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Audio Basics

Science of Sound & Human Hearing

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Summary

Learning the fundamental principles of how sound works is essential for any audio technician. By the end of this module you will have a solid understanding of acoustics and human hearing, with the correct terminology to communicate at a professional level.

Topics & Talking Points

Here are few of the questions we’ll answer in this module about sound.

  • What is sound?
  • How do our ears and brains perceive the sounds we hear? 
  • What are these Terms: frequency, decibels, pitch, hertz, acoustics?
  • What’s the difference between mono & stereo?
  • How do we describe sound with specific words that musicians understand?
  • How do bats and dolphins hunt?

How We Hear Graphic

Activities

  • Describing sound using correct terms like vibration, frequency, pitch, etc
  • Identifying the location of various sounds by ear (eyes closed)
  • Identifying stereo and mono sounds with playback systems

Learning Objectives

  • Understand several jobs involved in the audio industry & what they entail
  • Understand how a show is mixed
  • Basics of a mixer & what it’s used for
  • Basics of FX & what they’re used for - reverb, delay, distortion

Terms

  • Front of House Engineer
  • Monitor Engineer
  • Audio/Sound Engineer
  • Sound Designer
  • Stagehand
  • Recording/Studio Engineer
  • Mixer
  • Reverb
  • Delay
  • Distortion

Outline

  • Introduce ourselves/what we do
  • Pass out documents 
  • Overview of jobs in the audio industry 
  • Audio/Sound Engineer
    • Live sound
      • Front of House Engineer
      • Monitor Engineer
      • Stagehand
      • System tech/designer
  • Broadcast
  • Studio Engineering 
    • Recording Engineer
    • Mix Engineer
    • Mastering Engineer
  • Sound Designer
    • Video games, podcasts, movies, TV, apps, etc

The Details

  • What is a mixer, what’s it used for? 
    • Used to combine several audio sources and send them to different places
    • Live sound - combine instruments/sources on stage, send them to main PA for audience, monitors for performers
    • Studio - combine instruments (sometimes all at once, sometimes one at a time), record to a computer & send audio to headphones so artists can hear themselves
    • Podcasting - combine voices, send them to recording device, etc
    • Pass around mixer’s for students to turn knobs & see things up close
  • Compare small mixer to big mixer
    • Channels are the same, more options, more channels available for both inputs and outputs
    • In broadcast, you need a lot of inputs and outputs for 100s of sources so a small mixer wouldn’t work
  • What’s a mic, what is it used for and why? 
    • Used to pick up an acoustic sound (like a voice or guitar) and amplify that so it can be heard by a lot of people, whether live or through a livestream or another situation
    • Used in every audio situation, sometimes they’re hidden for things like interviews, TV shows, etc. There is always a mic being used to capture audio
    • Lots of different kinds, keep it simple though.
      • Directional, all sound different. Engineers have different mic preferences. 
      • Use a different mic for a kick drum from a vocalist
    • Explain how to talk into a basic mic to pick up good sound 
    • Pass around SM58 for students to handle 
  • What are sound FX? Why/when are they used?
    • Sound FX make audio sound more interesting & realistic. Sound designers used them to make it sound like people are in certain places, to create drama, FX, etc
    • Live sound engineers use them in creative ways to make things sound more natural and beautiful and fun 
    • Reverb - Natural reverb occurs when a sound hits any hard surface and reflects back to the listener at varying times and amplitudes to create a complex echo, which carries information about that physical space. It is the most commonly used effect in audio because it has the ability to make it sound like someone is in a certain place. For example, in a movie where actors are in a cavern. It will have a long trail, like when you yell in a tunnel. Every place sounds different, so often designers will go to a certain place to see how it sounds and also capture the sound of it to use in post production. In general, it makes sounds sound more natural and is very commonly used on vocals in pretty much every song or live show
    • Delay - an audio effect that records an audio signal for playback a set period of time after the original signal. Delay can be played back in different ways to achieve sounds such as echoes that decay over time, or a pronounced repeated doubling effect that adds new layers to a recording. Creates a very cool echo sound, like when you yell over a mountaintop and hear yourself yelling ECHO over and over again. Used for creative purposes, can make things sound psychedelic, or more realistic for films/TV
    • Distortion - A form of audio signal processing used to alter the sound of amplified electric musical instruments, usually by increasing their gain, producing a "fuzzy", "growling", or "gritty" tone J
    • Pass around the mic for students to talk into and hear cool FX through PA (we control FX from main mixer)
      • Pre determine what they are to say. Potentially favorite place audio is used or where an engineer might be needed