In the Music Technology Center at Diablo Valley College, my students (who range in age from teens to retirees) are developing a passion for recording for the first time. At the beginning of each semester, I encourage them to explore music that differs from their favorite styles. As you might expect, the main interests for the younger people are urban styles (rap, R&B, and so on), electronica, and guitar-based rock, and often this class provides their first glimpse into genres that they are unfamiliar with (or that they thought they wouldn't enjoy), such as classical, country and western, or jazz.
One of the main goals for expanding their listening awareness, beyond the fact that it's culturally important, is that it makes sense economically. It's quite an eye-opener for the class when I explain that many professional engineers record more than one type of music. When it comes to recording vocals, for example, the same rules apply whether you're tracking rap, rock, or reggae: The tools and skills needed to get the job done are universal. After that, it's all about identifying and mastering the sonic fingerprints of a musical style.
Later in the semester, we spend time analyzing and critiquing each other's work on a technical, as well as musical, level: How well do the vocals sit in the mix? Are some instruments masking others? Is the mix too dense? Does the arrangement build in a pleasing way, or is it static? Soon the students begin to understand the complexities involved in recording and mixing a song, no matter the style, and they can see how the same basic recording techniques apply to all. Sure, some genres place the vocals up front and in your face in a mix, while others seat them inside the ensemble. But knowing how to record the voice well or how to keep a bass drum from stepping on the bass is something everybody can grok in only a few weeks.
By the end of the semester, the rock players can give meaningful criticism about how a rap track was mixed, while my rap artists can tell when a shredding guitar solo isn't sitting well in a mix. At the very least, they know enough to ask, “Did you intend for the kick drum to sound so muddy?” Now they are ready for the next step: The lifelong journey of learning the personalities of each mic, preamp, and processor that they will encounter, and how to get the best results from them.
The reason I believe it is important to be able to listen beyond your comfort zone is because in the real world these days, musicians must diversify to some degree if they want to survive while doing what they love. That might mean recording, editing, and mastering CD projects or recording live shows for hire. Consequently, one day might bring in a bluegrass session, while the next might bring in a punk band. But by offering even the simplest of services for people beyond your circle of friends, you will not only earn a bit of cash, but you'll also gain experience that will help you with your own musical projects. You just have to keep your mind and ears open to new experiences and embrace change when it comes.
Speaking of change, the time has come for Copy Chief Marla Miyashiro, Art Director Earl Otsuka, and me to bid you adieu. The positive influence that Marla and Earl have had on the magazine has helped make it as editorially sound and good-looking as ever. I admire their talent and enthusiasm very much, and I will miss working with them.
Personally, I have enjoyed being a part of EM's staff for over a decade, and as editor, I have been extremely fortunate to have had such an amazing team, including Mike Levine, Geary Yelton, Len Sasso, and Sarah Benzuly. I want to thank all of them for their commitment and exceptional work ethic during these challenging times.
But I especially want to thank you, the reader, for your support during my tenure as editor. Your continued participation, whether through subscription or newsstand purchase, praise or criticism, is crucial to EM as it works to educate its readers about using technology to make music.
Keep in touch!