Adventures In Audio
Still thinking inside of the box?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Monday July 24, 2006

'Think outside the box' - it's the current business mantra. It means not to be confined by existing limitations nor simply to accept the status quo without challenge. History doesn't reliably record the origin of this phase, nor what the nature of the actual box is, but you can't go far these days without being encouraged to think outside of it.

But one possible meaning of 'box' is the environment of your computer. Computer music recording has become increasingly box-like in recent years. One can now buy a suite of software that combines instruments, multitrack recording, editing, effects and mastering. And it all fits nicely inside of the box.

Now if we are being encouraged so often to think outside of the box, is it possible that by retreating into a musical 'box' we are doing exactly the wrong thing?

The principal reason why everything can now be done in software is that so many soundcards and audio interfaces only have two inputs and two outputs. The two outputs have to be used for monitoring, otherwise you can't hear what you are doing. Other than that, there is no way to get a signal outside of the computer (box).

So there is no external processing, no possibility of taking a sound that was previously recorded and putting it through an amp and miking it up. And once you have accepted that there is no way to get a signal out of the box, you might as well not bother putting signals in. Just use the in-built software synths and samplers.

Inevitably, this inward manner of thinking leads to a reduction in possibilities, a converging of potential creative avenues to the areas that software does best. This is 'thinking inside the box', most definitely.

So if thinking outside of the box is as significant in audio as it is in business - and since music is a creative endeavor, surely it must be important - then the computer must be made just a component of a much larger universe of possibilities. An 'infinite box', if you like.

The first step is to use an interface with more inputs and outputs, and software that will allow you to route signals to the outside world as insert sends and returns, and also as auxiliary sends and returns.

In that way, outboard equipment of all kinds could be incorporated so that the computer and software no longer place boundaries on the potential exploration of the sonic universe.

Following that will be a realization that whatever amazing things there are that can be done inside of a computer, there is an equally amazing range of processes that require analog electronics, more yet that can only be done with real sounds acoustically.

When the computer becomes merely a part of your recording, rather than the whole thing, then you will indeed be thinking outside of the box.

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