Waveform Examples – Live, Vocal, and Old School Recording

I am a believer that waveforms tell a lot about the sound sources and we need to use both our eyes and ears when it comes down to sound processing.  Depending on the type of music or sound you are working with, the end results can vary.  Here, I am going to present to you how the waveforms of some of the professional works look like.

1. Muse – H.A.R.R.P – Hysteria – An Example of Live Recording

Songs from Muse’s live album “H.A.R.R.P” are good example on how the compression should work for live music recording.  I choose the song “Hysteria” because it starts with a distorted bass solo and then the drums and electric guitar solo enter.  You can clearly see the change in waveform as illustrated below.

The first thing you shall notice is that the bass guitar is panned towards the right channel (the one at the bottom) as the wave is “fatter” there.  The little spikes you see are the drums (point to note: you can even guess the tempo of the song by observing the spikes and check if the drummer is consistent at all!).  As you can see, at the beginning of the song, the bulk of the signal undulate around -6 dB.  Something you may wish to take note.

As the song enters into the chorus when the vocal soars and the electric guitar is switched into power chord mode.  The waveform is now changed to the follows.

Now, bulk of the signal is at -3 dB region, getting really close to the 0 dB limit.  Need not to say, the music gets really hot at this instance (note: it is so described as most of the panels that display the volume of the signal will switch to red once the signal exceeds -5 dB and a red light will lit up once the there is a clip).

2. YUI – I Loved Yesterday – LOVE & TRUTH – An Example of Pop Vocal Recording

I choose the ballad “LOVE & TRUTH” besides the fact that I love the song, it is a good illustration on a (female) vocal track against an acoustic guitar.

This is a typical vocal waveform at center (both left and right channels are close to identical) with a range of -9 dB to -3 dB.  The punctuation between words creates the lump-like wave structure.  In the following diagram, you can see an accentuation of sound signal (due to the introduction of the drums) and with a brief silence, the waveform hits the maximum 0 dB.  In fact, it is typical of Pop music to artificially boost up the volume right up to the 0 dB ceiling.  The result is both a loud in-your-face type of music that modern audience prefers and an unpleasant distortion that many people don’t care these days.

 3. Led Zeppelin – Remasters – Stairway to Heaven – An Example of Old School Recording

Say all that you like, I still prefer to listen to the old school recording that we are supposed to enjoy the music in a quiet room taking in the full dynamic range without straining our ears to the loud notes in each passing second.

“Stairway to Heaven” begins with the famous acoustic guitar lick.  As you can see below, it is panned to the left and the volume is hardly audible if you are outdoor.

 As other guitar tracks enter together with the vocals, the signal hardly reach -12 dB (see below).

When the drums kick in, the overall signal doubles with the sound of the snare drum reaching the -6 dB level.

When the song reaches climax together with the electric guitar solo, the bulk of the signal undulates between -9 dB to -6 dB with plenty of headroom to 0 dB.

As you can see, it is quite a difference to what you see in modern days.  Ultimately, you have to decide which reference you should take for the type of music or sound you are working with.

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