Music was better back in my day

“Music was better in my day” is something I have often heard growing up, and I’m sure many people of my age have heard the same thing.

So, is it true? Was music better ‘back in the day’ or is this a false notion because of how music has changed? Is this an acceptability thing or maybe it’s ‘louder’ or often more aggressive?

Wait, what does better actually mean? Can music be better than other music? Well, I’m not so sure….

Music to me is something that we listen to and enjoy for no other reason than that, we enjoy it. It is unique in the fact that we do not have to be loyal to it and we can often have differing opinions of two tracks from the same artist and often differing opinions of a certain song with our loved ones.

I often find that I have to be in the mood for certain artists as well. For example, last night I put on The black Keys only to discover that wasn’t quite the ticket. Enter The Birds Of Tokyo and suddenly I felt more at ease.

Is one better than the other? No, not at all. One is very clean sounding and the other quite raw sounding but both great bands. (Different songs of course too.)

It’s a well know fact that as we grow older our responsiveness and tolerance for certain frequencies changes too, I often find myself turning the volume down a bit as some frequencies sound a tad harsh to me these days.

Perhaps someone listening to a bit crushed type sound, let’s say Nine Inch Nails for example, who is say 50+ could find that quite annoying and therefore the music they are comfortable with maybe seem ‘better’ by comparison.

Could it also be that our memories of music change? Perhaps as we grow older the songs we remember are the good ones and the ones that mean something special to us? Does this favourably effect our view of older music?

Has music become over commercialised? Are radio stations now playing what they are being told to play, giving certain play quotas to the highest bidders?

Well yeah of course, it is called the music ‘business’ after all. Old music is already tried and tested so we tend to turn on ‘classic hits’ and get hit after hit after hit. Go with what works right?

Turn on another station and hear new music and it can go one of two ways, approval or disapproval. Too much disapproval and suddenly “new music is rubbish” I hear the non conformists saying.

I love old music and more often than not prefer to listen to something from the 60s and 70s than present day but my formative years were the 90s when we had the likes of the Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys etc. Listening to that is familiar so of course I am going to be more favourable to hearing that. Is it better? Nah, it’s just what fits me the best.

But some of the best music, in my opinion of course, comes from the present. Music has evolved so much in recent years that we have so much to choose from that we are bound to get some absolutely amazing music right?

So is old music better? Well I didn’t really answer the question did I, I probably asked more questions in truth.

What I can tell you is my opinion.

Don’t discount a piece of music because of it’s age or the artist or how it is viewed by your friends or society. There is space for all music to exist. Music is personal preference so hold on to what you like and as you age I’m sure the ‘better’ music will always stay with you!

Moving Day

‘Moving Day’ – sounds exciting doesn’t it? New house, new beginnings, new routine! Great stuff… well….unless you own a studio and studio gear.

Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t trade my new (first) house for anything! I have worked very hard to get there and I absolutely love it, it’s just that dismantling a studio, moving it and putting it back together again is quite a job!

For years I have had to be quite creative to make sure sound isn’t an issue in most of the environments (usually bedrooms or nooks under the stairs) that I have had my studio. From building shonky sound booths out of MDF to making ad hoc shelving for storage in a rack and everything in between, my studio has always had a rather DIY feel about it.
That is now all a distant memory of humble beginning as I consider my new studio in my new house. While it is, by no means, a million dollar studio fit for a 10 piece band, it is a studio and ONLY a studio! No beds here!

As I sit and look around my square box measuring roughly 2.5m x 2.5m with a rather large outside window and a door to the hallway, I have a 21.5″ iMac with protools at the ready and a Shure SM7B set up in the corner ready to record some IVR copy for one of my clients! There is a draw full of microphones, a Joe Meek preamp waiting for me to plug my microphone of choice into and acoustic treatment all over the walls!

I can’t wait to get started on the next project!

The importance of sound

We are all familiar with that hypothetical question you ask your mates as a teenager, usually on a long car ride away somewhere “would you rather lose your sight or your hearing?” A very large percentage of the time the answer, not surprisingly, is “oh, definitely hearing, imagine not being able to see your girlfriend or watch your favourite movie etc”

Well, yes I whole-heartedly agree that not being able to see those things would be terrible and, of course, you wouldn’t wish that ill fate on anyone.  However I believe that sometimes sound isn’t given the credit that it is due.  We don’t think about how important it is and how much sound influences and enhances our lives.

Naturally, the counter argument is “You wouldn’t be able to hear your favourite music or hear your partner tell you that they love you” and, of course, there is no right answer to this hypothetical question.

But, consider this scenario: Imagine approaching a busy street corner and prepare to cross, now close your eyes and pause.

In this moment, your brain has already mapped out a fairly accurate approximation of where all the cars, trucks and in fact, anything that makes a sound, are located.

Now, instead of pausing, let’s take a sample of 3-4 seconds and focus in on only one vehicle.  Your brain is able to calculate the direction and rough speed of the vehicle.  You may also even know if it is slowing down, speeding up or if it is travelling at a constant speed.

There are many different factors at play here but the key fundamental is the fact that to tell all of this information, you need only to be able to hear.  Your eyes don’t even need to be open.

In my opinion, your hearing is actually more important to day to day living than your eyes and there are, of course, examples of when this wouldn’t be the case. e.g. Driving a car.

There are many more examples of when your ears are actually the first activation point for your brain realising that ‘something is up’ but the point here is to not discount your ears so easily.

I will leave you with one final thought or rather a test.  If you have 2 minutes to play along then do as follows.

  1. Grab yourself a piece of paper and a pen.
  2. Turn everything that makes sound off (TV’s, Radios etc)
  3. Pop outside and sit down
  4. Close your eyes and write down everything you can hear over the course of two minutes.

 

I bet you will have a list of at least 50-60 different things.  More than you thought you would write down when you first started? Probably!

This list of independent sounds is what your brain is constantly processing and makes your life a lot easier to live..without you even knowing.

What is an IVR?

This month I am going to take a look at IVRs.  I am going to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly and also some things to consider when shopping for an IVR.

Let’s start with the basics. What is an IVR? Well first of all, IVR stands for Interactive Voice Response and it is a technology that allows a computer to interact with humans through the use of voice and tones input via the keypad.

Put another way; it’s that lovely voice that you hear when you dial a company such as an insurance provider, bank or mobile phone provider that says “Hi, welcome to Pat’s Pie Company, for pies press 1, for desserts press 2 or hold the line if you would like fries sent to your door immediately”.

Now, at this point, you are probably all thinking.  “Oh yeah..those” and we immediately think of some of the not so nice IVRs we have had to ‘deal with’. Weather your experience was good or bad really depends on a few different factors:

As in all situations there are two way of looking at it.  You have the User Experience (UX) and you have the business strategy.

What do customers want and what should their journey be? Coupled with, what can the business afford and what is the right balance of customer service vs cost?

If I put my customer hat on, I would say. “When I call, I want to speak to someone and I want the first person I speak to, to answer my query. I don’t want to have to press 10 buttons to get to where I want to be and I don’t want to be confused as to where my call is within the company. e.g. I don’t want to think that I am talking to accounts but I have the sales team”.

If I put my business hat on, I would say, “The system needs to be slick, professional and smart and direct customers to the right area. It needs to help the customers without them speaking to an agent if possible and it needs to not cost the earth to design, how much money can you save me?”.

Immediately, we are at a bit of an impasse as to the different expectations of both the customer and the business.

If you are considering an IVR or you have one already and you are looking for ways to improve it, here are some tips to help with designing a great customer service tool.

  1. Keep it simple. The more confusion that there is, the longer things take to resolve. Also consider; what is the use of something that is so intricate in detail that only the most elite users can navigate your system?
  2. Make sure you route calls to the correct parts of your business. Customers absolutely hate being transferred from place to place.
  3. Make sure that your announcements (copy) is short and concise and that the action is always at the end. e.g. “To hear about our fantastic services, Press 4”, as opposed to “ Press 4 if you want to hear about our fantastic services”. It may seem like the same thing but the customer is more likely to remember the action and end up in the right area.
  4. Test, test and test your IVR before you launch it! Make sure that when you have the copy recorded, that it flows nicely together.  The voice talent may read the copy as individual scripts but the company intends to run them together. There will be different inflections and it needs to sounds natural. As a listener, it is not very pleasant to listen to a voice that jumps out every time a particular number is said.
  5. While we are on voice talent., consider who will be listening and what voice you want. When I am commissioned to record IVR scripts, I always ask who the audience is. I also ask what the image of the brand is so that I can reflect that in how I speak. For instance, is your brand casual Kiwi or professional and will there be a lot of English as a second language listeners? All of these should dictate how your IVR sounds.

So what can an IVR do for your business?

The common objections I get are “Do I really need one? They seem really bulky and my receptionist does a pretty good job directing the calls where they need to go”

Well yes, the first question is do I need an IVR?  The simple answer is, it’s up to you! But consider what the benefits are and what will it cost?

Let’s look at a case study

John owns a small/medium sized electronics business. He sells electronics and also does repairs, he also has an accounts team and a mobile technician.

John doesn’t have an IVR but he has a receptionist who fields all the calls and is pretty good at directing them to where they need to go. Sometimes the calls come back and they need to be redirected if they aren’t picked up and the receptionist will need to take a message and then tell the person the next time her/she sees them. Typically, this takes up around 40% of the receptionist’s day.

How might an IVR help?  

  1. Well first of all, if set up correctly, the IVR could handle 95%+ of the calls and direct them to the correct area meaning that the receptionist could be freed up to concentrate on other tasks more pertinent to the growth of the company. (I won’t get into the nuts and bolts but long term this could end up saving thousands of dollars).
  2. Professional and consistent messaging – Because the IVR delivers the same consistent message every time, nothing is left out and you can customise a new message for every month or quarter, direct them to a website or even talk about a new product, meaning the receptionist doesn’t have to do the same ‘spiel’ every single time.
  3. Customers are no longer transferred manually to the department they want, they simply press a button and they are talking to Steve or Lauren  in accounts
  4. John can now choose how his company is portrayed simply by how he chooses to set the IVR up.
  5. If John adds another department into the company or Bob from sales has left, then he can easily talk to his voice talent and they can get a recording done pretty quickly.  You can then interchange the recording or add the new recording as an option and you are away.
  6. If something happens in the IVR, you can simply flick a switch and direct calls back to the receptionist, who by the way, is now learning the ins and outs of accounts payable and is helping Lauren and Steve with their pretty hefty work load. 😉

So what should John do? 

Well as I said there is no right/ wrong answer so I’ll leave that up to you. But if you do decide to implement an IVR, or would even like to talk about one – get in touch with us here at Recording Solutions.

Please comment below and tell us what you think.

Ever wondered why ads are so damn loud?

The common myth is that they play them so loud because they want them to be in your face to SELL SELL SELL right?

Well actually, not really. This is simply an ‘added bonus’ from a marketer’s perspective or a ‘bloody pain’ from my father’s perspective. In fact this annoys him so much that he actually mutes the ads when they come on and then scrambles for the remote in an attempt to hear the first 10 seconds of audio after the ad break is finished.

Anyway, enough about the grumblings of an old man, let’s look at why this happens and why they are so ‘loud’

Well first of all, are they actually that loud? Not really… When an ad comes on it actually is no louder than the loudest ‘program material’ contained in the show you were just watching, it is the actual length of time that it is loud for. Advertisements tend to be consistently in their volume for around 3 and a half minutes.

But why?

Well advertisements and television shows are very different things and are designed to have different effects. If you are watching a show like Game Of Thrones for example there will be very loud parts, say in a battle scene. Then there will be very quiet parts, let’s say when two characters are talking. This is done intentionally so that the viewers feel certain emotions in sync with the storyline (and is a huge part of why we feel so connected to TV shows but I won’t get in to that in this blog)

If this was all at the same ‘perceived volume’ then it would be very uncomfortable to the listener. Imagine having a quiet conversation and then no volume increase when it cuts to a battle scene…

Advertisements on the other hand are designed so that the listener hears every detail and that the audience’s attention is captured. This relies on people’s curiosity. (Think when you hear a loud bang, you turn around to see what it was right. Naturally you are curious…)

The technique used to make sure this happens is called compression. Engineers use either outboard gear or digital plug ins to reduce the ‘dynamic range’ of the audio presented to them.

Dynamic range is the difference between the quietest and loudest parts of a portion of audio (program material.)

Typical compressing means that you take all of the volume peaks in a portion of audio and you squash them down. Now that you have squashed them, you now have space at the top (where the volume peaks were) called ‘head room’

The second part of compression is to then turn up the volume from the output of the compressor so that the newly squashed audio is louder as a whole. Engineers call this ‘Make Up Gain’

For those that are a little more visual, here is an image that shows :

1. The original audio signal.
2. The loud peaks are compressed (and overall loudness reduced)
3. Make up gain is applied and the overall sound is now louder despite the peak volume level never exceeding that of the original (1.)

Compression Illustration

Advertisements have heavily compressed audio and because it is so compressed they use the make up gain to make the overall sound louder and in your face.

If we compare this to our TV show from earlier, often the sound, especially the voice component is only very lightly compressed if it is even compressed at all. There are very quiet sounds that you will struggle to hear unless the room is very silent and then there will be loud parts that you will be able to hear at the end of the hall way. These loud parts will be at a very similar level to the consistent volume of the advertisements.

So what does this all mean?

If we put these two different pieces of audio side by side (as happens in real life) then what we have is 3:30 of very consistent volume followed by 8-9 minutes of very dynamic audio.

How does this sound? Well, as previously stated, the 8-9 minutes of audio gets just as loud as the adverts however they may only hit this level for 10-20 seconds total in the 8-9 minutes. The adverts of course are hitting this same ‘loudness’ for around 2.45-3.00 of the 3:30.

The natural perception to the human ear is that “Oh gosh” moment when the ads first hit and you find yourself scrambling for the remote.

A cool little test is to listen to the audio right before a set of ads plays. You will notice that if the audio was loud before the ads (think battle scene) then the ads don’t seem as harsh. Conversely, if there is a low volume level scene right before the ads then when they play it might be a shock to the system.

I’ll let you do the test.

I will be very interested to hear what you discovered.

Recording Solutions Reviews: The Getaway (Red Hot Chili peppers)

For those of you reading this that don’t know me, I’m a huge fan of sound in general which, I guess, is pretty obvious based on the fact that I’m an audio engineer.

What maybe isn’t so obvious is how I look at sounds and what they mean to me, so I have decided to start a blog to give an insight into my world of sound and how I see it.

I am a huge Red Hot Chili Peppers fan and so to kick off the blog, I thought I would review their latest work “The Getaway”

The first thing I noticed about this record is how raw it sounds. The Peppers are not hugely know for a crisp ‘over produced’ sound but this is distinctively raw.

Let’s start with the drums. There isn’t a heck of a lot of ‘click’ or ‘top end’ in the kick drum and it sounds like it was probably not close mic’d but it gives a good low end thud and drives each song quite nicely, the snare is very interesting on this album as it is a complete 180 from what we know from a Chad Smith snare. Typically he likes to use a snare that has quite a quick and sharp attack and a nice high-mid range ring to it, this time around it has what I call a ‘biscuit barrel’ type sound. It matches the kick very nicely however and coupled with the ‘washy’ tone of the hats to go with it, the whole kit has a very old school, late 60s, early sound.

There are a lot of tonal similarities to the drum recordings of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham from the late 60’s and early 70’s.

It sounds like Flea has opted to use a jazz bass for pretty much the whole album and he is able to get such a broad range of sounds out of it. Over the course of the last couple of albums he has moved away from that very hi-fi Modulus sound and is now more into a deep woody tone. Don’t get me wrong, I love those precise, tight bass tones on tracks like “Around the world” and “Get on top” from the Californication era but Flea has matched the drum tone very well with his choice of bass on this album.

Playing wise, Flea is still as groovy as ever but as he evolves he is finding more ways to expand his pallet. It has to be said that when he is not playing slap on this album he is not as outstanding as he has been on previous records.

Josh offers a lot more than his previous turn recording with RHCP and the guitar tones on this album are very ambient and offer something a lot different to what we are used to. He still retains that classic funk Strat tone that you expect to hear when you play a Peppers record but he is exploring his own techniques a bit more and has now found his place in the band. I feel the guitars are mixed quite low as there is quite a lot of competition for space in the mix.

Let’s explore that a bit more… We are used to hearing only 4 instruments on 90% of Chilis songs but on ‘The Getaway’ there is a lot of piano and synth sounds that have to be worked into the mix. The more instruments you have the more difficult it becomes to give each instrument its own space while also blending with the other instruments. ( This is where mix engineers really earn the money!!!)

While we are on the piano, let’s look at the use. In the past, the peppers have used the piano to compliment a song but this time around it is very much a dominant instrument which adds a whole new dimension to the Chili Peppers sound. It is very intriguing to listen to Flea play his piano lines, we are so used to an extremely energetic slap/funk/pop/punk bass player but Flea, the pianist, is something quite different.

Elton John makes a guest appearance on “Sick Love” but I am left wondering what he actually contributed on the track. For me, it’s a bit of an odd guest appearance that one.

If there is one thing that does let this album down a wee bit then it may just be the vocals. Anthony is probably the only guy to have not moved too far away from what he usually does and sometimes those higher notes seem like they may have taken a few takes to capture. There is a very cool Vocal Solo in the final track “Dreams of a Samurai” and we realise that Josh is actually a brilliant backing vocalist on this album too.

I am a huge fan of John’s vocals from previous albums and I feel that Josh is finally realising exactly what the peppers need when it comes to a secondary vocal.

Overall, I do like this new album and I can’t seem to take it off repeat in my car, I’m giving it a 7/10

Top Track: I Absolutely love “We Turn Red” but also don’t miss “Encore” and “The Hunter”