Audio Evolution: Charting Personal Growth in the Studio

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As we set out to write this article, we planned on quoting one of our favorite songs about change. But why cite just one tune when you can reference a full 56? We were thrilled to locate this playlist, which serves up a plethora of personal evolution.

These Deep Thoughts on personal transformation were brought on by a recent pate of self reflection. We looked in the mirror and asked ourselves: “How are we changing as audio engineers?” Are we doing things exactly the same way as when we plugged in our first XLR, or have we been touched by transformation?

The truth lies somewhere in between. Our hunger to hear new sounds and undergo unforgettable aural experiences is as voracious as ever. But the time we’ve spent at BB4 Studios has also triggered tremendous shifts not only in our approach to audio, but also how we live our lives. Face these strange changes:

New Production Styles

We’ve spoken at length about  the highly accurate critical listening environment that we've honed at BB4.  Over time though, we've been surprised to find that this has not only changed how we mix, but also what we choose to record in the first place.

Here's an example: We were tracking horns recently, and experimenting with a number of different miking setups. “At first, we were getting a gritty kind of sound, which has been the feel that I traditionally go for,” says Rafael Planten, Owner of BB4 Studios. “But then we tried an alternate setup, which yielded a much more lush sound. Once I heard that I kept on in this lush direction, because it sounded so good.

“That represented a total stylistic change for me, but it's where I decided to go, because I realized I wanted to mix with this lushness and make it come out more, as opposed to dirtying it up. Since then, I realize that I'm getting away from this gritty/grimy sensibility which often defined my productions, and moving over to more rich, majestic textures.”

Process-Oriented, Instead of Goal-Oriented

The above example points to an even bigger way that we've changed.

We used to be goal-oriented when we recorded and mixed. We would start out with a certain sound and feel in mind, and then work rigorously towards achieving that sonic objective. Not anymore.

“I find that I'm much more open now about the end result, and where the process takes me,” Rafael says. “I used to hear the track in my head, and then make sure everything I did in the studio made it match up exactly with that vision. But now as I'm working, if I like what I hear I'll go with it, even if it  takes me in another direction from what I had in mind. That unexpected development often adds something beyond what I could have articulated. There's more than one way to paint the picture.” 

Bringing OTB to ITB

Having our hands on the hardware here has provided an amazing road map for working with the software equivalents.

“Using our preamps and compressors has shown me how to fix things in the box (ITB),” notes Kiara Mudd, Studio Manager/House Engineer for BB4. “Now I know the parameters that will give me a cleaner sound for vocals or guitar, for example, by working only with the plugins.

“For example, we have the Tube-Tech CL 1B compressor on our Universal Audio UAD-1 card, and the Tube-Tech CL 2A stereo compressor hardware unit as well. Those two are similar in sound in operation, and translating out-of-the-box (OTB) behaviors into the box (ITB) has been a big addition to my skillset.” 

Out in the World

There's plenty of  other ways we could name that life at BB4 Studios has allowed our audio to evolve, but one of the most striking aspects actually becomes most noticeable when we clock out.

For us, life outside the studio now sounds a whole lot different. “If a fire truck goes by, or I'm at a house party, I can actually feel a little overwhelmed,” Rafael says. “I find that I'm constantly pushing my ears to hear all the frequencies. I've become more sensitive to sound, which is why I wear earbuds when I go outside so that construction sounds don't affect me.

“For better or for worse I'm constantly listening. The first thing I do when I go into a restaurant now is think about the sound design! I'm always aware of what's going into my ears.”

How has the pursuit of better audio changed you? Come to BB4 Studios to track, mix or master, and let’s hear it together!