Dancing About Architecture: A Dictionary of Audio Terms

In issue #83 of my other favorite magazine, Tape Op editor Larry Crane details a list of lessons that “They Didn’t Teach You in [Recording] School”. Near the end of this page-long list of incisive barbs Crane offers a quip that reads as a gem of painfully dry studio wit:

Warm Sound Meaning Definition“Words like ‘warm’ and ‘punchy’ will drive you crazy,” he writes, “as they do not mean anything.”

We’ve all been there: sitting in the studio trying to get our messages across in clumsy and intuitive terms. But musicians and engineers often speak different languages. So how can we have productive conversations about the ineffable?

This isn’t an obstacle relegated to novices in small studios. In the film Eating, Sleeping, Waiting, and Playing, Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Bassist for Beck, Gnarles Barkley, Garbage, NIN, Macy Gray) fondly recalls nebulous directives from the French band Air.

“On this song,” they might say, “the bass should sound as if it is a beautiful carpet.”

Although I’d hate to live in a world without endearingly unwieldy descriptors like that one, there are times when a little more clarity can help. To that end, we offer this brief dictionary of audio terms.

Punchy [adj ‘p?n-ch?]

Just how can a sound be “punchy” anyway? Merriam Webster defines this quality as “forceful, spirited, vivid, vibrant”. That sounds nice enough, but like many general definitions, it leaves us with a moving target…

…See the rest of our audio glossary on SonicScoop.

This entry was posted in All Stories, Rants and Raves, September 2011, SonicScoop. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Sign up for our Email Newsletter


  • E-news and Updates

    Subscribe to Trust Me, I'm a Scientist Find me on Facebook Find me on Twitter Email Trust Me, I'm a Scientist