book-1245808Ok has this ever happened to you? You head into the studio to record that next hit song yours and you have a sudden inspiration for a sound or an effect you want to be heard. You try and explain what you want to the engineer and he/she looks back at you with a look of confusion and bewilderment? The engineer starts loading plugins or twisting knobs on some outboard gear. They are getting further and further from the sound you want and both of you get more and more frustrated. What may be happening is a communication break down. So here are some commonly used effects and a brief description of what they do so next time you’re in a session you can tell the engineer exactly what you want. This is not a comprehensive list but is designed to help with the basics.

Compression/Limiting – The purpose of compressors is to limit the dynamic range of a sound source. Some of the practical applications are:

  1. Introducing subtle distortion and/or a pumping effect which can color the sound
  2. Help the track to seem more consistent in volume
  3. Give you control of how close or far away the track may seem to be
  4. Make things sound louder

EQ/Equalization – The purpose of eq is to control frequency ranges of a sound source (most car stereos have a basic eq via the Low, Mid and High controls). Some practical applications are:

  1. To make things sound brighter, darker, muddier or cleaner
  2. Get rid of annoying frequencies that can sound muddy or harsh
  3. To balance frequency ranges (Low, Mid and high) and help things seem more natural
  4. To unbalance frequency ranges and help things seem more unnatural
  5. Help provide space for other instruments or sounds to occupy

Reverb – The purpose of reverb is to create a three dimensional space for a sound source. Some practical applications are:

  1. To make things seems closer or farther away and give a sense of depth
  2. To give the sense that the sound source is in a room, hall or other type of space
  3. To make things sound bigger or fuller
  4. As a creative effect to make things sound like they are in an unnatural space

Delay/Echo – The purpose of delay is to make the sound source echo a determined amount of times. Some practical applications are:

  1. To create a sense of depth without sounding farther away
  2. To create a series of echoes to add a percussive element to the sound source
  3. To increase the perceived length of the sound source
  4. To bounce the sound from left to right or vice versa
  5. Creative effects that can have a wide variety of sounds and uses

Modulation – The purpose of modulation is to change the sound of the source by modulating the frequency through eq, delay and pitch. Practical applications are:

  1. Phaser – This will create a filtering effect that can sound like a sweeping woosh going up and down and add resonance to the sound source
  2. Flanger – A very similar effect but typically less subtle with slightly different characteristics
  3. Chorus – This creates a sense of multiple takes of the same track being played at the same time. It can help thicken up a sound source or as a creative enhancement to the sound

Distortion – The purpose of distortion is to introduce harmonics to the sound source by overdriving the signal. Some practical applications are:

  1. Making things sound louder (i.e. distorted guitars)
  2. Giving an edge or bite to the sound
  3. Limiting the dynamic range through clipping
  4. To color the sound in a variety of ways

Pitch – The purpose of pitch type effects is to control the musical notes of the sound source. Some practical applications are:

  1. Pitch correction ranging from full on auto-tune to subtle help making the note sound more on key
  2. Placing something in a different octave giving you a chipmunk type of sound when pitched higher or a chopped and screwed typed sound when pitched lower
  3. Modulating/transposing the sound source to a different musical key

So there you have it. This list is far from comprehensive but the next time you are in a recording studio, this should give you a general understanding of the lingo recording engineers use. I will be going into more detail in future blogs about what each of the effects processors does and what some potential uses are from a musical standpoint as well as introducing the ones I left off of this list.

Cary Crichlow, Senior Producer and Engineer
RCR Recording Studios