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Question Everything

A lot of what we're expected to take as being 'obvious' or accepted wisdom isn't always quite so clear-cut when you think about it more deeply. Take energy-saving light bulbs, for example. There's no doubt that they use less energy than a conventional bulb, but in the nine months of the year when most British households need to run their central-heating systems to keep our bracing climate at bay, any 'wasted' energy from light bulbs and gadgets left on standby simply contributes to the overall domestic heating. Assuming you have a room thermostat, this means that you burn a little less gas to compensate. Energy-saving bulbs are a good idea (or they will be when they generate anywhere as near as much light as they claim to), but they don't save as much energy as you may have been led to believe.

What has this to do with recording? Well, we're always being told that switching off computers and other equipment (as opposed to leaving it in standby or sleep mode) when it's not in use will reduce our energy consumption, but on the other hand it can also shorten the life of many non-mechanical components. It's the thermal stress of starting up from cold that causes the most damage to integrated circuits and transistors. And how much energy is spent disposing of one old device and building another when that time comes? My point is that nothing is entirely straightforward, and the same is true of accepted wisdom when it comes to the recording process.

For example, when mastering, most of us assume that we always have to apply compression, limiting and EQ to make things sound 'better'. But why? There are times when it's a good idea, but it shouldn't be regarded as compulsory — a good mix can sound great just as it is. In these days of digital downloads, we can't even use the excuse of applying processing to make a tune sit nicely alongside other tracks on the album, because the end user might well have his or her iPod set to Shuffle! And why must everything be processed to sound louder at the expense of audio quality? Surely a species that's evolved enough to record and appreciate music should be able to use a volume control?

The same goes for choice of equipment. There are certain things we aspire to own because we are told that they are industry standards, the inference being that we can't make hit records without them. But, in reality, we need to identify the weak link in the chain — whether it be knowledge, aptitude, musical ability, room acoustics or choice of equipment — and then aim to redress the balance by the most appropriate means. We're always being told to 'think outside the box' but maybe now the time has come to recycle the box and just think!

Paul White Editor In Chief

Published June 2008