Background Noise: The Bane of Music Production

I am in the music business so I know that soundproofed studios must be used for recording sessions for good reason. Background noise is the bane of production. You can filter it out later, but why not prevent it at the start. I have been to the best state-of-the-art facilities, and I have heard the results from home efforts (when I get demos). There is a huge difference. You wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise. It costs enormous sums to install a quality studio for professional use. There are engineers trained in just such an enterprise. For top artists, nothing but the best will do.

Meanwhile, I once got a tape from a young male artist. I get lots of them all the time, but I rather liked his sound. It was new, raw, and appealing. Something stood out in his voice that kept me listening. However, oddly enough, I heard some kind of whirring noise in the background each and every time. I checked my equipment and it was clearly not responsible. No malfunction there. It was embedded in the tape. This doesn’t usually happen. Those sending in their samples are careful to give me the best of what they can produce.

I tried to ignore the strange, almost eerie sound. I supposed that it came from some primitive recording device; but now it was a mystery I wanted to solve. I asked my sound engineer and he surprised me with an answer, “it’s a ceiling fan or loud air conditioning unit—one or the other, I’m sure.” Ha! That rang true. The poor kid had forgotten to turn one or the other off. It didn’t matter as this was an introductory tape, but it amused me and reminded me how naïve some young artists are when starting out. I guess he knew he would get the royal treatment if I signed him to a label.

I called the young man. Normally, I invite the prospective individual to come to my office. I give a tour, explain the ins and outs of representation, the royalty structure, etc. However, I wanted to see his abode myself. Upon entering a small apartment in the suburbs, I encountered the mystery ceiling fan and a window AC unit. He had both! The ceiling fan was some huge modern thing, something like the ones shown at firstratefans.com. They were both on full blast and the noise was worse than in the demo.

“Turn those darn things off,” I said before even greeting the kid. “I can’t hear myself think.”

“Oh, sure,” he replied as he hurried to execute the task. “I’m so sorry.”

“Didn’t you know that they were in your recording?” I queried.

“God, no,” he stammered and tensed.

“But I liked it anyway,” I added and he started to relax.

The rest of the interview went well—noise aborted. We hit it off and I listened to some live renditions of his own compositions. It was a fruitful experience for both, and I scheduled a second appointment for the following week. As you can imagine, he was thrilled.

There is some kind of lesson here for the inexperienced. Go ahead and make your tapes, but please, turn off the extra sound!