Glossary of music production terms

We have been getting a lot of questions as of late on the “technical” side of thing so we dedicated a day of our lives to making this for you! Enjoy!

A – D

  • Ableton: Ableton (Live) is a popular brand of DAW used to compose, produce, arrange, mix, and master music. This DAW also functions as an in depth and programmable live performance interface.
  • Academy of Sound Engineering: An academy of sound engineering is any music education based website, which specialize in teaching audio engineering, music production, mixing, and mastering. A great example of this is The Music and Recording Arts Academy.
  • Acoustics: Acoustics are the characteristics, dimensions, or properties/qualities of all rooms and/or buildings (otherwise known to be called ‘spaces’) that resolve how sounds are diffused in it.
  •  Acoustic Treatment: Acoustic Treatment is sound-absorbing material used to remove everyday acoustic issues such as echo, standing waves, trapped low end, attenuated frequencies, and much more. Acoustic treatment is highly recommended for rooms of all sizes and shapes.
  • Additive Synthesis: Sound produced by adding the output of multiple sine wave generators.
  • ADSR: The ADSR is an acronym standing for: Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release. ADSR represents the four subdivisions of a sound’s envelope.
  • AIFF: An AIFF is an uncompressed and high-resolution digital audio file structure, developed by Apple and used only on Mac systems.
  • Amplitude: The amplitude is the overall volume of an audio wave. Amplitude should be noted that excessive peaks in amplitude can/and most often would cause unpleasant sounding digital distortion or clipping.
  • Analog: The term analog concerns signals or information symbolized by a uninterruptedly variable physical capacity such as spatial position or current.
  • Analogue Hardware: Outboard gear is another name for analogue hardware. Analogue hardware is found in most small and large music production studios spanning from vintage to modern.
  • Art: Art is a tangible expression of ones creativity, passion, and being.
  • Artist: Everyone is an artist in some way. Some people cook meals while others draw designs for clothing. In the music world, an artist is someone who best expresses himself/herself through the universal language of music.
  • Attack: The attack is the duration of time it takes for a source signal to reach maximum amplitude.
  • AU: Audio Units are a plug-in architecture provided by Core Audio in Mac OS X. AU format is Apple’s equivalent to what is commonly known as a VST, and Avid’s equivalent to what is commonly known as RTAS/AAX.
  • Audio Engineering: An audio engineer is someone who works with the technical aspects of recording, manipulating, mixing, reproducing, or mastering sound.
  • Audio Interface: An audio interface is a hardware device, which allows you to plug in instruments (including microphones) and speakers.
  • Audio Pros: A term often used in forums and other online communities to describe people who earn a significant living from music, or have a considerable amount of knowledge to share with others.
  • Audio Production Jobs: Someone earns a living doing audio engineering and music production related services. This could be as intense as mastering or as simple as creating beats and selling direct to artist in need.
  • Bandwidth: Bandwidth describes the alteration amongst the highest and lowest frequencies from which any electronic device can emit.
  • Bass: Bass can be best defined as the “low-end” of the frequency spectrum. The scale of where Bass becomes Mid is somewhat subjective, but we feel it is around 400 hertz.
  • Bitrate: Bitrate defines the quantity of ‘bits’ which can be conveyed per second, characteristically measured in Kbps. It is generally the case the higher bitrate settings produce better audio quality but come at a cost with bigger files.
  • BPM: BPM is an acronym for beats per minute.
  • Chill Music: Chill music can be best defined as music, which is relaxing and soothing. Chill music can be anything from piano instrumentals to melodic dubstep. Chill music has an ambiance and vibe, which often brings listeners serenity within. When found online in search engines people often search for: Chill music, chill music vibes, and chill vibes twitter. Search these phrases for pinpoint results during your next relaxation period.
  •  Chillstep Music: Chillstep music is a branch of Dubstep music that has a melancholy vibe. Chillstep music offers driving melodies, serene vocals, and simple drums to provide a landscape of sound which has subtle dubstep elements fused into the track for emotion.
  • Chorus (Modulation): Chorus is a modulation effect, which delays an audio signal. This delay causes the source audio it to be heard as more than one piece of audio (best heard making a mono file sound stereo). The chorus effect occurs through rhythmic flanging and vibrato. Chorus is a music production secret for adding depth and space to a mix.
  • Clipping: Clipping is an audible, and most often unpleasant distortion of an audio signal. Clipping is an audio engineers worse nightmare when working ITB (in the box). Input levels being too high renders clipping. As an music producer learn to keep yourself out of the red when working on productions to avoid clipping.
  • Compressor: A compressor is an electronic unit that reduces the volume of a signal or amplifies a quiet sound. A compressor does this by altering the dynamic range of the source audio.
  • Compression: Compression can be a music producer’s best friend or worst enemy. Compression alters the time and feel of a source audio. Compression has both the ability to reduce peaks or raise the noise floor depending on how the compression parameters are set.
  • Community Music: Community music is music, which has been known to unite people. Music is the universal language of the world and exists to vibrate us all into a place a harmony, community, and peace with one another.
  • Condenser Microphone: A condenser mic is highly accurate and sensitive microphones.  Condenser Microphones require phantom (48v) power due to their low volume output.
  • ContinUum: ContinUum is a recording studio, community based on vibration, and a company, which thrives on human connection and interaction through art, passion, and heart.
  • Cubase: Cubase is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) developed by Steinberg.
  • DAW (Digital Audio Workstation): A DAW is any software/electronically designed system which has the ability to record, edit, and playback digital and analogue (if converted) source audio.
  • Decay: Decay is the audible decrease in volume (in time) that occurs after a sound has fully attacked. Decay should not be confused with release. Release has to do with sustain, where as decay is more the tail end of the attack.
  • Decibel (dB): The decibel is the standard unit of measurement for expressing amplitude, volume or loudness.
  • Delay: Delay is a time-based effect recognized as an echo. Other terms associated with delay are ping-ping, stereo enhancement, and space.
  • DJ: A DJ is someone who plays music as a profession or hobby. DJ mixing is the craft of taking multiple songs and stringing them together to fuse a “DJ set.”
  • DJ Mix: A good DJ mix is one that sounds like a continuous song and takes the listener on an epic journey driven by highs and lows with smooth transitions.
  •  Digital Recording: Digital recording is the act of recording audio or MIDI information, which can be done on any DAW. It is highly recommended to use an audio interface for best audio quality.
  • Distortion: Refers to any and all types deformation (digital – unpleasant and harmonic – pleasant) of an audio signal compared to its input.
  • Dubstep Music: Dubstep music is a genre of EDM (Electronic Dance Music), which plays at 140 BPM. Dubstep music fuses energetic and upbeat drums with screaming synths. Dubstep music and Dubstep songs are provide a listening with a high vibration and are often driven by aggressive sound design. Dubstep is known for being less melodically driven and more rhythmic.
  • Dynamic Range: The ratio of the softest and loudest sound in any given audio track.

E – H

  • Effects: Effects are usually used to add character or interest after a sound has been devised or recorded. Effects can be anything from saturation to reverb. The purpose of effects is more for excitement and appeal than anything else.
  •  Electronic Music: Electronic music is music, which is most often created with a computer. Electronic music can have actual instruments are part of the composition which are organically recorded. Most often, electronic music is made ITB (in the box) and done solely with a computer and/or MIDI controller.
  •  EDM: EDM stands for Electronic Dance Music. EDM Training: EDM training defines a subset of online academy based institutions which focus their curriculum on teaching EDM principles, song structure, sound design, music production, digital audio engineering, mixing, and mastering. A good example of an EDM training institute is The Music and Recording Arts Academy.
  •  Envelope: The envelope visual representation of the ADSR. Some call this a time graph vs. amplitude.
  • Equalization (EQ): EQ application is the process of adding or subtracting gain in various frequency bands. These bands can be narrow or wide depending on the ‘Q’ adjustment.
  •  Fader: A fader is a vertical volume control lever. Faders can be both digital in DAWs and analog on mixing boards and consoles.
  •  Filter: The filter is an EQ that affects specific desired frequencies. Low pass filters leave the lows and affect (cut/boost) the highs. While high pass filters leave the highs while affecting (cut/boost) the lows.
  •  Flanger: A flanger is a modulation effect that mixes a delayed signal with an original. This alteration of sound causes some frequencies to be out of phase in a tasteful manner. This phase issue is called combing and can be quite desirable if applied correctly.
  •  FM Synthesis: Synthesis, which is driven by frequency modulation. The timbre of a simple waveform is modulated by an additional frequency triggering the waveform to alter and convert to a more complex and diverse sounding entity.
  •  Frequency: Frequency is the number of cycles per second in an audio wave travels in time and space. Frequency is measured in Hertz (Hz) or kHz. Though the frequency spectrum goes very high and low, humans can only hear/feel 20Hz-20kHz.
  •  Fundamental: The fundamental is the principal (or lowest) frequency in a musical note or sound source.
  •  Gate: A gate or noise gate allows a signal to pass through when it registers above a certain threshold. Gates can be adjusted to respond to certain frequencies. Gates are best suited for cutting out background noise or sharply cutting off source audio.
  •  Genre: A genre is a musical category of music. Some example of genres are: Dubstep music, Trance music, Chillstep music, Hip Hop music, Rock music, House music, Acid Jazz music, Indie Pop music, ect.
  • Harmonic: A harmonic is multiple of a fundamental frequency. If the fundamental is 400, then 800Hz will be the first harmonic, then 1600Hz and moving upward from there.
  •  Headroom: The amount of space in your audio level below the 0dB point. Crossing the 0dB point is not recommended. More headroom most often equates to clearer audio.
  •  Hertz (Hz): The time by which frequency is measured and specified.

I-L

  • Input Gain: The input gain is the volume at which a signal travels through a processor such as an EQ, a compressor, an ITB plugin, an OTB mastering processor, or reverb unit.
  • ITB: ITB stands for In The Box. ITB means to produce music and engineer audio within a computer. No analogue hardware is used other than an interface. Artists with mixing plugins and mastering plugins do ITB mixing and mastering.
  • Kbps: Kilobits per second.
  • Level: The volume of sound in the listening atmosphere, articulated in decibels.
  • LFO: LFO stands for Low-Frequency Oscillator. Used to affect audio signals. Some examples for LFO use are: Dubstep wobbles, Effects that pulsate, noise sweeps, and pitch risers.
  • Limiter: A limiter to a compressor but with an infinite ratio. The output level will never pass the threshold. Limiters are best used to make sure a source audio file does not peak past 0dB.
  • Logic Pro: Logic Pro is a DAW made by Apple. Logic Pro’s most recent version is called Logic Pro X.
  • Loudness: Loudness is defined as the intensity of sound. Loudness is subjective. Loudness meters exist in software form to show these values, which are calculated by algorithms.
  • Loudspeaker: Any tangible form that translates electrical energy of an audio signal into acoustical energy or sound.

M – P

  • Master Channel: The master channel is often called the 2bus. The master channel is the stereo fader that all the tracks in a project are summed into.
  • Mastering: Mastering is the final process in music production and audio engineering. Mastering happens after the mixing process is complete. Mastering audio is concerned with EQ, compression, balancing, widening, and preparing for audio for distribution.
  • MIDI: MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and is the standard for transmitting musical data between electronic devices.
  • Mixing: Mixing is the art of gelling all tracks in a project to fit together to make a song. By the end of the mixing phase all the layers in the project should play as one big left and right mix which any listener can enjoy. Mixing is not making every layer heard at all times, but rather sculpting the project to be a symphony of sounds, which takes the listener on a journey.
  • Mixing Plug Ins: Mixing plug ins are software algorithms which model analogue hardware. Mixing plug ins are everything from compression units to mastering EQ units. Mixing plug ins are an essential part of the ITB (in the box) workflow and have the ability to make any artist sound very professional.
  • Monitor: A monitor is best know as a ‘speaker.’ When choosing studio monitors it is best to select a pair with a flat response to avoid coloration or alteration of the sound.
  • Mono: Mono is a single source audio sound, which does not have stereo width.
  • MP3: A MP3 is the most common audio file format. MP3 files can be played on both Windows and Mac systems.
  • Multi-track: A device or DAW that can play multiple source audio files at once simultaneously.
  • Music: Music is the universal language that connects all humans.
  • Music Artist: A music artist is someone who expresses himself/herself through the universal language that connects us all.
  • Music Download: A music download is a piece of music which can be digital transmitted to ones computer or other electronic device.
  • Music Education: Music education can be anything from eBooks, to online video course, to trade school programs. A great example of a fine Music Education system is The Music and Recording Arts Academy, which has been serving the greater Sacramento Area for years.
  • Music Production: Music production is the process of arranging parts within a composition to flow together and take the listener on an emotional journey. Music production focuses on both the little details of the song and the big picture.
  • Music Production Schools: A music production school is one that teaches music production and audio engineering skills in multiple genres. Music production schools offer DAW training; sound design, mixing, and mastering related courses. A great example of a Music Production School is the Music and Recording Arts Academy, which has been serving the greater Sacramento Area for years.
  • Music Theory: Music theory is the education of the practices and possibilities of music. It generally derives from observation of how musicians and composers make music, which involves key structure, modes, and much more.
  •  Near-Field Monitoring: Near-field monitors are generally small speaker system intended to be close to the listener. The close proximity of the monitors reduces reflected sounds from the listener’s room.
  • Normalization: Normalization is the process of increasing overall audio volume.
  • Octave: An octave is a sequence of eight notes. These ascending and descending series of notes are called octaves.
  • Oscillator: An oscillator generates an electrical waveform.
  • OTB (Out The Box): OTB (outside the box) refers to audio engineer and music production processes which happen outside of the computer. Analogue hardware processing is an OTB (outside the box) process.
  • Overdub: An overdub is the recording/rerecording of a part on top of an existing section of recorded audio
  • Overtone: An overtone is a multiple of a fundamental frequency. The first overtone is 2x the fundamental. The second overtone is 3x the fundamental.
  • Panning: Panning is the movement of an audio signal to different points in the stereo field.
  • Parallel Compression: Parallel compression is also known as New York compression. Parallel compression encompasses mixing an unprocessed dry signal with a compressed form of the same signal.
  • Parametric EQ: A parametric EQ is able to alter frequency, bandwidth, also known as ‘Q,’ and gain by means of cutting or boosting.
  • Patch: A patch is a sound produced, most often from a software based sound generator and/or synthesizer.
  • Peak: A peak is the point of highest amplitude in the audio.
  • Phase: Phase is the difference between two waveforms, expressed in degrees. 180 degrees produces phase cancellation. During phase cancellation frequencies will be inaudible.
  • Pitch: Pitch is the value of a sound managed by the rate of vibrations producing it. Pitch is the musical analysis of frequency.
  • Plugin: A plugin or plug in is an software program installed to a DAW which allows for digital processing of source audio.
  • Polyphony: Polyphone is two or more notes playing simultaneously.
  • Production: A production is a music score that has been arranged in detail and encapsulates a full spectrum of ideas and emotions.
  • Pro Tools: Pro Tools is a DAW made by Avid. Pro Tools most recent version is called Pro Tools 12.
  • Post Production: Postproduction often refers to mixing and mastering to prepare music/audio for distribution.

Q – T

  • Quantize: Quantization is used to correct timing errors, add swing, etc. Quantizing elements too strongly can take the humanness from recordings.
  • Recording: Recording is the process of getting source audio into a device, which captures the audio files. Recording can be done in the digital domain as well as in the analogue domain.
  • Recording Arts: Recording arts are loosely defined as the skills and crafts needed to make music on a professional level. Recording arts involve: music production, audio engineering, mixing, and mastering.
  • Recording Software: Recording software is usually what people call their DAW. Examples of popular recording software platforms are: Ableton Live, Logic X, Pro Tools, Reaper, Cubase, and BitWig. Recording music can be accomplished on Mac or PC. Recording music Mac is somewhat preferred in the industry for when it comes to recording software music.
  • Release: The release is the amount of time it takes to return the signal to an unprocessed level.
  • Remix: A remix is an alternative version of a song. The core artists to watch in this day and age all make remix songs. Remixes are a great way to get noticed as a DJ and artist.
  • Resonance: A strengthening of signal produced when the incoming frequency is equal to the natural frequency of the acoustic or electrical system, which it passes through.
  • Reverb: Reverb is a time-based effect used to create space in the mix. Reverb has a continuous sound and differs depending on the type. The most common reverbs are: Room Reverb, Chamber Reverb, Plate Reverb, and Hall Reverb.
  • Sample: A sample is most commonly known to be a sound used as a musical source like a synthesizer or sampler. Samples can also be pre-recorded snippets of audio.
  • Sample Rate: The number of samples taken per second by an A/D converter defines the sample rate.
  • Side Chain Compression: A form of compression that uses an external audio signal to affect the compressed sound.
  • Signal: The electrical current that carries audio information.
  • Sine Wave: A sine wave is the purest waveform, which contains no harmonics.
  • Song: A song is an arrangement of music parts, rhythmic elements, and often vocals.
  • Sonic Maximizer: A sonic maximize is a processing tool that often restores clarity and harmonics to the low and high end of a sound.
  • Sound: A sound is anything that is audible by the human ear.
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL): The decibel rating of acoustic pressure of a sound wave.
  • Spectrum: The distribution of frequencies in any given sound.
  • Stems: Stems are individual tracks of audio that make up a full song.
  • Stereo: Audio in stereo contains exactly two tracks. It’s a two-channel system feeding left and right speakers.
  • Sub Bass: Sub bass is felt rather than heard. Sub bass frequencies usually start around 100Hz.
  • Subtractive Synthesis: Subtractive synthesis is the method of creating sounds by using some of the overtones from the complex original waveform.
  • Sustain: If a note is played at a length, sustain defines how loud the note will be after the decay has finished.
  • Tempo: Also known as Beats Per Minute (BPM). This can be best described as the speed of a song.
  • Timbre: Timbre is the colour of a sound.
  • Track: A track can and often does refer to a finished recording, or stem, or multi-track recording channel. A track can also be a digital fader insider of a DAW.
  • Transient: A sudden, high-amplitude signal peak that decays quickly.
  • Tremolo: Often confused with vibrato. Tremolo is a rapid cyclical change in volume level, causing a wavering/wobbly effect.
  • Tweeter: A tweeter is a speaker designed to reproduce high frequencies.

U – Z

  • Unison: Using two ore more dissimilar instruments or voices to play an identical musical line.
  • Velocity: Velocity is the speed at which a note value is pressed.
  • Vibrato: Vibrato is alike to tremolo, but has a cyclical change in pitch instead.
  • Volume: Volume is the common term for sound pressure level (SPL).
  • VU Meter: A VU meter shows in volume (SPL) in units.
  • Waveform: A waveform is a visual depiction of the way a sound wave varies over time.
  • White Noise: White noise, and other types of noise, are non-tonal signals that has even energy distribution across all frequencies.
  • XLR: An XLR connection is a three-pin grounded and lockable audio connector designed for professional use in recording studios.