performance practice, and a mediation stage that he calls ‘phonomusicology’ – the production chain of the audio from the producer’s studio role through to the hi-fi reproduction equipment.