Defining Feedback

Defining Feedback


26 MAY 2017

written by Mike



We are afraid to give constructive feedback, and we are afraid to receive it. “Afraid” may be a wrong word. We just don’t like it.

The thought of being average, making mistakes at work, gives me chills. So when someone dares to criticise and correct me, I go into a defence mode. Well, I used to. Now, as you can see, I’m chilled.


Why is feedback important?

Learning curve

“I don’t need an assessment. I know my skills.” “What does he/she knows? I’m the one doing the work!”

Does that sound familiar?

It does to me. I used to be like that before I learned the value of a helpful comment. The first benefit is obvious. A strong feedback will speed up your learning curve.

Why would you want to spend hours figuring something out if you can just ask for help?

I remember when I first started on a big job as a trainee. I was quite anxious; that was my big break! The last thing I wanted was to mess it up. So when I didn’t know how to do something, I would spend time on the internet browsing for answers.

“Couldn’t you just ask someone?”

Yes, I could. I just didn’t want anyone to know that I don’t know stuff.

“So clever!” I thought to myself when I found an answer after twenty minutes of searching. And asking my colleagues for help would take twenty seconds. Once you learn the value of asking for feedback, your learning will shoot up. You will understand that it is the best way to progress. And the quickest.


You will make mistakes. It is not an assumption but a fact. Now, the question is, would you want to know about them?

We tend to live and work in environments where perfection is everything. And the truth is we are not perfect, far from it. When someone tells you about your blunder, you should thank them. I’m not even joking.




New people and criticism.


Learning curve

Let’s have a look at learning curve again. This time from a perspective of a new staff member. We all know that when we start learning something new, we gain skills exponentially, then comes dreaded plateau.

You need someone to help you. Someone who will boost your skills. No, you won’t progress like you did in this first couple of weeks but you will keep moving forward. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

In the beginning, you will make a lot of mistakes. Constructive feedback will help you to adjust, correct and learn from them.


What if you are on the other side? What if you need to train new people?

Fortunately, I have some experience in that, both good and bad. When you have someone under your wings, a definition of feedback can quickly change. We tend to judge others from our perspective. We expect from others the same output as we do from ourselves.

Couple years ago I had a responsibility of training a new member of staff. The new guy was a bit older but had a lot of previous experience. In the beginning, he struggled to catch up with my workflow. He kept making the same mistakes; he was slower than the rest of us.

Until one day I understood. It is not him; it’s me. From someone that has just started, I expected the same output as from myself. And it wasn’t helping anyone. We talked a lot; I changed the way I spoke to him. He told me that he was so stressed about making a mistake; he couldn’t focus on other stuff. And my authoritarian rule did not help. See, I thought I was giving him constructive feedback; he saw it as a constant criticism.

In the end, communication is the key.


Difference between feedback and nasty comments.


Ok, so we talked about why constructive feedback is necessary. Let’s have a look at the differences between feedback and criticism.

Constructive feedback

When you receive feedback from your family, friends or colleagues, they mean to help you. That is the first thing you need to understand. And the hardest. Definition of constructive feedback is simple – it’s a good will. It is there so you can grow. So you can understand your mistakes and learn from them.

Nasty comments

So it is all good and nice. That’s how the world works, right?

Well, unfortunately not.

Sometimes it feels like we are giving constructive feedback, but in reality, we just want to criticise others. It makes us look good. What are the main characteristics of nasty comments?

They will make you feel stupid. Like you don’t know what you are doing. Like you don’t deserve the job. They will make you feel small.

They will embarrass you. You know a thing about nasty comments? People will make them in a group. When you are defenceless. When you are weak. They are not helpful. Nasty comments are not like constructive feedback. They won’t help you grow. They won’t help you learn. They are there just to make you feel sorry.

The minute you understand the difference, you can prepare.



How to deal with feedback and nasty comments.


So now you know what others mean when they talk about your work. It is time to return the ball. How others perceive you depends on how you deal with feedback.

What can you do to look the best you can?

Constructive feedback

Well, the first thing you should thank the person. Someone just took time out of their day to look at your work, and they want to make it better. You may not agree with them, but it doesn’t matter. You should be gracious for the act.

Next, you should take notes.

You see, it is easy to take offence. It is harder to admit imperfection. And the last point, you should learn from the feedback. Even if you don’t agree with it, maybe there is something you overlooked. Maybe if you go with the changes, your work will end up much better.

Nasty comments

Now, there is a different way to deal with nasty comments. Sometimes you want to take the higher road. Sometimes you don’t. First and most important – ignore them.

Don’t bother. Think about it in this way. Someone just took the time out of his or her life to look at your work, to think of the way to criticise you and to make a comment. Who is the bigger loser there?

You haven’t wasted your time; it is the other person. So don’t give them a satisfaction of your attention.

The second way is more direct. If the comments don’t stop, say you don’t appreciate them. Say you don’t like the tone and if there is something wrong with your work you can schedule an official meeting to talk about it. Don’t get cornered at your desk. And have a witness if you can too. A colleague, maybe another line manager.

And the last point. If someone harassed you, speak up. Take it to a higher management, take it to Human Resources. If it’s not possible, contact a professional advisor. And leave. You probably won’t change the environment and life is too short to spend it in toxic places.


How to give feedback


People have different ideas, different approach. Acknowledge that. First of all, when you talk to someone about they work what do they say?

“I’m so sorry.”

Well, tell the person that they don’t need to apologise. Everyone makes mistakes. Failure is a part of life, a part of learning. There is no reason to worry about it.

Also, don’t pick on little mistakes. Yes, you can mention them when you talk about something bigger. But there is no need for a meeting every time you spot something. It makes you look like you are watching every step of everyone around you.

Make sure they know about it, though. If people don’t know that they are making mistakes, they will keep doing them. Sit down with them and go through their work. Take your time, explain why it matters. Don’t just call someone and expect him or her to change right away.

Invest a little time. It will be appreciated.

A proper feedback platform should exist. Where staff and managers are not afraid to speak up, to talk about each other’s work. And not behind people backs. There are interesting examples of openness in a workplace. Ray Dalio and his investment firm Bridgewater Associates are an example of that. They record every meeting, and everyone is welcomed to watch the tapes. Every time someone mentions your name, you get a notification, and you can look at the video of it.

Extreme measures?

Maybe, but his firm is one of the most successful in the world. I’m not saying that we should be filming our every step. I’m saying that we shouldn’t take so many things so personally.

So next time, don’t attack the feedbacker, welcome him/her with open arms instead.

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Intro to Microphones

Intro to Microphones


20 MAY 2017

written by Mike




In this article, I want to share with you an overview of a recording microphone. Microphones or mics are the basic instruments of capturing sounds. You have one inside your laptop, your phone and your camera. Even in a smart watch.

Before we dig deeper in microphone placement techniques and various recording tips you need to learn more about mics.

What is a condenser? Dynamic?

When you work with professionals and experienced sound engineers, you will learn that choosing the right microphone is number one thing one the list. Every audio professional will have their preferred mic, and least favourite too. Whatever you want to do you will need to understand basic characteristics of a recording microphone. So, let’s start with that.

When it comes to elemental features of a mic, three things matter.

A transducer, frequency response and directionality.

I. Transducer

A transducer in a microphone transforms acoustic energy (e.g. your voice) into electrical energy. How a microphone registers sound depends on a type of a transducer. Two main ones are Dynamic and Condenser.


Dynamic microphones are quite cheap to build and robust.

So how do they work?

Dynamic mic operates on small electrical generator built from a diaphragm, voice coil and magnet. Let’s say you are recording yourself for a YouTube channel. The force of your voice, as a sound wave, makes a diaphragm vibrate. The diaphragm can be described as a thin membrane hidden behind microphone’s metallic mesh.

At the rear of the diaphragm is a voice coil, a coil of wire, which also vibrates. A small magnet forms a magnetic field around that wire. Physics. The movement of that coil within the magnetic field generates electrical signals that correlate to the force of your voice. Because dynamic microphones can survive in the toughest environments, they are number one choice for live performance.

It is almost impossible to overload a dynamic microphone. Good examples are Shure SM58 we use them for live sound and Shure SM57 another classic and cheap microphone. If you don’t know which one to buy you should get SM57. It will do the job.

Shure SM7B is a classic dynamic microphone used by sports commentators and radio presenters.

Have you ever wondered how is it possible that they shout their heads off, and the sound stays clear?

In most cases, Shure SM7B is the answer. My favourite dynamic microphone would also be Beyerdynamic M201A smooth sounding mic that works great on a snare but also on some louder singers.






Condenser microphones are a bit more complicated than dynamic, more sensitive and more expensive (well, it depends…).

The basics of a condenser mic lie in a capacitor.

The force of your voice will resonate a thin metal or metal-coated membrane that sits in front of a rigid backplate. The space between the two contracts and the motion produces electrical signals.

Now, the biggest difference between dynamic and a condenser is that the latter requires additional power to run. There are two ways to power up your condenser microphone.

First one is with batteries, second, we call phantom powerPhantom power runs through the microphone cable from the interface e.g. mixing desk or audio interface. Condenser microphones are sensitive and delicate. They also produce more noise than their dynamic siblings. Maximum sound level specification means that if you shout into a condenser, there is a high probability that the recording will distort.

Good condensers are great in capturing a wide dynamic and frequency range. Try recording an acoustic guitar with a condenser and then with a dynamic microphone. You will hear that condenser will capture the smallest nuances and movements of the guitar.

A classic pair of condenser mics would be AKG 414. Sound engineers often use them as overheads for drums and choirs.

Neumann U87 is a classic studio microphone used for vocals. It is the first choice for ADR recordings or dubbings. Recording sound on sets also requires a sensitivity of a condenser. Microphones such as Sennheiser MKH-416 combine a subtlety of a condenser transducer and a robustness of a dynamic microphone. Remember also to buy a pop shield and keep an eye on a noise level.

II. Frequency response

Frequency response it the reason every music producer, sound engineer or a foley recordist has a preferred microphone. Transducer decides how the sound is captured; frequency response chooses what to capture.

Let’s say you recorded your dog. If your recording sounds 100% the same as your dog in real life, it means that the microphone that you used has a flat frequency response. It didn’t change the sound. Microphones with the flat response are used for measuring acoustics of space and can be quite expensive. Also, you don’t want to use them on your recordings.

Why not?

Well, the sound of a microphone can make your recording better. It can add depth and warmth. It can capture smooth low frequencies or sharp high frequencies. It can omit frequencies that you don’t want. Some microphones will add punch to your drums or presence to vocals. Other times you may wish to use a microphone with a detailed response.

You don’t want to omit anything when recording a wide frequency instrument such as piano. Before using a microphone check its frequency response and its desired use. It’s also good to experiment with different settings.




III. Directionality

The last one on our list is directionality.

Directionality describes the most sensitive side of a microphone. Polar patterns describe how a microphone will pick a sound and what is its best position for it. There are quite a few polar patterns to choose from, but today I will focus on three main ones.


The omnidirectional microphone will register sound at all angles. The polar pattern covers 360 degrees. It means it will pick up the sound from the back as well as from the front. With the same intensity. These polar patterns are great if you want to capture an ambience of a place, something like an inside of a cave.

Another use is to leave an omni in the room as a so-called ambient mic. You can then add this additional layer to your mix later on.


As you probably guessed, unidirectional microphones will register sounds from one particular direction more than from others. Most popular will be a cardioid, a heart-shaped polar pattern. It will pick up less ambient sound than an omnidirectional microphone, and it works great when you want the focus.

For example, if you wish to record a dialogue on set you don’t want to capture a technical crew that is chatting in the corner. Unidirectional microphones are made for this kind of stuff.


Bidirectional microphones are sensitive at front and back but omit material from their sides. They are great for vocal duets and individual stereo recording techniques such as mid-side, M-S.

This polar pattern is used when you want to dismiss unwanted sources of sound. As I mentioned before these are helpful on movie sets, during live music recordings or any environment with more than one sound source. Correct microphone placement is a skill in itself, and I will share with you some advice on that in another article.

To know your equipment is essential.

How it all works and why you want to use it?

These are the questions that you need to ask yourself before making any decision. Microphones are everywhere. You don’t have to know all the details and technical specs of their build, but don’t be ignorant. When it comes to selecting the right gear, ignorance is not bliss.

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What is Sound Wave

What is Sound Wave


12 MAY 2017

written by Mike




Let me ask you a few questions.

What is a sound wave?

What is the difference between transverse wave and longitudinal one?

And why does it matter?

It matters because it is a fundamental knowledge of sound. You can’t write a book without knowledge of the alphabet, right? Well, I guess you could. But it’s much easier to know the letters. Anyway, let’s start with something basic, a waveform.

What is a waveform and how do we describe it in modern, digitalized world?



Let’s start with physics. So the picture represents a sound wave. Now, notice that I said “represents” a sound wave. It doesn’t really look like it. A sound wave is a disturbance of particles within a medium. A medium can be anything like air, water or steel.

It is a mechanical wave and to better understand it, imagine a slinky. Now, a movement of a sound wave is kind of like a coil movement of a slinky. It either compresses or spreads apart.

If you got one nearby, grab the first coil and move it back and forth. It will create a disturbance. The first loop will push and pull on the second coil that then displaces the third one and so on.

So the energy introduced into the first coil is carried by a medium, our slinky, from one location to another. It is important to remember that.


Remember the picture?

It is only a representation of sound. We use a sine wave to portray the sinusoidal nature of the pressure-time variations. In simpler words, it’s easier to imagine a wave in this way. It does, sort of, look like a wave. In reality, sound passes through a medium and disturbs particles in the longitudinal, linear motion.



If you need to remember one definition of a sound, memorise this:

The sound is a longitudinal wave with compressions and rarefactions.

Let’s go back to the pictures and have a look at some of the details. First, we have a source of the wave. We can describe the source as a body that disturbs the first particle of the medium. A source can be anything that vibrates. So if you play the guitar, the string will vibrate. If you sing – your vocal chords do the job.

What about YouTube videos? Are they the source?

Yes, your computer makes the diaphragm of a speaker vibrate. Now, we have created a disturbance in a medium. But what it is exactly? A medium is just a term for a bunch of particles bundled together. They stay near each other, and they collaborate with each other.

So as I said before, a medium can be anything that will carry the energy, particle disturbance, forward. It can be anything, but the air is always our first bet.

Now, under the picture, I wrote medium – particle interaction.

Why is that?

I want you to understand why we define a sound wave as a mechanical wave. The energy, our sound wave, is moved from one place to another by particle interaction in a medium. Let’s say the medium is air.

The first bunch of particles moves from their position and they either pull or push next group of particles from their position. This neighbourhood disturbance is mechanical and carries on through the air.

Ok, but what is a transverse wave?

And what is the difference?

In a transverse wave, the oscillations happen at the right angle to the movement of the energy. So if you know Indiana Jones and his whip, you will remember that the wave travelled on one side. It doesn’t go up and down when he uses it. Light is a transverse wave and so is a ripple in a pond.

Let’s go back to the characteristics of our sound wave.


We describe a wavelength of a wave as a complete wave cycle. A repeat of the pattern. In a sinusoidal graphic representation of a wave (my first picture), we measure wavelength from peak to peak or from trough to trough. In a longitudinal representation of a wave (second picture), we measure wavelength from compression to compression or rarefaction to rarefaction. Both images represent a case of a repeating pattern, the waves.


The peak is the highest point in the wave. Sort of the loudest moment in a wave. Sound engineers often say that something is “peaking” or “clipping”. It means that the sound of the recording is trying to go beyond the loudness limit. You can see it on your meters; they will go red.

Or in your waveform. Instead, of a nice, round one, you will have a squashed square. You can see (and hear) it in a lot of modern music and movie mixes. Everyone wants it loud and big. Last week I went to see something in IMAX. The trailers were so loud that people in the audience were covering their ears. A bit of dynamic range would not hurt.

Anyway, remember that this is only a graphic representation of a sine wave; sound does not look like that.


The trough is the lowest point in the wave. Or the quietest moment in a wave. So the wave will always be in motion, from peak to trough. If you want to calculate the stretch from peak to a trough it is always twice the amplitude of a wave. Amplitude is a sort of strength of a wave. It can represent loudness.


RMS or root mean square is an average amplitude of sound waves. So, when you listen to a song on YouTube, your ears, and your head, do a little compression to the sound. They soften loud sounds a bit and protect your hearing.

For example, if you are in a dance club, the music won’t sound as loud after a while. It can still hurt your hearing, though. Earplugs are the answer. You can describe the RMS as “what your ears hear”. Not a mathematical representation of sounds, but human. Remember that our ears can pick up the softest sound and the loudest bangs.

All that is mechanical action and our “defence systems” help to make sense of all these crazy sounds around us.


In a longitudinal description of a wave, compressions are particles bundled together. These are the regions of high pressure. Sort of like a train during busy hours. We, people, represent the particles.


Rarefactions are opposite to compressions. The pressure is low, particles are spread apart, and there is a lot more room for activities.


Physics of waves are fundamental to your understanding of sound, music, recording and many other aspects of your life. From now on when you think of sound remember always to have two pictures in your head, one as a sine wave and the other one as a mechanical, long wave.

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Sound Recording Basics

Sound Recording Basics


04 MAY 2017

written by Mike




Throughout the years, capturing sounds has evolved in a dramatic way. From phonograph to a microphone in a mobile phone. From analog to digital.

People still use analog recording, but I will focus on a few aspects of digital recording. Digital recording is the most common, cheapest, and easiest method of capturing needed sounds.

Sound recording can be fun, exciting, hectic, tiresome, laborious and unforgiving gig. But with a few guidelines and basic knowledge, the difference between amateurish and well sounding production can be huge.

Just try to remember last Internet video that you watched.

Was a picture quality good?

What about the sound?

How many times do you have to play with your volume control when switching between videos?

How noisy are the recordings of that famous vlogger you follow?

The forgotten art of quality sound recording tells a difference between a wannabe Internet star and a professional.




The simplest setup for recording sound would be a microphone, cable/lead and a sound recorder. Connect the microphone via cable to the recorder and voila!

Of course, there is a lot more to it, and professional recording sessions are much more complicated. But the basic principles stay the same.

Let’s have a quick look at the basic three components of the setup.


There are a lot of heavy, big books on microphones alone. But to have a good understanding of the subject we can distinguish two types of microphones: dynamic and condenser.

Condenser microphones are bit more sensitive than dynamic. You can use them to record vocals in the studio, wide range instruments such a piano or violin. DPA Microphones debunks some of the myths here. 



Most common cables used to connect a microphone to the recorder are XLR balanced connectors. They can carry the sound over a long distance without inducing any unwanted noise.

USB cables that connect a microphone to the computer are also popular.

Sound Recorder

The subject of sound recorders is wide as the sea but just try to think about it for a second. Anything that can capture a sound is a sound recorder. A mobile phone is the most common one; a simple stereo recorder like Zoom H4N can be handy too. At the professional end, there are a lot of different kinds of sound recorders.

Small, portable ones we use for interviews. The medium we can use for recording dialogue on a movie set. Recorders from Sound Devices have a good opinion.

For a beginner, a simple, direct USB microphone will do but even a basic setup through audio interface will always get you a superior quality.





Techniques of recording audio are an art in itself. There is a choice of correct microphone, the placement of the microphone, recording levels and setting. These are only a few variables that a good sound engineer has to take into consideration. It is important to research the techniques that someone else used for the recording that you want to do.

Using an unusual placement or setup can lead to unexpected and often exciting results. Like using a “trash mic” for example. Every recording requires a different approach. It is important to have an open mind but also a good knowledge of basic procedures.

Have your standard set up in place and then another one as an experiment. And if you are just starting that will often be the case.


Like in everything experimenting and learning from mistakes is a great thing. But there are a few standard rules that you should apply if you want your recording to sound awesome.

Be wise when choosing the microphone

– it can mean a great difference to a general sound of your recording.

Use intelligent microphone placement

– remember the last time when you had to raise the volume to the maximum to listen to that famous vlogger? Or maybe you had to turn it right down?

Know your set up

– microphone, cable, and recorder. Using USB microphones is fine but even with the most basic audio interface connected to your computer the results will be much better.

Know your volumes

– a quiet recording will result in a noisy recording. Turn the volume up, but record too loud and the distortion will ruin your work.

Always record more than you need

– you will have more options to choose and also a backup if something happens to the original recording.

Do a test and listen back to it

– going back to the placement and choice of the equipment. It is always better to get it right at the beginning rather than trying to correct it later on.

Know your basics

– audio recording can be a complicated subject. The basic knowledge of recording, compression and EQ will make a big difference to your final project.

Have fun!

– Experiment and have fun with the process. The more you learn hands on, the better your projects will sound in the future.

It doesn’t matter if you are working on your Internet video channel, making a family holiday video or recording an interview at work. Follow these simple rules and each one of your productions will be better in the end.

Next time when you watch something, focus on listening. Not only on music but also on dialogue and ambience.

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