This book investigates how the process of recording a song transforms it. The process of recording constructs a rich experience that combines the music and lyrics of the song with captured performances; in addition, it imparts its own sonic signatures to deliver carefully crafted records. The recording is as much a part of the record’s artistic voice as the music or the lyrics, and it is common for recording elements to add significant dimensionality to recorded songs. This dimensionality is at the core of this writing.

The goal of Recording Analysis: How the Record Shapes the Song is to articulate how the unique dimensions (elements) of recorded sound contribute to recorded music—how they add essential substance and expression to recorded songs.

In examining the central ways elements of recorded sound contribute to records, this book will analyze numerous tracks to examine specific traits of specific elements, and also the interaction of elements. It will also investigate how the record shapes the overall qualities of tracks down to its smallest details. Recording Analysis: How the Record Shapes the Song will explore other qualities that are contained within or elicited by recorded popular song to illustrate its larger context of ways all its parts might co-mingle.

‘Recording analysis’ is the study of the content of records; it can include (among other topics) the music, lyrics, social context, literary content and meaning, and/or the recording process. Studying records may take many forms, may be positioned from numerous vantages. For our purposes, recording analysis is the study of how the recording contributes to recorded songs, and to the content and character of the sounds of and in records. In Recording Analysis: How the Record Shapes the Song we will examine the other essential topics and content areas of records, though they are not its central focus; this broadening (to include music, etc. listed above) is necessary to accurately situate the recording elements in records and to recognize their contributions to the whole. Doing so will allow the reader to recognize how the recording interrelates with music and lyrics, affects and meaning, performance and expression, and other qualities that shape every track into its unique form.

Central topics and features contained in Recording Analysis: How the Record Shapes the Song include:

  • Definitions and detailed examinations of each recording element
  • Analyses of tracks examining how they are shaped by specific recording elements, functioning at various levels of perspective
  • Developing listening skills to accurately hear and observe each recording element
  • Developing listening skills to productively listen with intention and attention for a wide variety of purposes and types of perspective
  • An analytical framework for approaching tracks as being unique from all others, utilizing listening with attention and intention to all elements as holding the potential of equal bearing on the track, and any level of perspective (detail)
  • A process for analyzing tracks, emphasizing observation and evaluation of recording elements, that lead to discovery and conclusions
  • Examination of music and lyrics, and of expression and affects within records


Before moving further, some preliminary definitions of terms will clarify this discussion. These terms (most of which you will have previously encountered) will have specific meanings when used in discussions throughout the text.

Song is the core identity of the record; it includes the words, melody, chord changes, arrangement and structural design. It is the musical work that does not include the performance. In performance, all the items it includes can be modified without changing its identity. All that is critical to its identity could be contained in a lead sheet.

Recording represents the sound qualities (elements) and interrelations of sound qualities that are brought about by the recording process. ‘Recording’ is one of the three domains of the record.

Track is the finished work, it is the recording itself, the recorded song. For recorded popular songs, the track is comprised of the song (music and lyrics), the musical arrangement and its performance, and the sounds of the recording process—these are the domains of music, lyrics and recording with the performance of the parts intersecting all three domains.

Track,’ ‘record ’ and ‘recorded song’ are used synonymously throughout this book. These are all meant to represent the finished musical work.

Track’ may also be a verb, that is used to mean to record a specific voice/instrument and to direct that recorded performance to a storage area that is isolated from others—a channel on a multitrack device or software. Occasionally this will be the intended definition.

The terms ‘popular song’ and ‘rock song’ are used synonymously, and also to speak generically. These terms refer to collections of musical styles and genres that are a product of oral and aural traditions, are created through recording, conceived in performance, and (most importantly here) that only exist in their complete forms as records (tracks). Springing from these generic terms are a myriad of styles and genres—a few examples are contemporary, rock, progressive rock, blues, country, western, dance, electronic, industrial, alternative, hip-hop, metal, grunge, soul, R&B, reggae, and so many more. The reader will recognize this list as grossly incomplete, and it is likely omitting some music that speaks deeply to you.

Lyrics is one of the domains of tracks. ‘Text’ and ‘song lyrics’ are used synonymously with lyrics in this writing.

Domain identifies the three distinct streams of information and expression that are within records. The three domains are music, lyrics and recording. Each domain is comprised of numerous, identifiable elements (for example, ‘melody’ is an element of music).


An overall flow takes the reader from background information through the various parts of the recording analysis framework, to in depth analyses of recording elements as they appear in a wide variety of tracks. This takes place over ten chapters, that are divided into two parts (each containing five chapters).

Part One establishes the context and the requisite background for recording analysis and for the study of the recording elements.

Chapter 1 defines what a record or track is—its domains, expression and affects, and performances—and how outside disciplines (such as sociology or poetry studies) may provide insight into tracks; a cursory introduction to the book’s analysis framework and process concludes the chapter. Chapter 2 delivers a thorough coverage of the framework and its principles and concepts; syntax, materials, perspective and form/structure are explored. Chapter 2 concludes with the first detailed discussion of listening with intention and attention, and how listening is personal.

Chapter 3 articulates the domain of music, and explores the appearances of music elements in popular music. The role of performance in tracks is encountered for the first time here, and bring focus to interplay of the lead vocal and accompaniment. Chapter 4 presents the domain of lyrics, as the voice of the song (and the track); structure of lyrics, message and meaning, dimensions of stories lead to a recognition of the central figures of recorded song: the lead vocal. The persona of the singer and the sound qualities of their performance are the focus of the second half of the chapter.

Part One concludes with Chapter 5, presenting approaches and challenges for observing the elements within music and lyrics domains; observation is the first step of the analysis process. This chapter includes transcribing and describing music elements, lyrics and vocal lines; timelines at various levels of perspective are first encountered here.

Part Two is dedicated to the recording elements: rhythm/time, timbre, frequency/pitch, spatial properties (lateral position and size, distance position, and environments), and loudness.

Chapter 6 provides an overview of the elements; it includes rhythm and time as recording elements, collecting information and transcribing recording elements, typology and syntax, and talking about sound. The chapter concludes with detailed coverage on track playback and listening systems, and ways they can impact what is heard and impact one’s analyses.

Chapter 7 is dedicated to timbre and its link to pitch/frequency; the importance of timbre to the track (its embodiment of sound sources, its presence at all dimensions, and its influence on other elements) is emphasized. The content of pitch density and importance of timbral balance are introduced, along with acousmatic listening. Chapter 8 provides in depth coverage of the dimensions of space in records, and collecting observations of each spatial element. Its coverage extends through listener perspective, angular direction and image width, and distance positioning of sources to define the sound stage; the sounds of places—environments of tracks, of the sound stage, and of individual sound sources—are observed for and defined by their timbre and time characteristics.

Chapter 9 concludes the coverage of individual recording elements with its exploration of loudness levels, contours and relationships as recording elements; it then explores the confluence of domains in tracks, and how complex interrelations establish and co-function within tracks. Timbre as confluence, timbre of the track, crystallized form and deep listening comprise the second half of the chapter, and prepare for Chapter 10. Chapter 10 presents the final two stages of the analysis process (evaluations and conclusions) and expands on analysis goals discussed earlier. The majority of Chapter 10 contains detailed analyses of each recording element at several levels of perspective; numerous and varied tracks are examined in these analyses. Interrelations of elements and of domains are also examined to bring a sense of engaging the great confluence within records.


A set of individual praxis studies have been devised and are included in Appendix A. These studies are designed for the reader to undertake self-learning of the elements and the processes covered in the text. Individual studies can be followed in isolation or as part of a sequence; the reader can reorder the studies as they wish, though topics are offered in what has proven to be the most effective sequence.

Some eResources have been assembled to support this text; they are available at:

The eResources include:

  • PDF files of select tables, graph templates, and various diagrams to aid the reader in analyzing recording elements and in developing listening skills
  • Spectrographs of selected tracks
  • Audio files to support praxis studies
  • Guidance and audio files to assist sound system design, set-up and calibration


In order to accurately analyze a record, one needs to hear the record accurately. This book can lead you to acquire the knowledge, develop the listening skills and engage pertinent listening experiences to hear a record’s content with a higher degree of accuracy. A disconnect may occur here, though. Your playback system has the potential to change the sound of the tracks it reproduces; this change can be substantial without you knowing it, and can bring your analysis to be inaccurate because you are not listening to the track with the traits that the artists and other creators intended, and differently from other listeners.

Chapter 6 will provide much detail on playback systems, and the webpage will provide instructions and audio files to assist you in assessing your system and in making adjustments. Some of the topics that will be explored are:

  • Components and specifications for a high-quality playback system to provide minimally altered, detailed sound
  • Loudspeaker placement and loudspeaker/listening-room interaction
  • Level-matching and spectral balance calibration of the system
  • Listener distance and orientation to loudspeakers for accurate spatial reproduction
  • Listening at appropriate monitoring levels to hear full-bandwidth frequency response

A professional quality system is not needed to establish an acceptably accurate listening condition, producing minimal changes in the sounds of the track. It is possible to assemble a listening system and physical arrangement within modest financial means and typical household logistical constraints. The goal is to reproduce the track with as few alterations as is practical for one’s situation—and, importantly, to learn the sonic consequences of those limitations. It should be understood up front, headphones (and especially earbuds) are not a suitable substitute for listening over loudspeakers. Headphones and earbuds will distort most recording elements in numerous ways—they change the very objects of our study.

The playback system is the reader’s access to the sounds of the track. Its characteristics will be inherent in all you hear.

As you navigate the topics of this writing, may you experience new dimensions and qualities within the tracks you know, and discover dimensions of sound you have yet to experience. The purpose of this book is to bring you to appreciate all that there is in records, emphasizing the recording elements. The journey of this book will take many readers into topics and concepts not previously experienced; the journey has been thoughtfully charted for you, though. It has proved rewarding for others in the past; I am hopeful you, too, will find it enriching.

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