The Albums That Made Me Want To Audio Engineer
The Albums That Most Made Me Want To Be An Audio Engineer
Just to give a little history, I’ve been studying audio engineering and practicing as an audio engineer predominantly in the recording and mixing area of engineering for a little over 15yrs. That time includes College, interning, mixing albums and working with mixrevu.com. The life of an audio engineer can range from project to project, class to class if you are a professor and tour date to tour date if you are on the road in a live setting. There is so much variance in the field but one thing we all have in common is a history of the music that drove us to love the “science of sound”. We all have an audio catalog of albums that really connected with us in some way to drive us to continue this odd career. I’m a classically trained bassist but albums from all genres have been influential to me in my journey with a career in the love of audio engineering and that’s what I highlight here. Hopefully some of these amazing works have influenced you, or inspire you to delve back into what albums have really been integral in your life. Below I touch on why these albums piqued my audio love, and why you might want to give them a spin yourself. Let us know in the forum which albums inspired you to become and Audio Engineer.
1. “Tales Of Mystery And Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe” – The Alan Parsons Project
Released in 1976 by one of the most famous producers in Audio Engineering History, Alan Parsons. I was introduced to this record in College by my Audio Technology Professor. “The Cask Of Amontillado” is my favorite track and the audio engineering gems in this record are endless. Alan Parsons is a living legend if you don’t know him, you are in for a treat. Research him NOW.
Audio Engineer Gems:
- The dynamics are stellar and remind you of a major motion picture.
- The live string section is of legend in “The Cask”
- This album is an ode to great recording = great mixes. The vocal harmonies are 100% live tracked and fit great.
- The live drum kit here with the horn section of “Cask” is what drives the tension. This album is a great representation of how to ride each mix as if it were telling a story. In reality this album is doing just that as; it’s a concept album.
2. “Tracy Chapman” – Tracy Chapman
Released in 1988, this album meant so much to me because it was heavily played in my home as a child. Aside from it being a favorite album of my fathers, there were some vivid audio engineering elements I learned from this album growing up even though I may not have known it at the time.
Audio Engineer Gems:
- This album is mostly noted here because of sentimental value but GTRs on the lead single “Fast Car” are hard right and hard left with Tracy in the middle with a nice amount of reverb to sit her below the GTRs in the mix and create a “room” with the reflections. It’s a different take then you would normally see in singer-songwriter type albums with sparse instrumentation.
- The drums in “Fast Car” illustrate how different genres call for different things. There is still a “story told” with the dynamics and the rise and fall of the verse chorus sections that is handled well with dynamic control, but without “squashing”.
- The harmonics off each guitar pluck are fabulous and the engineer here takes care not to compress any of that out.
- The short delay on Tracy’s voice is an interesting choice, but works well and is a different way to handle this type of track.
Related: 5 Top Mix Engineers You Should Know In Rock
3. “Confessions On A Dance Floor” – Madonna
Stuart Price the legendary French Producer produced this album from top to bottom in 2005. I was in college studying audio engineering at the time and the audio engineering tips and tricks I got from this album were endless and I even employed some nice filter sweep techniques in my junior audio scene project. This album opened up my mind to what a dance album could be and what “4 on the Floor really meant.” Lol
Audio Engineer Awesomeness:
- This is probably my first ever and only Dance album that I bought but I LOVE the audio gems here. Filter Sweeps are used in abundance. Standouts are “Get Together”, “Sorry”
- Square Wave Synths Galore here.
- Love the vocal Harmonies
- Dance Albums have a lot of great editing tricks as well, and that’s something I learned in droves listening to this album
- “4 On The Floor” Kick Drums on Sorry were my first introduction to that term although it’s been around for a long time.
- The use of many different kick drums were very prevalent in Dance tracks and this album was my first real introduction to that.
- The use of “ear candy” plugins like filters, auto panning, enigma etc. is great to see used. Often you have a hard time finding when these sounds are appropriate and the sounds on this album are transformed by these types of effects.
4. “Lovers Rock” – Sade
Released 17yrs ago in November 2000. This album had a huge impact on me in a few ways. I used this album in an Audio Engineering Project to display the use of spatial techniques as well as depth and reverb. It was also just a great resurgence of the band Sade. On the standout track for me, “King Of Sorrow”, A few of the audio engineer nuggets I will point out are:
- the uber control of the lead vocal by Sade’s mic technique as well as the absence of really any audible compression.
- There is a lot of spatial 3D audio information and it’s handled with the utmost care. The solo GTR is way back center and handled with reverb yet still has the EQ to keep each note distinguishable.
- The Bass in this track is the lead melody instrument and manages to not have much below 100 yet still have heft.
- The lead acoustic GTR EQ is excellent with not too much high end and still leaves the below 200Hz range for the bass to carry. This is about as good as it gets when it comes to acoustic GTR recording and mixing.
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5. The Fame” – Lady Gaga
This album was released in 2008 and I have to admit it’s not the whole album that had an impact on me. The lead single was mixed by Robert Orton and the bridge in the song is discussed thoroughly in a classic Sound On Sound Secrets Of The Mix Engineers article. I recommend Sound On Sound as a magazine highly, if only for this article series. Check out this article on Robert and you’ll see what I loved about the single “Just Dance”. A lot of audio gems or ear candy as I sometimes call them.
Particular standouts are:
- Huge fan of the lead delay. I use this in my songs a lot to this day
- That Gated Reverb on the snare….ooooh. I’ve loved gated reverb on a snare ever since.
- Check that predelay on the snare reverb too. That much reverb MUST be setoff by predelay in a track of this tempo for the track to remain unmuddy.
- Of course, I LOVE Square waves. I’m given Square waves to the utmost in the “bass” instrument as well as the main pad in the bridge. The main instrument through Colby’s verse is also a square wave.
- The Drums are the star in this song to me. That kick is super high cut. Probably doesn’t have much below 100Hz & Super tight on the attack. Doesn’t sound like a sample. Probably mic’d next to the beater.
- Finally this track is congealed nicely. I’m a fan of that the most.
- Check out the article noted for info on the bridge EQ details.
Related: 5 Top Mix Engineers You Should Know In Pop Music
6. Nevermind” – Nirvana
This album means a lot to a lot of people. Butch Vig produced the shit out of this album in 1994. This album was crucial to me as I was engineering a Punk album at the time this album became a staple and I’d listen to this back and forth for inspiration. This was in college many years after the 1994 debut but this album made an impression on me specifically when it comes to drum sound and mixing of these particular instruments since I was dealing with the same setup at the time.
Audio Engineer Gems:
- This album holds a sentimental value for me as well as “Smells Like Teen Sprit” is the first music video I remember really paying attention to as a kid. Great engineering on this record by Butch though. The GTRs were handled well and panned like most were in the day, not quite 90 degrees left and right.
- The vocals from Curt were something Many had never heard before. I would assume this was recorded with a dynamic mic with so much dynamic information here. Probably recorded live as well.
- Dave Grohl’s drums standout on basically all of Nirvana’s records. The snap of the snare and difference in the sound of the kick as compared to a lot of the R&B that I love. A lot less low end and less attack.
- This was also my first introduction to rock bass treatment as well. Bass is a lot more active in this style of music then R&B and you need to make sure it stands out so looking for higher harmonics in the EQ is essential and even though the Bass in this is still heavy in the low end below the kick it’s still has a lot of pluck information above 250 Hz.
7. “Love Hate” – The Dream
Released in 2007 this album solidified my love of R&B music. This is a favorite album of mine because it combines elements of R&B and hip hop which are my favorite genres to mix. I learned some songwriting elements from this album as well as some mixing techniques that I still try to emulate when appropriate for artists that are looking for that “radio hit” sound.
- I guess at this point; I can admit I’m addicted to drums in R&B tracks. R&B is my favorite genre and throughout this album backing vocals are used as instruments to great effect. The backing “Heys” are an album staple and a songwriting trait I love to this day.
- On my favorite track “Falsetto” The Snare is again a standout and “snaps” like I love my snare attacks. Unlike other tracks this snare is (I think) accompanied by a reverse cymbal to give it a sucking sound before the attack. At least that’s what it sounds like to me. Not much reverb here. If I am not mistaken Tricky (Chris Stewart) is known for his use of samples and this snare sounds like a well treated sample.
- The Vocal mixes are stellar but that is a necessity in R&B music. The reverb on the ending B section falsetto is a great delay echo effect.
- The Bass in this song is just magnificent and handled well with the lead solo GTR.
- Of course the Pitch correction is stellar as well.
8.“B2K” – B2K
Don’t laugh, lol. There is value in clear unabashed pop groups and hits. I went to music school with the snootiest of music snobs and I know how being a music snob can lead to your detriment. Released in 2002 this album has one of (if not my favorite) r&b songs of all time. This sound is the sound I’ve been chasing for years. Brian Michael Cox is the producer, and this song is the pinnacle of R&B smoothness. “Gots Ta Be”.
Notable Audio Engineering Gems:
- The snare in this ballad is INSANE. The fact it’s so late on the beat and super dry is awesome because the rest of the song is heavy in reverb and oozing r&b smoothness.
- The lead melody synth is a whistle sound. It’s handled with care even while being mono and typically “overpowered”, but there has been EQ space saved for it.
- The vocal harmonies are something that I just am not used to, and still look to emulate.
- Some of the instrument choices have me hooked as well. The warm pads that you don’t really hear but set the chord structure for the song are great R&B tropes. The chorused GTR is just audio ecstasy.
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**What’s An Album That Heavily Influenced You To Become An Audio Engineer? Let Us Know In The Forum**
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