Sound Production Architecture

Timoteo Alicino
A free video tutorial from Timoteo Alicino
Chief Engineer at MMH studio - Consultant - Live Mixer
4.8 instructor rating • 2 courses • 2,643 students

Lecture description

OUTCOME OF LESSON:
THE MINDSET BEHIND GREAT SOUND PRODUCTION

Sound production is the journey necessary to facilitate the perception of sound. It needs to be in place to take a sound and make it accessible. From the stage to the audience, from a recording room to a living room, the journey is always the same and it always goes through the same five stages:

1. Input sound field*
2. Input transducers**
3. Signal processing

4. Output transducers
5. Listener sound field

* An enclosure (literal, like a room or conceptual, like an open air stage) of air where sound is produced
**Transducer = translator, convertor: from one form of energy into another

Two of the five stages belong to the acoustic domain and three to the electronic domain. We call the latter 3 a sound system.

A sound system is the means (an arrangement of electronic components) with which we are able to relay sound from a source to an audience, for whatever reason and purpose.

Said differently, a sound system is the means that helps people to hear.

Most common applications of a sound system:

  • Communication in large rooms
  • Hearing aids
  • Public announcements
  • To cover remote locations
  • Entertainment / artistic purposes

Learn more from the full course

The Sound Kitchen - Great sound made easy

Sound Engineering course for musicians, volunteers, professionals. For both beginners and people with some knowledge

13:44:20 of on-demand video • Updated May 2021

  • Be inspired like never before to pursuit great sound
  • Understand sound better in a musical, scientific and philosophical sense
  • Connect the language of music to the technical language of sound
  • Form the mindset of the greats behind sound production (for both live and recording)
  • Learn to select and use / position the right microphone for a given source
  • Understand and practise electronic matching
  • Learn to select and use / position the right microphone for a given source
  • Use the equalizer with in-depth understanding
  • Use the mixer correctly
  • Learn to choose and use the correct PA for a given room
  • Control feedback
  • Build a mix
  • Bring balance and beauty to a song
English I Today we're going to speak essentially about sound control. And there is 2 different aspects about sound control or 3 different aspects that revolve around sound control and so today is more of a chat rather than a technical mathematical lesson. So this is not Chuck Norris type of stuff. OK let's just quickly understand the whole issue of sound control. As an engineer, your aim is to control sound. That's the bottom line. You want to do this because you want to have the capacity to control, manipulate sound. So instead of approaching this topic simply on an electronic point of view, in other words, the gear I'm going to approach this topic on a more holistic point of view because there is more to sound than just electronics, even though we think that we can mix anything today with any program with any computer. That's not quite right. They still haven’t come up with a program that does the mix by itself or maybe they have come up and I can tell you it is not particularly successful. So we're going to be looking at three different aspects of sound control. The first thing we're going to be looking at is sound production architecture, sound production architecture. So think of yourself as an architect so this will be lesson 4 (of the live sessions). What does an architect do? It plans a building, it plans and draft a building, a house with specific criteria. That's exactly what you do in fact a word used in sound engineering is system design which is something that is a very fascinating topic, if you were a consultant and you were given a venue to place a system inside that venue you would design a system that fits that venue according to the needs of the venue and according to the requirements or the brief given to you by the clients, in other words, there would be a big difference whether the venue is used for speech or for rock concerts, for classical type of music that might require some reinforcement or a substantially totally electronic type of music which requires every single sound to be processed. Do you understand what I'm saying? Now if you were the sound architect you would have to design the system that works for that venue. So that's why I would like to look at this concept sound production architecture because it should really help you to understand how to approach sound and sound manipulation or sound control from a more holistic point of view rather than simply gear. I really stand by the motto ears before gear and I think we have too much gear at the moment in the world we have too much in society have too much equipment which means we don't know how to use it and we don't know how to choose it. So we have a lot of potential but very little capacity to unlock that potential because we don't have an understanding of the bigger picture. OK. So let's quickly define the sound production architecture. Sound production is the journey necessary to facilitate the perception of sound from perception to, sorry from production to perception. So let's say you're on a stage, OK, you make him sound on a stage but the audience is in in the audience. So there is some kind of a journey required from the acter, the musicians and the singer that is placed on the stage to get that sound to the people. OK. Think of in another example you might be in a recording room and your audience is not in your room but is in a living room. That will listen to your product maybe a few months later or a few years later, you still have a journey. How do you go from where the sound is produced to where the sound is perceived. So this sound production architecture looks into the journey of the sound from when it’s conceived to when it’s perceived. OK. And the interesting thing about this journey is that no matter in which context you are undertaking the journey it’s always, you always going to go through the same stages. That’s why if you understand this concept it would help you immensely to produce sound properly and correctly. We will look into some of the implications of this architecture but first let's just define it. So the best way I've come to do this is to design five blocks like a block diagram. One, two, three, four, five and therefore it becomes a chain of events. And the five blocks are the five stages of sound productions. So let's first name them then we're going to explain them briefly and then we're going to draw some conclusions. The first one is called input transducer, sorry input sound field sorry, input sound field. I'm going to name them all and then I'm going to explain them. The first one is input sound field. The second one is input transducer. Then we have signal processing. and then we have output transducer and the last one is listener sound field. OK. So think of this as a chain of events. We go from the input sound field to the listener sound field so we conceive sound we perceive sound in between there is a journey. This is kind of the journey of sound. If we understand this whether you doing live sound, whether you doing recording, whether you're doing broadcast, live broadcasts, whether you shooting a movie and then you do the sound staging of that movie whatever it is that you're doing within the sound production you're always going to have these five stages. So if you understand this you understand the whole concept of taking sound from where it starts and deliver it to where it ends. So let's start with the input sound field, therefore, we’re going to define sound field and this is applicable to block one and five. What is a sound field? A sound field is an enclosure of air which can be literal like a room or can be like an area like a stage, a stage is not closed but certain things happen on the stage. So the input sound field is the sound field, is that arena or area where sounds are produced. OK, like think of a stage. That’s where the sounds are produced and that’s where the band or the actor or the singer utters his sound for the first time. OK. The reason why this is important is that if we get it wrong here it will affect the whole chain of events. If you get it right here, well you start in the right with the right foot. Now most of the issue happens here, in fact there is a very famous producer Josh Massenburg which is the inventor of the parametric equalizers its absolute genius he’s a producer and he said that in every single production that he’s done his first aim is to sit in the room with the band and check that it works within that room. He said there is no point in going to the recording room if it’s not sounding right here. It makes sense, doesn't it? So now this is a several Grammy Award winner inventor of the parametric equalizer, absolute genius if he says it I think we can take it from him. So the input sound field is where sounds are produced and now our task here is to capture them in a way that can preserve the integrity and can enable us to manipulate them or control them effectively and we look at a number of issues here. OK. Then let's quickly go further. We have input transducer, what is a transducer? A transducer it's a word that stands for a converter or a translator. We have a lot of understanding of converters in physics terms a transducer is a device that takes a type of energy and transforms it into another type of energy. Think of the dynamo of a bicycle. It takes the mechanical energy of the wheel spinning and translates it into electric energy. The light goes on. OK. Think of the turbine of a water plant, there’s a waterfall, the turbine is turned, electricity is created. Same principle. Now, what is a transducer in our world? Well, the most obvious one is the microphone. It takes mechanical energy or dynamic energy, sound waves and translates it into an electronic signal. OK. So there is always going to be some kind of transducing required because sound is in the domain of acoustic waves, is in the domain of mechanical energy but we manipulate most of it with electronic devices so we need to kind of make that translation at some point. And generally that or most of the time it always happens just after the sound is created. You can’t do it before. OK. So input sound field; input transducers; signal processing. Signal processing is where, it’s kind of the heart of a sound system from an electronic point of view because the sound is processed in this block. What belongs to the signal processing? Mixers, any type of audio devices or audio processors, a compressor, an equalizer, a gate, a reverb unit you name it they all fit in there, an amplifier is part of signal processing. We're taking the signal and we process it. We control it. We manipulate it. We do with it what we like and then it goes to the next stage. The next stage being the opposite of what we saw in block two which is the output transducer. What is the output transducer? It's the opposite of the input. So it takes electronic energy, transforms it into mechanical energy, acoustic waves again. Obviously we're talking about speakers. Headphones is still a speaker. Headphones is a speaker in miniature but that’s the same principle. Again. this thing gets electronic signals here there’s something here that moves and recreates whatever wave that was there whatever signal that was there in a waveform it translates it into mechanical energy, acoustic energy and we listen again. OK. So we started with sound here and we end with sound again here. Now the only difference is that block number five is also a sound field but different from the departing sound field. Think of the living room or your car while you're driving and you listening to music, you're hearing music that was made in another room. So that's your listener sound field. If you were in an audience your listener sound field is the audience, is the gallery, that's where you're sitting and watching the show or in the church context is where you sit and you are participating or witnessing or looking at the service even though you are within the same room you've got a stage and an audience it's one big room but it's conceptually two different sound fields and therefore they should be treated differently because in the input sound field we produce sound in the listener sound field we're listening to sound. That’s kind of a difference. OK. I think this far there's not much to understand or question. Now here there's some observations, some very important observations. Number one, two of the five, block number one and block number five are part of the acoustic domain. While block two to four belong to the electronic domain. So if you look at again conceptually block two to four creates or gives life to what we call a sound system. A sound system is this one, input transducer, signal processing, output transducers. That's what a sound system is just from a conceptual architectural point of view. Block 1 and 5 are still part of the sound production but they are part of another domain. Now here it's interesting to note a few things. Firstly the reason why I called it sound production architecture and not sound system architecture is because these five blocks include stuff that is not part of the sound system. OK. Because think about it with a sound system I can do nothing here. I can't control how the sound is produced. From an electronic point of view the saxophone player is playing that thing. There's nothing I can do the electronically but there is stuff that I can do in another domain and the other domain is the domain of acoustics because I can do something about the environment in which the sound is produced and the environment consists a lot of what I perceive of that sound. Example, think of a saxophone I often use the saxophone example but think of a saxophone that is playing in a room. OK. Now take the same saxophone and go outside. Does it sound different? Hugely different. Think of a drumkit. Have you ever noticed a drum kit playing live without a sound system? Suddenly there's nobody to it. What happened to the bass drum? What happened to it was so loud in that room now it's not loud anymore. What happened to the life of the kit? It's because the saxophone or the kit they were using a lot of what the acoustics of the room was contributing to those instruments to produce an overall sound. Are you with me? So if you understand this concept which is not difficult to understand you understand that sound control or sound production goes beyond electronics but unless we understand this concept we will fail to control sound effectively because there is moments in the sound production that you cannot control merely with electronics because there's nothing you can do about sounds bouncing off a wall with any type of electronics even though people will tell you with some advanced electronic device you can control it. It's not really true. You can change certain things in the system to compensate for certain things happening in the room but that is only relative and your degree of success again is only relative because it is obvious it belongs to another domain. If I have a burst pipe who do I call or do I call a singer, do I call a singer that comes with his mike. So if I have an acoustic problem why do I call an electronic expert to fix something that belongs to another domain? Does it make sense? OK. Are you with me? So let's just quickly while with it while we are at it let's quickly define a sound system. A sound system is an arrangement of electronic components with which we are able to relay sound from a source to an audience for whichever reason and purpose. In other words, a sound system is the mean to help others to hear. Because remember we got people producing sound here and people listening to sound here. With a sound system we enable these people to hear what's happening there. So we doing a good thing. We helping people, helping people is always good. So our job is pretty good. We are helping people and we are helping people to listen. And now this sound architecture as I said is the same doesn't matter what you do. The only difference is that some of the terminology changes. To give an example a hearing aid, you can think there is an input transducer, signal processor, and an output transducer in a hearing aid. If you think of the intercom at the airport, it's kind of a weird sound system but it is a sound system. It’s still the sound system at the shopping centre, also a sound system and they all work with the same principle. Can you understand why this is important? If you get this you can think correctly about any sound production and be effective.