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Preparing for the BA in Music and Sound Recording

We know that many of you are wondering how you can best prepare to start studying with us in the autumn. We deliberately don’t provide a set ‘prior reading list’ because we recognise that students come to us with a huge variety of existing musical experiences and interests – and we try and give you space within our programme to develop those interests further through our range of option modules, as well as hopefully pointing you towards new things that you can get excited about too.

So please don’t feel under pressure: none of the below are things we’d necessarily ‘expect’ an average student to have read or done upon arrival with us (as far as we are concerned there’s no such thing as an ‘average student’ anyway – all our students are gloriously individual). So, if there is something musical or technical you’ve been longing to do for ages – learning to how to edit audio, getting to know a composer or musician’s output really well, getting to grips with MIDI controllers – ignore this list and do that instead; we’ll be delighted to hear about it when you join us.

But if you’re stuck for ideas, or just want suggestions for even more things you could be doing, here’s a few starting points.

Reading

Many of these are available cheap second-hand; if you can’t find a cheap copy on Amazon it’s also worth searching the very comprehensive price-comparison site bookfinder. You might also be able to find earlier editions of some of these at a much lower price; these are as good as the latest edition.

  • Nicholas Cook’s Music: A Very Short Introduction is a great starting-point for the kinds of issues and material you might cover at university. (If you’ve not hear of the Very Short Introductions series, it’s a great way to get started on a specific topic; they actually cover various other musical topics too, including ethnomusicology, folk music, early music and music psychology…)
  • There are a few textbooks that you might find very helpful during your time here. We have several loanable and reference copies in our library, but if you want to get a copy yourself we would recommend Sound & Recording by Rumsey and McCormick (a really wide-ranging book that covers most aspects of sound recording)
  • Acoustics and Psychoacoustics by Howard and Angus covers any and all physics you would ever need in for sound recording. Again, we have several loanable and reference copies in our library if you don’t have your own.
  • If you feel that your theory or analytical skills need a bit of brushing up, there are various texts you could work through depending on your current level. Anna Butterworth’s Harmony in Practicetakes you through to about grade 8 theory in carefully-guided exercises and examples; George Pratt’s The Dynamics of Harmony goes a bit further and considers the broader principles of harmony. If you’re already quite comfortable with those ideas, Nicholas Cook’s A Guide to Musical Analysis is a great overview of analytical techniques that also considers atonal and other non-traditional music.

Listening

  • Exploratory Listening– this is one of the best things you can do to prepare for university music studies. Listening thoughtfully and analytically is a core skill for any university-level music student. So do make the time to listen through to things you’ve not encountered yet. Listening to classic solo pieces, large orchestral pieces, experimental works, live recordings, modern pop, and dub will prepare you particularly well for some of the topics we cover. Above all, just listen to anything you’ve not heard before.
  • Listening Diary – a good way to help you listen thoughtfully is to keep a ‘listening diary’: list each piece as you listen to it, and jot down any ideas/questions you have while listening. Some things you’ll really enjoy, and others you might not – try and ask yourself what it is about the music that makes you respond in this way. It’s okay not to enjoy something, but it’s good to be able to reflect on why that is! Even just 2 or 3 new tracks a day is enough to really start expanding your reference points and your knowledge.
  • Preview Playlist – we’ve created a Spotify playlist specifically for you to help you get to grips with the range and depth of some of the music and technologies you might encounter while you’re here at York. You don’t have to like it (even a negative reaction is one worth discussing!) but everyone should hear this music at least once.
  • Ear Training – from early in the very first module we’ll be exploring frequency (pitch). Good engineers are expected be able to estimate a frequency accurately. To do this takes practice and training. This handy tool allows you to set your level and increase the difficulty over time. If you can score 50% on the ‘guru’ level you’re doing very well indeed. Why not train up before you arrive?

Doing

As well as reading and listening, there are some practical tasks you can do to help you prepare for your time at the University of York.

  • Build a reference bank – when we are recording or mixing we will need to listen to our work constantly to check the quality of it. However, we may work on a range of different equipment, monitor speakers, and microphones depending on the situation. It helps to have reference tracks we know the sound of really well, so we can listen to those on any system and hear how the system reproduces the sound. We recommend building a bank of up to reference tracks you know very well in a range of styles you can use in the studio. TOP TIP: one of mine is a Spice Girls track: the hi-hat is far too loud, so if it sounds good in a studio I know the speakers aren’t reproducing some frequencies very well.
  • Get software ready – whilst not essential, there are several free/open source software tools that we recommend to make your life easier. We suggest signing up for a free Spotify account (we share some extra listening material on Spotify for home listening), and ensuring you have Chrome and Firefox for dealing with high quality web audio. You will also be working on Reaper for your first module (http://www.reaper.fm/) so we suggest installing this before you arrive also. Reaper offers an unlimited evaluation mode and is also offering temporary licensed to facilitate social distancing; as such you should not pay for Reaper at this stage.
  • Reaper training – as it is easy to program, offers high quality reproduction, and is highly flexible, we have standardised Reaper as the primary recording software in all studios in the music department. As such we recommend students do some preparatory work in learning the basic functions of Reaper. Cockos (the company behind Reaper) provide excellent introductory and explanatory videos (https://www.reaper.fm/videos.php). We recommend students begin with the ‘How to Watch the REAPER Videos (New Users)’ clip and then move onto the ‘This is REAPER 6’ videos, starting with ‘Introduction’. This will give you a great advantage when beginning your first recordings in your first MASR module. Don’t worry, you can use whatever DAW you like for most modules, this is just how we start your training.
  • Start A Portfolio – collecting any previous recording, sequencing or mixing work you’ve already done is a great way to consolidate the work you’ve already done to get here. Being able to refer to your previous work is very helpful when it comes to analysing and identifying your own progress. It might even feed into some of the careers activity we do. Its always good to have a solid backup of any and all work you’ve done.