When referring to tone, I of course mean the general distribution of frequency content in a wide-band sense. All genres have a certain tone in my experience, for example Hip hop tends to be bass heavy, with a crisp top end (something like a smiley face?), whereas metal tends to have less low end, and more low mid high mids by comparison. This is not only due to the tastes of the target audience, but also down to the nature of the material being presented (with hip hop often having long, extended sub tails on kicks and crisp attacking snares, and metal having “chugging” guitars and less emphasis on the kicks low end punch, more the high mid “slap” or “attack”).
Of course, while talking in the broader sense of tone, the only fair way to examine this is to make comparisons with a wider range of material, as it’s often only by comparison that a lot of these broad frequency spectrum changes are more easily noticed (hence references during mixing and mastering).
I’ll be comparing my own thoughts against a spectrograph, taking a chorus section from each song, and using Ozone 5’s meter bridge spectrum analyzer set to “critical band” display, with a 3 second averaging time and an Infinite peak hold time. Playing the chorus of each song into this, viewing the resulting frequency data should give me a reasonable visual comparison for each song to test against my own thoughts.
I’ve selected some songs from my music library that fall into the category of “Indie Rock”:
- Arcade Fire – Reflektor
- Kings of Leon – Four Kicks
- Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
- Kings of Leon – The Bucket
- Elliot Smith – Waltz #2
- The Fray – How to Save a Life
- The Strokes – Machu Pichu
- The Strokes – Someday
My process shall be to listen to each song and write my thoughts, then run a verse and chorus of each through the spectrum analyzer with hold on infinite, to give a broad overview of their frequency content, resetting between each song. I will then compare the spectrum to my expectations and conclude.
Arcade Fire – Reflektor:
There seems to be a lot of energy sub-80hz, although this is well controlled.
The song sounds “warm”, giving me a feeling that there is no excessive boosts in the 2-5k region.
Vocals are somewhat sibilant, but enough so to make them intelligible. Possibly done to make them audible over the cymbals, which seem to have a lot of “hiss” in this 4-6k region.
Kings of Leon – 4 Kicks:
The bass has a lot of sub 80hz energy. This song sounds “harsher” than the last, so I expect a bump around 1-2k. Seems to have more mid, sounding more lo-fi. This could be a bump around 500Hz, or a deficiency above 8k giving this impression.
Arcade Fire – The suburbs
Sub 80hz energy is again very present. Snare is quite rattly, maybe expect a hump around 5-7k. Again, lo-fi, perhaps a deficiency above around 12k?
Kings of Leon – The Bucket
Guitars are particularly edgy and harsh, 2k hump?
Lo-fi, deficiency above 12k?
Bass has a lot of low mid/mid, as well as kick. 500-700hz Bump?
Elliot Smith – Waltz #2
Much less sub energy than other songs, expect to see less below 100hz, and more in 100-300Hz.
Vocal harmonies teamed with snare and acoustic guitar get quite harsh at points, expect a hump around 1-2k
Quite bright, expect more 12k+ than other songs
The Fray – How to Save a Life
Song seems much more of a pop production than others. Seems quite well balanced, if not a little heavy on sub frequencies compared to other songs. Expect a lot of energy below 100Hz. Snare is quite cutting, perhaps will cause a 1-2k bump? Piano sounds slightly warm, maybe expect a hump at 400Hz?
Arctic Monkeys – Fluorescent Adolescent
Quite bright, especially high hat, expect a lot above 7k. Bass and kick have a lot of low energy, a lot going on below 100hz? Kind of harsh, maybe a 1k hump? (very slight)
Radiohead – Karma Police
Bass is very low heavy, quite rumbly, expect a lot sub 100Hz. Quite soft, deficient above 12k? Bass is warm, hump at 400-600hz? Well balanced, expect rather smooth frequency curve otherwise.
The Strokes – Machu Pichu
Kick and snare have a lot of low energy, sub 100Hz will be raised. Guitars are quite warm as well as bass. 400-600Hz hump? Kick and snare have a lot of snap and guitars can be a little harsh, 2k hump?
The Strokes – Someday
Quite bright, expect a hump around 12k. Guitars are kind of harsh, 1-3k hump? (seems wideband). Bass is warm and middle heavy, and not as energetic in sub. Same for kick. Expect less sub 100Hz activity. Maybe more around 100-300Hz.
Overall, after reviewing my notes against their respective spectra, I am pleasantly surprised at my ability to notice frequency content.
Of course this can still be improved upon, and I would like to narrow my estimates somewhat, as my guesses were quite wide-band, and not very precise.
In aid of this, and in reference to some of my difficulties regarding compression, my next step will be to complete some Alton Everest exercises for frequency and amplitude material.