Studio 11’s Glossary of Recording Studio Terms (That Every Recording Artist Should Know!)
Perhaps a more obvious one to some, but a “take” is a single turn, or run through of a recorded phrase. For example if someone says I don’t like the first take as much as the second take, it means you tried the same thing twice, and they like the second time around better. And if it’s still not perfect, that’s when you…
To “punch” a take means to redo a certain part of a phrase. For example if you sung the line “Blackbird singing in the dead of night” (which you shouldn’t because that’s blatant copyright infringement), and you didn’t like the way you sang “Blackbird singing”, you can punch or redo only that part without having to redo the entire phrase. This means the engineer is hitting the record button for those words only (overwriting the previous lines), or he took those bad parts out and put you on another track to record on during that part.
To consolidate multiple takes together in an attempt to use the best parts of each one, creating one good take.
To layer another identical (or closely similar) take on top of a previously recorded one. This is used to typically make parts sound “bigger” or more full. Occasionally the engineer or artist may even want to “Triple” for an even larger sound. This process is also known as Overdubbing (adding additional parts to existing parts).
Ins and Outs:
To layer a second vocal take on top of another take , but only doubling selected parts. This is used when one wants to emphasize or embellish certain words. Ins and Outs can occur anytime throughout the verses/hooks, but generally speaking it’s emphasizing parts where there are key words in the sentence. Think back to grade school when your English teacher asked you to go up to the board and underline the nouns and verbs, or perhaps the “subjects” or “action” words, but leave out the “articles” and filler words. It’s kind of like that.
Adding a track of extra vocals on top of a previously recorded phrase. Unlike “In and Outs”, ad libs don’t have to consist of the same words, or even of the same lyrical rhythm, but can have different lyrics and flow all together. Ad libs create a “call and response” with the lyrics. For example if the line is “Baby, you’re the one I want to be with”, an example of an ad lib that would fit that part would be something along the lines of “Only You”, or “It’s true”. Or if the line is “Gotta get that money”, an example of an ad lib would be “Yessir” or “Gotta get it”.
Many artists who are unfamiliar with the studio world, often get these terms mixed up. They are related, but create different end results. Reverb, or reverberation, imitates a space. It’s a familiar sound that we all know from churches, halls, bathrooms or concert venues. Reverb is used to make the sound seem further away, or perhaps hidden behind other layers. Delay on the other hand, or as some artists call “echo”, is an effect that takes a sound and repeats it, usually in time with the beat. Think yelling “Who is the king of Siam” into the grand canyon, and the repeating sound that you get back is what’s known as delay.
A scratch track is a guide track. A scratch track, or scratch take is recorded while performing to get an idea of how it will sound all together, but 9 times out of 10 will get re recorded with more attention to detail and performance. Vocalists of bands may want to do this when playing along with each other to either get an idea of how the vocals will sound in the track, or to help the players identify the different parts of a song. Which segues to…
On a fundamental level, it’s important to know the difference between these three sections of a song. The Hook, also known as the Chorus, is the part of the song that repeats a few times throughout the song and is usually shorter than the length of the verse (think “Billie Jean is not my lover…”). The verse is the longer parts in between the hook that change throughout. There are usually 2- 3 verses in a song (sometimes with different artists on each verse), and is also where most of the lyrical content lays. A Bridge is something that doesn’t occur on all songs, but in most genres, especially in Pop music, it is the part (typically towards the end after a verse ) that changes before it goes back in the chorus. A Bridge serves to break up the flow of the song, and to build suspense before the hook comes back in.
To harmonize means to sing or play another line on top of a previously recorded phrase that doesn’t consist of the same notes, or is the same note in a different octave.
From the Top, Front or Back:
This is pretty self explanatory, but just in case, from the top or the front means from the start of the song, and back means towards or the end of the song.
In the studio , if the engineer says the sound is too hot, he isn’t complimenting your track, but is usually referring to something that is about to, or is overloading. This happens when artists are louder than the microphone can handle, (or an instrument is turned up too loud for the recording input) and is usually followed by “clipping” or unwanted distortion.
Sometimes you’ll hear the engineer say, “let me fly the hook”. Fly simply means, “duplicate”. Seeing how most times the Hook is recorded once, it is necessary to “fly” it to the next part where the hook is supposed to come back in.
If the engineer says you’re flat, it means you are slightly below the correct pitch of the note. If the engineer says your sharp, it means you are slightly above the pitch. When an engineer says this, it generally means to be conscious of your pitch.
If you take your art serious, it’s beneficial to understand the language of the people who are an integral part of the process. You can be a brilliant film maker for example, but if you don’t know the terminology that your actors understand, you will never get across your point effectively (or it will take you much longer to do so). Similarly, if you understand your studio lingo, it will help your engineer understand you and vice versa (not to mention save you a bit of time and money in a session.) And in a world where time is money, every minute counts!
Dan Zorn , Engineer
Studio 11 Chicago
209 West Lake Street