Learning Reason: is ignorance bliss?

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Thousand Ways
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Post 08 Jan 2021

In 2007 I released a 12" EP of four of my band's (electronic pop) tracks*. Aside from vocals, the whole thing was made in Reason. I knew nothing about unity gain, reference levels or gain staging, sidechains, ducking, decibels, anything. The tracks were not even mastered before they were sent to the pressing plant. I'd merely written and played the music and set the levels where they seemed to sound right. When the record came out I took it to record stores. It sounded, to me, on a par with what was playing on their decks when I walked in. Various stores stocked and sold the record.

I sent a copy of the record to a producer I'd admired for years. He liked it, and asked me about the MIDI I'd done on the drums. I had no idea what he meant.

It might well be the case that, if educated sound engineers listened to the record now, they'd say, "Ah, you don't have the right compression on the bass there". Or they might say, "Oh, it sounds fine, but you just got lucky, mate. You were ignorant of the processes of sound engineering, and it just happened to come out alright. Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.**"

In the thirteen years since then I've spent a great deal of time trying to understand all the processes mentioned in the first paragraph above. I find all of it, from routing of signals to MIDI to sidechaining, difficult to understand and to remember. And ultimately I'm left wondering, "Was it worth it? Having read nearly all of the Reason manual, and watched dozens of tutorials, and made hundreds of pages of notes, is my music any better for it?".

Is there not a case for not learning any of this stuff, for just using your ears and sticking the levels where you think they should be, and saving yourself a hell of a lot of time?

* I've refrained from including a link, lest this be taken as self-promotion.
** cf. Withnail and I, 1987.

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Billy+
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Post 08 Jan 2021

It's always good to learn about tools and techniques but from what you've said it sounds like you have understood what you needed and how it should sound. The first rule is always the easiest to remember but in music it's the hardest one to trust especially when you're starting out.

Rule #1. If it sounds right it probably is right.

PhillipOrdonez
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Post 08 Jan 2021

After all you've learnt, when you listen to it next to popular songs in the same style, played back to back with something that would be played before or after it on the radio, what are your thoughts?

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motuscott
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Post 08 Jan 2021

If you've read the manual, watched dozens of videos and made hundreds of pages of notes, I suspect you've learned more than nothing.
Rule #1 is still rule #1 though...
Vlad the thread stopper 🧂

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miscend
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Post 08 Jan 2021

Lets hear this commercial record of yours without mastering.

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selig
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Post 08 Jan 2021

Learning the terms is helpful when communicating with others, and not at all necessary when working alone. But it DOES make it easier to get questions answered because you'll know how to ask the question (and the quality of the answer is directly related to the quality of the question, or "garage in/garbage out").

IMO there is a HUGE case for not learning anything you don't actually need. When I teach engineering I start by accessing what the student actually needs to do. You can skip lots of technical stuff that you'll never need, you can even skip more important stuff if it doesn't apply in this situation. For example, If someone is doing VO work at home, I don't need to teach them about polarity between multiple mics, mix summing issues, drum processing, etc because at least at the current point in time they will NEVER need that information. It's wasted time and energy, and can cause the student to consider ALL information less seriously.

So my advice is to only stop and do a dive into a subject when you are convinced it may help you do a better job. If there is nothing you don't feel the need to improve, then keep on keeping on as before since it's working.

TL/DR: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But if it IS broke, make sure you only fix the part that's broken…
Selig Audio, LLC

Thousand Ways
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Post 08 Jan 2021

PhillipOrdonez wrote:
08 Jan 2021
After all you've learnt, when you listen to it next to popular songs in the same style, played back to back with something that would be played before or after it on the radio, what are your thoughts?
Well, here's an example, on one of James Bernard's Reason tutorials. From around 8:59 he demonstrates an A/B before/after of the processing that he's been doing. Is it really that much different – different enough to warrant all the additional work? Aside from the processed version being louder, would 99% of listeners hear the difference? And if they could, would they care? If they were played the two versions side-by-side, some would probably prefer the processed version, but if they were played the version without the processing then it seems unlikely that they'd complain about it.
motuscott wrote:
08 Jan 2021
If you've read the manual, watched dozens of videos and made hundreds of pages of notes, I suspect you've learned more than nothing.
What I question is whether what I've learned was worth the bother, whether it's made any concrete difference, and whether anyone else would even notice the differences. (Also, it's very difficult to make the information stick in the memory, which means that the manual has to be read again and again.)
miscend wrote:
08 Jan 2021
Lets hear this commercial record of yours without mastering.
I did give my reason for not linking to the record, or naming it. Since you ask, the Discogs page is here. I see that there are three copies for sale. I don't know where else it can still be bought; it's many years since Juno et al were stocking it. Obviously, I can't play you a vinyl copy over the internet …

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miscend
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Post 08 Jan 2021

Thousand Ways wrote:
08 Jan 2021


I did give my reason for not linking to the record, or naming it. Since you ask, the Discogs page is here. I see that there are three copies for sale. I don't know where else it can still be bought; it's many years since Juno et al were stocking it. Obviously, I can't play you a vinyl copy over the internet …
Some of the songs are on Soundcloud. It does sound polished for an indie electronica release from 2007, maybe the record label had it mixed and mastered before the vinyl pressing? I know vinyl audio needs to be mastered to a certain spec before it can be pressed.

Nielsen
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Post 08 Jan 2021

Applying knowledge with a specific purpose in mind usually works better than just doing it because you can, and being capable of doing it whenever beneficial is better than ignorance, in my opinion. Some of my older tracks were decent, but suffered from my ignorance at the time.

Thousand Ways
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Post 09 Jan 2021

miscend wrote:
08 Jan 2021
maybe the record label had it mixed and mastered before the vinyl pressing? I know vinyl audio needs to be mastered to a certain spec before it can be pressed.
The label was only a handful of people, and I dealt with the pressing plant in this case. There was no pre-mastering or anything. I really think that this happens with tons of releases. Think of all the house and techno 12"s released over the last three decades, often made on very low budgets. What percentage of those went through professional mastering? Yet they still sound alright.

(Doubtless for a separate thread, but if anything vinyl production standards have dropped since 2007, mainly because many plants (including the one we used for that record) went under before vinyl became hip again. There are now far fewer plants, and places like GZ Media have become notorious for their dreadful, flat pressings, made en masse and apparently without anyone checking anything. I know one person whose 12" went through five or six test pressings with them, and each was no better than the last.)

DecafDreams
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Post 12 Jan 2021

Thousand Ways wrote:
08 Jan 2021
Is there not a case for not learning any of this stuff, for just using your ears and sticking the levels where you think they should be, and saving yourself a hell of a lot of time?
I think, as with many other disciplines, the really interesting and talented people in music are the ones who self-teach and just work at something 'til they like what they're doing themselves.

There are two worlds in competition here, the world of purist, academic sound engineering; and the world of 'make up your own rules' artistry.

It's just a case of working out how much you need to live in each of these worlds to create your best work.
Thousand Ways wrote:
08 Jan 2021
Withnail and I, 1987.
Amazing film btw, I live just down the road from where the farmhouse scenes were filmed...
Last edited by DecafDreams on 12 Jan 2021, edited 1 time in total.

JunctionArsonist
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Post 12 Jan 2021

Thousand Ways wrote:
08 Jan 2021
...just using your ears and sticking the levels where you think they should be...
Engineering (not audio engineering) is my profession. A common refrain where I was taught was "to find the answer, you must know the answer". That is to mean you should have an intuitive understanding of the answer before you employ every tool at your disposal to solve a problem in a rigorous way.

Ignorance seems like entirely the wrong concept to me here... it sounds like you intuitively arrived at a good sound.

gritz
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Location: London

Post 12 Jan 2021

I had a track which we thought was great but convinced it needed more sent it to DJs and people to master what came back was not great - I believed they knew better perhaps not

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plaamook
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Post 13 Jan 2021

DecafDreams wrote:
12 Jan 2021
think, as with many other disciplines, the really interesting and talented people in music are the ones who self-teach and just work at something 'til they like what they're doing themselves.

There are two worlds in competition here, the world of purist, academic sound engineering; and the world of 'make up your own rules' artistry.

It's just a case of working out how much you need to live in each of these worlds to create your best work.
I think that's true often enough but there are basic processes you should understand that will be relevant to the music you make. So if you don't make beats and so on you may not need to get stuck into how to compress drums 'properly' but there will be something and those things will be so relevant that yu'll remember them I think.

I started off winging it, no idea what I was doing but doing it till it sounded right to me. At the time ideas like getting deep into MB compression and so on were like gibberish to me.
First album went to master and the guy said he didn't think it needed much, sounds ok to him, only a little polish. I was quite surprised.
Second album was more complex but got a similar reaction. However this time he polished it a bit more and I was more involved in that end of the process. What he did do (bit of EQ, MB Compression, few little tricks) I paid very careful attention to and learned a lot of stuff that is very relevant to the work I do. So in the end I know more of what I 'need' to know.
Seems like a good approach and his help was invauable. Also it established a context for long distance mastering of album 3 during the first part of covid lockdown last year, and I understood what he told me he was doing (very little) as we bounced things back and forth between Spain and Germany. Also I could explain to him what I did or didn't want, rthe than it being a total mystery.

My 2p anyway...

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mcatalao
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Post 13 Jan 2021

Pardon the Cliché but in the end of the day if it sounds right it is right.

My main thoughts about this stuff, and believe me it is VERY EASY to get caught up in this, is that Music comes first, sound comes after. You most probably will remember if a melody and harmonic progression is great rather than if it sounded great r if the production was great. Most people will tell ya “I like this song”. They don't say “I like the sound of this song” or “I like the production of this song”.

So maybe your songs were great and that sold your records instead of a stellar production. OF course if you have a good song with a stellar production that's perfect, the optimal situation. But if you have a crappy sound and a great song people will still remember it and will still want to hear it. Most 50s and 60s songs have a crappy sound by today's standards (man just think of the mono and unbalanced stereo recordings of the time) and yet people still listen to that, because the music is great.

Anyway, I say it again. IF it sounds right it is right. IF you used a compressor to make it sound right, or if you automated, or if you carefully edited midi to have the right gain, it really doesn't matter how or what to the final consumer.

What I think it is important is that you create a workflow that works. That you can reproduce with very similar and very accurate results. And then build on top of it. That will be your base workflow and that gets you from point A to point B.
Accuracy and reproduceable results will validate the process.

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EnochLight
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Post 14 Jan 2021

Thousand Ways wrote:
09 Jan 2021
if anything vinyl production standards have dropped since 2007, mainly because many plants (including the one we used for that record) went under before vinyl became hip again. There are now far fewer plants, and places like GZ Media have become notorious for their dreadful, flat pressings, made en masse and apparently without anyone checking anything.
I can attest to that. I just bought a brand new - never opened before (sealed) copy of Basil Poledouris' "Conan the Barbarian" original motion picture soundtrack. This pressing was brand new and done in 2015. I opened it, and literally - dirt fell out of the jacket when I pulled the record out! The vinyl looked like it had been pressed during a dust storm!

I sent it back to Amazon and got a replacement. The replacement was in a similar condition. And this was off of a major label (Geffen/Universal Music), pressed in 2015.

But I digress...
Win 10 | Reason 11 Suite |  Studio One 4.5 | i7 3770k @ 3.5 Ghz | 16 GB RAM | Reactor 1TB SSD | RME Babyface Pro | Nektar Panorama P-4 | Akai MPC Live 2 | Roland System 8 | Roland TR-8 with 7x7 Expansion | Roland TB-3 | Korg Minilogue XD | Roland MX-1

stuk71
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Post 15 Jan 2021

interesting debate. I know I understand the technical aspect of getting the sound that I want, and what I need to do to get there... but I am also sure I was having lots more fun in the early 80s with my VL-1

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be

Thousand Ways
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Post 15 Jan 2021

stuk71 wrote:
15 Jan 2021
I am also sure I was having lots more fun in the early 80s with my VL-1
I'm still using one. I've even used it as my main synth at gigs. And you can do maths on it. :thumbs_up:

2chris
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Post 18 Jan 2021

I think the bigger issue you’re alluding to comes when people spend less time trusting their ears to find what sounds good, or making a product without inspiration. If you had limited technical ability, but you wrote music you liked and then focused on how to get as much as you could out of what you had by using your ears - that’s raw passion and focus. Technical skills cannot replace passion and creativity that’s put into a constructive focus that uses pragmatism rather than perfection.

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selig
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Post 19 Jan 2021

2chris wrote:
18 Jan 2021
I think the bigger issue you’re alluding to comes when people spend less time trusting their ears to find what sounds good, or making a product without inspiration. If you had limited technical ability, but you wrote music you liked and then focused on how to get as much as you could out of what you had by using your ears - that’s raw passion and focus. Technical skills cannot replace passion and creativity that’s put into a constructive focus that uses pragmatism rather than perfection.
Up until the last decade or two, you didn’t;t need to be a good engineer to make good music. When I started out in Nashville in the early 1980s I was the ONLY musician/composer/engineer I was aware of. None of my engineer friends wrote music, non of my writer/musicians engineered.
These days it’s is all but expected that you engineer your own music, which is a lot of pressure and something that is not for everyone.
I don;’t actually like to engineer my own music, it removes some degree of perspective for me. I was lucky to be able to cash-in favors and get top engineers to work on my early solo work, so I could just listen and “direct” (which is hard enough IMO).
So I can totally sympathize with those who just want to write good music, and have the eingineering done for them by human OR AI hands! 🤓
Selig Audio, LLC

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Reasonable man
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Post 19 Jan 2021

Think there's always the beginner's luck element to music or production just like everything else on top of all that. The more you listen to other music producers the more you compare it to your own work which leads to being more critical. I think this in turn leads to study and a quest for knowledge which unfortunatley turns one single crossroad into a maze of crossroads and a state of being overwhelmed.
Sometimes getting from a to b can be achieved far more convincingly through manipulation of sound rather than manipulation of music but going down that road has to mean that music and musicianship has to take a temporary dip to accomadate that. Anyone else agree?

To sustain any longevity a base knowlege of a wide range of age old techniques and principles i think has to be grasped ...no way around it( in my opinion)..otherwise i'm not sure you can get that far on passion and determination alone.Without going on a tangent ..i remember once watching a tennis match on tv that was between two latest 'hotshots' that had been knocking a lot of seeded players out of the tournament, the commentator siad that they were still young and just leaning the game and if they didn't keep learning new techniques and improving the techniques they had .that they may never even qualify for another big tourmanent let alone win one . He was right ..in fact i can't even remember their names and would be surprised if they're still even playing tennis tbh. Obviously other players with more experience and a wider range just figured out there games eventually ..and thats proabaly cause said games wern't added to or improved etc etc over time.

Think the op did the right thing regardless. I have a massive respect for people like jon hopkins who can play ,compose, mix, produce etc which is rare but we live in a time where its actually hard to earn anything in music if you don't do almost everthing yourself! Music streaming has had a massive impact on he industry obviously.

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motuscott
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Post 19 Jan 2021

The first song I wrote and recorded solo was brilliant. The drop off after that was fast and bulbous.
Vlad the thread stopper 🧂

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Mistro17
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Post 20 Jan 2021

Just my 2 cents as a hobbyist. When I was first introduced to Reason 2.5, I had fun making a LOT of music. I was younger and fearless. I never heard of the term "Music Theory" or cared about "engineering". I just wanted to have fun and make music. I listen to some of them today and wonder how I had the energy to put them together so fast. 3 Years ago I decided to actually "learn" music theory and take making music "seriously" watching youtube videos etc. And now I feel like I'm moving like a snail compared to the 2.5 days like I'm over thinking too many things now after taking in so much information with a common language..."If you don't do THIS, you're not doing it right or professionally". I'm actually at the point I look at the typical video title screen on YouTube saying "10 Compression Rules Every Producer Should Know" etc. and I just suck my teeth looking sideways. I'm learning that the most important thing is to continue to have fun, use my ears more than knobs and don't let someone else's wisdom take over my own spark. Of course I'm thankful I learned theory and the ABCs of the keyboard so I can play it more effectively and being mindful about mixing so it sounds good across many devices. Understanding is always good...it makes a better artist. Just do not lose yourself to please anyone else because what's unique about you cannot be taught but discovered. And it will ONLY be with you.

Tiny Montgomery
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Post 22 Jan 2021

Mistro17 wrote:
20 Jan 2021
Just my 2 cents as a hobbyist. When I was first introduced to Reason 2.5, I had fun making a LOT of music. I was younger and fearless. I never heard of the term "Music Theory" or cared about "engineering". I just wanted to have fun and make music. I listen to some of them today and wonder how I had the energy to put them together so fast. 3 Years ago I decided to actually "learn" music theory and take making music "seriously" watching youtube videos etc. And now I feel like I'm moving like a snail compared to the 2.5 days like I'm over thinking too many things now after taking in so much information with a common language..."If you don't do THIS, you're not doing it right or professionally". I'm actually at the point I look at the typical video title screen on YouTube saying "10 Compression Rules Every Producer Should Know" etc. and I just suck my teeth looking sideways. I'm learning that the most important thing is to continue to have fun, use my ears more than knobs and don't let someone else's wisdom take over my own spark. Of course I'm thankful I learned theory and the ABCs of the keyboard so I can play it more effectively and being mindful about mixing so it sounds good across many devices. Understanding is always good...it makes a better artist. Just do not lose yourself to please anyone else because what's unique about you cannot be taught but discovered. And it will ONLY be with you.
Yes I really relate to this. I've tried to reverse this by trying to have a 2 - 3 minute piece at the end of a session and not too many unfinished loops.

Tend to start with an empty drum machine and choose 8 sounds, fire up Beatmap and off to the races. At this stage the sounds should be sounding good enough to you without worrying about anything more than level. You're probably choosing sounds that have already been processed to a certain extent, you don't need to stop and start worrying about compression etc, anything sticking out like a sore thumb at this stage gets swapped out, not laboured over.

I keep following this and only start adding effects in a utilitarian fashion as and when needed or when the thing itself starts telling you e.g ok I'm going to reverb the snare now to give the dry drums a bit of atmosphere, I'm going to filter the bass as I want that high end in it for the chord or a drum hit it's clashing with and so on...

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miyaru
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Post 22 Jan 2021

I don't know much of music theory. I know my way technically in music: I attended the SAE College in Amsterdam some 20 yrs ago, and try to keep up with my knowledge.

I try not to think to much about what must be, and should be. I try to think logically about the technical side of music, but music theory whise I let my self free. If it sounds good to me, it is good. I make music for myself, so that is easy.

I use the Scales and chords player every once in a while, and sometimes Scaler, but most of the time I do it as I like.

Let yourself free, don't live musically by rules and have fun!!!!!

:lol:
Greetings from Miyaru.
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