One of the hardest things about making music is talking about it. In the studio we use a lot of jargon which is great when we have a shared language but completely unhelpful if we don’t all use the same words to communicate our ideas. I thought I’d throw up a little cheat sheet that you can check in on whenever you might not know how to get your point across properly. Some of them are so simple that they may seem pointless but I want this list to be as complete as possible, there may be things missing (let me know in the comments if there’s anything you’d like to know) and I will add to the list as time goes on.
Vox – short for vocals.
Lead – this is your main vocal take, the most prominent sound of your voice in the mix.
Doubles – a replica recording of the lead vocal (copying and pasting doesn’t work, you need to record a separate version) that is usually mixed a lot quieter, just to beef up the lead vocal.
Overs/Dubs/Overdubs/Stabs/Backups – these are similar to doubles but usually only used on the last word(s) or syllable(s) of the main vocal.
Ad-libs – short for the Latin ad libitum (literally meaning ‘at one’s pleasure’) ad-libs are the little phrases you might use in gaps in the main vocal (think ‘uh’, ‘yeah’ ‘skrrt’ etc).
Track – in recording/mixing terms this is one part of the whole song – just the lead vocal, doubles, beat etc.
Bus – a track that a number of other tracks combine in. You might have a vox bus which would play back the lead, double, overs and ad-libs all together – when you add any effects to this bus it will affect all the vocal tracks at once.
Verse – obvious, I realise, but these are the parts of the song where the main story is told, in between choruses.
Chorus – again I know this is clear but this is the repeated section of the song, that the audience will get to know quickly.
Tempo – how fast or slow the song is, measured in beats per minute (bpm).
Bars – one ‘line’ of the instrumental, in most rap music this will be 4 beats. Vocal lines may be longer or shorter than bars – a 16 bar verse is not necessarily 16 lines written down.
Hook – usually the chorus but can be any part of the song that’s catchy. Hook, catchy, get it?
Bridge – most commonly used to refer to a middle 8 – an 8 bar section that is different in structure or vocal content from the verse or chorus. A bridge can also be a prechorus or postchorus – something that bridges the gap between a verse and a chorus.
Sibilance – ‘sssss’ and ‘ffff’ sounds.
Plosives – ‘b’, ‘p’ and ‘d’ sounds.
Pop Filter – that bit of fabric between you and the microphone, it helps reduces the volume of plosives getting to the mic.
Top – the start of the song/verse/chorus.
Mixing – controlling the balance and sound of individual tracks that make up a song to make the whole piece work together as one.
EQ – ‘equalisation’ is controlling the audible amount of different frequencies on an individual track or song. Think the ‘bass’, ‘mid’ and ‘treble’ controls on your stereo.
Bass – the low frequencies.
Mid – the middle frequencies. This is often broken down to ‘lower-mids’ and ‘upper-mids’.
Treble – the high frequencies.
Compression – when you compress something you reduce the amount of difference between the quietest and loudest part of the track/song. Think when you’re watching a movie at home with someone asleep in the next room – during quiet dialogue scenes you turn the volume up so you can hear it properly, then in the next scene there’s a gunfight and you turn the volume down so you don’t disturb someone else – you’re compressing the volume of the movie.
Threshold – the volume over which the compressor starts to work. If your threshold is -6dB then your compressor will turn down the volume of anything that comes in as -5.9dB or above.
Ratio – how much the compressor turns down any sound that exceeds the threshold. If your ratio is 4:1 and your threshold is -6dB the compressor will turn down a sound that registers -2dB (4dB above the threshold) by 1dB.
Attack – how long it takes for the compressor to start turning down a signal that exceeds the threshold.
Release – how long it takes for the compressor to ‘let go’ of the signal once it has fallen below the threshold.
Make-Up Gain – a compressor turns down the loudest parts of a track, the make-up gain turns the whole signal up together.
Pan – where a sound sits between the left and right speaker. If something is panned hard left it only comes out of the left speaker and hard right only out of the right speaker – you can pan a sound anywhere between these two points.
Delay – echo. Simple.
Reverb – recreates a ‘space’ around something, technically it’s lots of delays all happening at once. Think of the sound of someone singing in a bit space, when they finish singing you can still hear their voice bouncing around for a second or so.
Automation – can be applied to any aspect of the mix, it is how you program something to change over time. Automating the volume down creates a fade out. Automating a delay up at the end of a line means that you only hear the delay (echo) of the end of the line.
Telephone Effect – using EQ to cut out all the bass, low-mid frequencies and high frequencies makes a track sound like you’re hearing it through a telephone.
Stutter Effect – cutting the first syllable of a line and placing it before the line starts. The st-stutter effect is used a lot in dr-drill and tr-trap music.
These ones are a bit more abstract:
Muddy – lots of lower-mid frequencies – cup your hand over your mouth and count to five, that sound you hear is muddy.
Bright – lots of treble frequencies – in terms of vocals, if you make something ‘brighter’ you’ll hear more of the ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds.
Thin – lots of upper-mid frequencies – like the telephone effect.
Dry – recordings with no effects.
Wet – recordings with effects.
Mastering – is using the mixing tools from above but one the whole song rather than individual tracks to prepare the song for release.
Loudness – is different from volume, it is the average level of the sound from the start to the end of the song.
Limiting – high-ratio compression that will not allow a sound to go over the threshold at all. This is the last part of the mastering process, we set the limiter to -1dB and turn the whole song up until it hits the right loudness for the release format.