Music Production Terms – A Glossary

Image Credit: Kelly Sikkema

Don’t be put off by music production terminology – use this cheat sheet of technical terms for producers and musicians.

Do you want to get started as a music producer but always end up thinking ‘what the hell do all these words mean?’ Check out RouteNote’s glossary of a few technical music production terms that might otherwise trip you up before you’ve even got started.

ADSR: Attack – the beginning of the sound; Decay – a fading sound; Sustain – how long it can hold; Release – the fade to silence. The elements form the ‘envelope’ that describes the shape of a sound.

Audio interface: Hardware for recording with a computer that means high-quality recordings.

Bit rate: The number of bits per second, measuring the accuracy of a recording, the higher the bit the more detailed.

Bouncing: Exporting a track to a format like an mp3 or wav file.

Clipping:

Another word for ‘distorting’ or ‘peaking’.

Compression: Reducing the dynamic range of a signal, the difference between the loudest and quietest parts. This means more consistent dynamics, by turning down the sound if it goes above a certain level.

DAW: Digital Audio Workstation – software like Ableton Live, GarageBand, Logic Pro. Used to record audio, mix, make sound effects, and master. Musicians can also compose within DAWs through MIDI devices (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Check out our pick of the best 10.

Demo: Recording a song or piece of music as a first example of the project, in preparation for a proper full recording.

EQ: Equalisation (EQ) is a method of cutting or boosting the levels of specific frequencies within a sound without changing the rest of it, by adjusting the gain (volume) of a sound at selected points.

Feedback: A high-pitched screech caused when a loop of sound is caused by a signal passing through an amplifier to a microphone and back again. For example, amplifier sound ‘feeding back’ to guitar strings that are still vibrating.

FX: Short for ‘effects’. Common effects include reverb, chorus, distortion, and flange – processes or devices applied to a signal to alter its sound.

Gain: How loud a signal is before it goes through an amplifier. Can be another word for volume, and another word for guitar distortion.

Gating: Stopping unwanted noise coming through in a recording by cutting signals below a specified threshold.

Input: The initial part of the recording chain, through a cable such as a Jack, MIDI or USB.

Jack: A connector. Usually comes in 6mm, 3.5mm mini jack and 2.5mm sizes.

Latency: A delay between input and output of a signal, often in a performer’s headphones.

Loop: A repeated section of a song, often using imported samples.

Lossless and Lossy files:

Mastering: Mastering means making sure the music sounds consistent over all music formats and platforms.

MIDI: Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Data and notes recorded with software and electronic instruments. The notes recorded by a MIDI keyboard are recorded in a DAW as MIDI notes.

Mixing: Combing multiple recorded sounds together, blending to change the levels for a balanced and interesting track. A master mix is the final result.

Panning: Placing a sound in the left or right speaker.

Plugin: Software to extend your DAW with extra effects, processing or instrumentation.

Reverb: Reflection of sounds from surfaces; the sound of a room. More reverb can be added electronically with a plug-in.

Sample: A short pre-recorded sound, taken from one recording and used in another. The smallest unit of measurement in digital sound.

Sequencer: A MIDI sequencer can be used to record and edit a performance without using an audio-based input source. It doesn’t record the actual audio but the data – what note was played at what time, etc. 

Tempo: The speed of music. In BPM (beats per minute), 60BPM for example is one beat a second.

Tracking: Recording songs, on computer, recorder or tape. In a DAW, tracks contain audio and MIDI layers. Each instrument gets its own track.

Velocity: The force at which a note is played.

VST: VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology – plug-ins to bring extra instruments and effects into DAWs. 

Waveform: A soundwave’s shape, displayed on an oscilloscope.

Wet/Dry: A dry signal is a pure unprocessed sound, like a vocal recorded as is. A wet signal is a sound with effects on it.

XLR: A microphone cable, with three prongs.

That’s just the tiniest tip of the iceberg, but don’t be intimidated by music producer jargon. There’s plenty of online resources to help if you get stuck on your producing journey, like the handy videos on our YouTube channel:

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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