The A-Z Of Music Making: The A’s – From Acoustic Damping To A&R

In the often-confusing world of music technology, many terms, expressions and reference points can be bandied about with an expectation that everyone involved in music making automatically understands what is meant. Are you feeling a little perplexed? Help is at hand…

Marc JB’s new A-Z goes through some of the most vital (and just generally good to know) real-world terms alphabetically and in plain language – so let’s start with A…

(For the best of each definition, click the title)



1. Acoustic damping

acoustic damping

After a sound comes out of your speakers, it bounces around the room. If the room has parallel walls, standing waves build up, making the sound muddy and horrible. Using acoustic dampening panels can help to tame these troublesome waves. Bass traps in the front corners help soak up that low-end energy; midrange traps placed to the side of you stop ‘flutter’ and help to keep the sound solid and tight. Finally, full-range traps on the back wall help keep the whole room under control. Egg boxes are best for keeping eggs in!


Stands for Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release – this shapes the amplitude envelope of a sound – how its volume is set to ‘behave’ over time. Attack: when you first press the key, this adjusts the time it takes the sound to go from silent to the loudest level. Use fast attack for aggressive sounds, slow attack for smooth pads.


Decay: the time it takes the sound to go from its loudest point to the level set by the sustain level. Sustain: the level of the sound when you hold a note. Release: the time it takes a note to return to silence after the key is released.

To make a ‘pluck’, set a fast attack, short decay, zero sustain and short release. For a ‘pad’, set a long attack, long decay, 70% sustain and a long release. ADSR can also be applied to your filter cutoff, for great results.


Stands for Audio Interchange File Format. One of the most popular uncompressed audio file formats, as used on Macs.

4. Amplitude

The volume of an audio wave.

5. Analogue

Sounds made using old-school electronics, including the transistors, valves and resistors found in ‘vintage’ gear. These electrical components can be slightly unpredictable and noisy, giving the resulting sound a warm tone with subtle distortion characteristics. These often sound great, but due to ageing of components and their design, can behave erratically.

The Roland SH-101 synth (see last issue’s Rewind feature for more info) from the early 1980s can go out of tune depending on how warm it is, for example. There are many great digital emulations of analogue equipment available, such as the SSL 4000 Series console bundle from UAD.

6. A&R

This stands for artists and repertoire – and these are the guys you impress at a record label or music-publishing company in order to ensure your fabulous, unique tunes are signed up and distributed to a worldwide audience.

The A&R people are responsible for talent scouting and artistic development of songwriters and music artists. Despite the ever-growing number of artists who self-promote and release via the web, impressing an A&R person is still the best route into the rarefied world of the major labels.