Like reverberation discussed last month, echo can be both a good or bad thing in the studio. Too much echo can ruin a recording, but puting just the right amount can make it sound great.
It is easy to confuse reverberation and echo. In fact, many people erroneously use the terms interchangeably. An echo is a distinct repeat of a sound as it bounces off a hard surface. Think of standing in front of the canyon pictured at the top of the page. (This is a photo taken near the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.) If you shout "Hello!" you would expect to hear the sound of your voice come back saying "Hello" one or more times, with each time becoming quieter.
Contrast that with a large cathedral in Europe. If you shout there, you are likely to hear a cacophany of sounds that slowly decay. The difference is at the canyon, a single reflection bounces back at you one time and possibly two or three times. In the cathedral there are multiple relections occuring in every direction at the same time which mix together smearing the sound. The first is an echo. The second is reverberation.
Now consider a high school gymnasium. If you bounce a basketball there, you will probably hear an echo and reverberation. That is because it is a rectangular box with four hard walls, a ceiling, and a floor. The cathedral on the other hand has some odd shapes with columns and cubby holes that make the sound bounce around in all sorts of ways.
There are several types of echo. The one mentioned above at the canyon is called a repeat echo or space echo. Another type of echo is called a flutter echo. It is an echo in which the repetitions are extremely close together, which causes an annoying ringing sound. It is not unusual for someone visiting my studio to clap their hands. Among other things, they are listening for a flutter echo, something that would not be good.
Another type is the slapback echo. It is similar to the repeat echo, but the repetitions are closer together. This type of echo, which is also called a spin echo, slap echo, or simply slapback, can be added to a recording for effect.
The natural way to do this is use a echo chamber, a room with sound reflective surfaces used to create echoes. Another way is to use a tape echo. Legend has it that Sam Phillips, owner of the legendary Sun Studio, discovered tape echo by mistake while using a reel-to-reel recorder with which he accidentally fed the playback signal back into the recording signal. Whether or not that is true, he made the effect famous. Many rockabilly songs of the 1950s and 1960s used the effect.
With tape echo, the amount of echo is controlled by the level of the signal fed into it. The time between repetitions is controlled by the speed of the tape. Later, special units were developed that used a tape loop to feed the signal back into the recording, which allowed the operator to vary the tape speed and thereby adjust the timing of the echo as desired. This parameter is called delay time. How quickly the echo dissipates is called early decay time.
Sometime later, special devices were developed in which the signal was delayed electronically. These units are now called analog delay units, because as you might suspect the same effect is created today using software and is called digital delay. These delay effects allow you great flexibility in adjusting the amount of echo, the time between echoes, and the amount of decay.
In today's recording world, it not unheard of to use both reverberation and delay on a vocal track. It would be similar to the example given above for bouncing a basketball in a gymnasium, but with much more control to achieve a desirable and pleasing effect.
Next month, we will take at look at controlling the undesirable effects of standing waves, reverberation, and echo.
• Having only ten minutes of studio time left, the Marcels put it to good use recording a doo-wop version of "Blue Moon," a song written in 1934 by Rodgers and Hart. That recording hit number one on the US charts in April, 1961.
• John Lennon and Paul McCartney frequently wrote their lyrics on scraps of paper, backs of envelopes, or whatever might be handy. After recording a song, they often threw these away. Hunter Davies, the official biographer of the Beatles, frequently retrieved these handwritten notes from the trash. Today seven such manuscripts are on display at the British Museum in London, and are worth millions of dollars.
• "Twilight Time" by the Platters was released by Mercury Records on both 78-RPM and 45-RPM records. It quickly rose to number one in the US in April, 1958, selling 1½ million copies. Because more 98% were 45s, Mercury soon became the first major record label to stop producing 78s.
Give Me a Helping Hand
As you may know (especially if you have presence on the internet), it can be very expensive to maintain a website. To offset these costs, I recently began featuring ads for
Amazon.com. (See example below.) Each time someone clicks on one of these ads and makes a purchase, I get a small percentage of the sale, but only if they buy something.
The cool thing is I get paid for any sale they subsequently make, even if they don't buy the original item they clicked on, as long as it is in the same session. So if you need to order something from Amazon, next time consider clicking on one of these ads, even if you have no intention of buying the item listed. It will help with the cost of my website, and I will greatly appreciate it. Here's thanking you in advance.
Present this coupon when you come in for a recording session and receive $50.00 off the regular rates when you book a session of 8 hours or more. This coupon is good for new clients only, can be used only one time (only one coupon per person or band), and cannot be combined with any other offers. If you pay by phone using a credit card, please use coupon code NEWSLETTER. If you have any friends or relatives looking for a recording studio, please clip this coupon and pass it along to them.