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EE2F2 – Music Technology. Dr. Tim Collins Introduction. Course content: How modern technology is used by musicians Recording studio technology: Multi-track recording and mixing Effects processing Computerisation

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Ee2f2 music technology

EE2F2 – Music Technology

Dr. Tim Collins


  • Course content:

    • How modern technology is used by musicians

    • Recording studio technology:

      • Multi-track recording and mixing

      • Effects processing

      • Computerisation

    • Performance technologies:

      • Electric instruments

      • Synthesisers and Samplers

Recording technology
Recording Technology

  • Simplest scenario – single microphone, recorded straight to tape.

  • More common – several performers recorded separately and then mixed together later.

  • We will look at the key elements in the audio signal chain:

    • Microphones / electronic instruments

    • Mixers

    • Multi-track tape recorders

    • Effects

  • We will also look at the use of computers for MIDI sequencing, and digital audio.

The audio signal chain
The Audio Signal Chain

  • The audio signal chain contains all the steps between the original performance and the final distribution.


Mics and electronic sources

Track laying mixer

Multi-track recorder

Mixdown to stereo

Stereo recorder

Multi track recording
Multi-track Recording

  • These days, music is rarely recorded in one ‘take’ except for:

    • Live performances

    • Classical music

  • Usually, songs are built-up from several parts using a multi-track recorder

  • A multi-track recorder can

    • Record lots of separate sounds independently

    • Play them all back at once

Four track example


Bass Guitar



Four-Track Example

Track 1 - Blank

Track 2 - Blank

Track 3 - Blank

Track 4 - Blank

Audio signal chain components
Audio Signal Chain Components

  • Over the next few weeks we will look at the audio signal chain in more detail. In particular:

    • Microphones

    • Mixing

    • Multi-Track Recording

    • Mastering

    • Computerisation and Automation


Mics and electronic sources

Track laying mixer

Multi-track recorder

Mixdown to stereo

Stereo recorder


  • Microphones are transducers that convert acoustical energy (i.e. mechanical vibration) into electrical energy.

  • Two main types used for music:

    • Electromagnetic: Dynamic and ribbon designs, work by electromagnetic induction.

    • Capacitor: Condenser design, works by changing the shape of a charged capacitor.


Audio output

Fixed earth plate

d.c. bias voltage


Condenser (or capacitor) Microphone

Diaphragm moves due to sound waves

Capacitance and thus voltage change


  • Regardless of the mechanism, important parameters are:

    • Frequency response

    • Sensitivity

    • Directional response




Dynamic Microphone

Diaphragm and coil move due to sound waves

Current is induced in coil

Example shure sm58
Example - Shure SM58

Dynamic (moving coil) microphone popularly used for vocals.

Sensitivity = -54.5 dBV/Pa (2.8 mV/Pa)

Signal levels
Signal Levels

  • Even the most sensitive microphones have sensitivities no higher than around 10 mV/Pa.

  • When held close to the mouth of a singer, a typical sound pressure will be around 1 Pascal.

  • So, even the most sensitive microphone will produce a signal of around 10 mV in amplitude.

  • Typically, for common microphones, the signal level would be around 1 mV (depending on how loud the singer is and on the microphone positioning).


Frequently Asked Question:

“What do all those knobs do ?”


  • In the simplest terms, all a mixer does is to add together two or more input voltages.

  • In practice, it must also provide gain controls in order to:

    • Correctly mix signals from different sources, e.g.

      • Line level signals (~1 V) from electronic instruments

      • Mic level signals (~1 mV) from microphones

    • Balance the different parts of a mix.

  • Actually, most mixers perform several other functions as well. We will cover them in a later session.

Tape recorders
Tape Recorders

  • There are two types of tape recorder in the audio signal chain.

    • Stereo (two track) recorders, similar to domestic hi-fi tape decks.

    • Multi-track recorders (anything from 4 to 24 tracks)

  • Analogue and digital versions of both types are available.

  • These days, mostly digital machines are used.

  • In fact, magnetic tape is often not used at all. Hard disk recording is becoming more common.


  • The master tape containing the final stereo mix must be duplicated in different ways for different distribution media.

    • Vinyl LPs require special equalisation (filtering)

    • Cassette masters are made on special tape used for high speed duplication

    • CDs require the addition of codes to mark the start and end of tracks

  • These processes are known as mastering.

Computerisation automation
Computerisation & Automation

  • Computers have been gradually introduced into the recording studio to automate certain tasks:

    • Triggering drum machines with preset patterns (sequencing)

    • Changing fader levels on a mixing desk to preset levels at the right time

    • Triggering (remotely playing) electronic instruments (via MIDI)

    • Digitally recording onto hard disk

    • Generating synthetic sounds using software synthesisers

    • Generating special effects in software

    • Replacing most of the equipment in a conventional studio with virtual software equivalents


  • In this course, we will be looking at how modern technology has affected musicians in terms of:

    • Recording technology

    • Synthesis and sampling technology

  • The basis of most contemporary recordings is the multi-track concept.

  • This is traditionally realised using analogue multi-track tape machines.

  • Nowadays it is often done digitally in software.

  • Next time: Stereo and Multi-track recording