Sample Responses to Why are Audio Engineers the Enemies of Our Ears?

The essay, Why are Audio Engineers the Enemies of Our Ears?, has generated a good level of heat; email responses to it come in frequently. What follows are a range of sample responses and my replies to them. My current take on audio engineering is that it is a serious business that's not yet taken seriously by this society, not even by insiders responsible for its care and feeding. The overall audio consciousness level barely exceeds the background noise. I, for one, quixotically work to cultivate a more vibrant, healthy audio consciousness level.

A list of messages (original spelling and punctuation left intact) from others who care enough to voice their positions:


From: John Busenitz
Organization: Purdue University Electrical & Computer Engineering
To: ronpell@microweb.com
Subject: Audio engineers; enemies of our ears

"I glanced over this site. Some very good information; I strongly agree with you. However, you might consider changing your wording. By "audio engineer", you probably mean sound or recording technicians. They generally are not engineers at all, but undereducated technicians who are, as you say, hearing impaired, from exposure to constant loud SPLs. Audio engineers are the electrical (and sometimes mechanical, acoustical, etc) engineers who design audio equipment such as amplifiers, processors, loudspeakers, etc. They don´t play any part in the destruction of our ears!

Thanks,
John"

Hi John:

Thanks for your message. You make a good point - wording is often a source of confusion. However, the expression "audio engineer" is used today to refer to just about anyone who has anything to do with recording, processing, or playing back sound. It seems to help semi-educated audio technicians achieve a more grandiose sense of themselves. They´ve latched on to using the more generic sense of the word engineering usually found at the bottom of the list of most dictionary definitions - "skillful or artful contrivance; maneuvering"; "faking it" could be another way of putting it. The definition at the top of the list - "the art or science of making practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences, as physics, etc." - is a tall order indeed. For ten years I taught an upper level college physics class on the Physics of Music; the people from the campus music recording program were always among the weakest students.

The fact is that the term "engineer" is used very loosely today in the general public as well as the academic world. Many well-respected academic institutions, the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL for one, have had music engineering programs for many years and numerous other lighter weights are also on the bandwagon. And software engineer is also a common expression today. My point is that a word or expression gets its meaning from the way it's used in the contemporary world, its current context.

Now, we could have a very long and possibly heated discussion about how the products of the true audio engineers (the electrical, mechanical, acoustical folks) are contributing to the dumbing down and desensitization of hearing in the 20th century. That's another subject; it´s related but it is different. For feedback on the notion that "true audio engineers don´t play any part in the destruction of our ears" you might be interested in monitoring the postings of the World Forum For Acoustic Ecology:

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Regards,

Ron Pellegrino

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From: James Boyk
Organization: Caltech
To: ronpell@microweb.com
Subject: Audio excell.

"A friend drew my attention to your "quest for audio excellence" info, but I´m afraid I don'´t quite "get it." Is there some guiding principle behind what's listed? Or is it just a bunch of interesting stuff -- not that there's anything wrong with that? Do you design audio consult in the field?"

The guiding principle is the "quest for audio excellence" wherever there is audio. Excellence in audio is a rare find and what I´m doing on my site is part venting, part teaching, and part raising audio consciousness. There is nothing about audio that I don´t find fascinating; and that includes acoustic as well as electronic audio. I´m a composer, a multimedia performance artist, and a psychoacoustician which means I´m always involved in designing and fine tuning audio environments but not audio equipment as such, though the intelligent use of audio equipment is very much a part of my game. If you check out the rest of my site you´ll get an idea of what I mean.

Glad you found it a "bunch of interesting stuff."

Ron Pellegrino

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From: Preferred Customer
To: ronpell@microweb.com
Subject: NOT the enemy of your ears

Dear Sir,

As a working audio engineer, I´d like to say that I am not the enemy of your ears. I fully realize that audiences are volume sensitive. I personally have seen many shows ruined because they were too loud. I have also seen many shows ruined to a bad mix. Good engineers are hard to come by, and the´re are´nt alot of good ones, sorry to say. But not all are the enemies of your ears. Some venues call for more volume than others, but none need to be as loud as a jet engine.

Joel Hopkins

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From: Mathew241@aol.com
To: ronpell@microweb.com
Subject: Couldn´t Agree More

"I couldn´t agree with you more. The SPL level at most local shows here in Pittsburgh is completely out of hand. I can't even stand to see a band for more than two songs and that is with my $150 pair of "full frequency" ear plugs in. In addition to the audio engineers "reinforcing" every instrument, the bands in many instances are just as bad.

I´m an audio engineer at a small local club and on most nights I mic only the kick and snare, and usually don´t even have the snare mic on. In addition to that I mic all the other instruments but rarely have them on with the exception of the vocals and maybe guitar solos. The problem I have is that most of these guitarists are so loud that I can´t keep the vocal above their stage volume. Another dilema I seem to be having is that because I don't mic the entire drum kit the band gets angry with me because they feel that I'm not giving them what everyone else in town is giving them. This eventually is going to kill my reputation with the bands and lead to my demise as a freelance audio engineer. (Actually not likely cause I have a great reputation) Right now I want to get out of the clubs and into the studio where I control the volume level not the guitarist.

Do you have any suggestions? I think that trying to educate these deaf "audio engineers" is a losing battle. The only way that this is going to improve is to educate the new comers in our field and hope that the new wave of engineers will hold the line on SPL´s as well as the frequency pain facture. It never fails to amaze me how a guy will walk into the club and grab the 2k slider and move it from my minus 6 position to a plus 6 position and think that it sounds good. Sounds like pure pain to me. They also have so much high end that the singer sounds like he has a lisp due to all the sibalance.

Thanks for giving me a place to vent,"

Mathew:

You´re a rare bird, a listening man´s audio engineer. I´d say keep doing what you're doing and let the musicians know why you´re doing it. Part of your job is educating the musicians and the audience. Learn to speak their language and convince them that you´re on their side. Any audio person with intact ears and experience is going to have a long productive career.

Separate yourself from the pack by doing high quality work and people will be knocking your door down to hire you. Join with other audio engineers of like mind, advertise and publicize your approach to high quality, and your company will have more work than it can handle.

Best of luck to you.

Ron Pellegrino

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From: Tereson Dupuy
Organization: The Creative Child
To: ronpell@microweb.com
Subject: Read Your Article

I've just read your article "Why are audio engineers the enemies of our ears?" and couldn´t agree with you any greater. I´m an engineer in a local club which features live music 6 nights a week. I´ve often had comments from patrons on how nice it was to see a live band and still be able to converse with friends. I´ve been mixing sound for nearly 15 years and have developed techniques for getting that "CD" quality mix without just turning up the volume. All too often inexperienced "engineers" just crank it up for the lack of any better method forgetting a "good" mix. They just figure that at the louder volumes, you will not be able to hear the natural stage volume. They are too arrogant to work with the natural stage mix. Granted, you can´t do that with a bunch of deaf or inexperienced musicians blarring away on stage. I guess I´ve just had good luck in working with true "professionals" who respect my advice when I ask them to "Turn it down!"

It´s a shame that these "green" soundmen give all audio engineers a bad rep. i´m always concerned with SPL and comfort of the audience.

Just thought I would give you a reply. Check out my home page at http://www.inlafayette.com/tadsound

Terry:

Thanks for your response. I checked out your site, downloaded "Backo'Town Two-Step" and "Do Me Like", and enjoyed listening to your good work. I´d like your permission to post your response on my site and include a link to your site.

Regards,

Ron Pellegrino

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From: Kathy Morini <"75622,15"@COMPUSERVE.COM>
To: ronpell@microweb.com
Subject: Gee Ron, what do you do for a living...

"Well, nice essay. Sorry you have experienced live sound that was harsh in the upper mid, and at an SPL that you found untollerable. I think your widespread blanket judgement of "live sound engineers" is a bit off. You see, there are sound engineers and fader jockeys. Perhaps you met a fader jockey. By the way, boosting 1.5k - 5k will cause phase displacement in most three way loudspeakers. Most live engineers that I have met, worked with, toured with, and have discussed system equalization with, tend to cut >-2 db - >-6 db within the range of 800hz - 5 k. I have a particular dislike for 1k - 2.5k, and a real distaste for 3.15k. So, read up dear Ron, and meet a real sound engineer. In addition, I can't hear 4k. Too high of an SPL for me."

Kathi:

Check out the rest of my website for the answer to the "what do you do for a living " question. It´s all about different musical games. Unfortunately most audio engineers are musical bottom feeders, in other words, they are barely musically literate. Read the essay again and maybe you´ll discover it´s not a blanket judgement. It specifically targets the deaf engineers hellbent on making the rest of us as deaf as they are. Forget about "reading up " and get serious about "listening up "; sounds like your ears have some growing up to do. If you can´t hear 4k you´re in the deaf category.

Ron Pellegrino

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From: Erik Lutkins
To: ronpell@microweb.com
Subject: (no subject)
Did a sound engineer tragically kill your mother or something? You sure do hold a grudge against those lame ass engineers for some reason. Lighten up, will ya? Geez...We're not all that bad

-------------------------------
Erik Lutkins
ripp002e@frank.mtsu.edu
http://www.mtsu.edu/~ripp002e
-------------------------------

On Mon, 15 Sep 1997, Ron Pellegrino wrote:

"Just a note to say I checked out your resume to understand the source of the above response. I suggest you take the audio engineering business seriously otherwise you might be doing full-time kitchen work for the rest of you life. To find, hold, and excel at a music related job takes more than a picture of yourself at someone else's board.

Get serious, will ya? Geez...Maybe you won't be all that bad.

Ron Pellegrino"

From: Erik Todd Lutkins
To: Ron Pellegrino
Subject: apology

Mr. Pellegrino, I want to apologize for my childish comments made in the earlier statement. But when I read your scathing attack on audio engineers in several of your articles, I just couldn't help myself. And in effect I probably just proved your point even further. However it hurt to see you ridicule a profession I admire and respect. Believe me when I say that I truly do take audio very seriously and am trying to absorb the most I can about all aspects of audio, music, and engineering. Again I apologize.

............................
Erik Lutkins
ripp002e@frank.mtsu.edu
............................

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