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What makes a professionally recorded track sound so, well, 'pro'? Surely it can't simply be a matter of sticking a mic in front of a singer and plugging in a guitar? Actually it can, given the right material, circumstances and environment. A stripped-down folk track or an orchestral recording, for example, might be recorded live with no embellishments at all.
That said, the great majority of recordings employ many of a vast number of available gadgets that are used to tame or sweeten the sound coming in and going out. These devices are called effects processors and come in both hardware and software incarnations. You've probably seen them in photos of pro studios.
There are a number of different types of effects. Some are utilitarian and meant to control a signal being recorded. Others are designed to artificially add a sense of space. Still others can be thought of as 'wow' effects that are used to add interest and excitement to a recording.
Since most popular hardware effects had already long been based on digital technology, effects processors were among the very first to get the software emulation treatment and accounted for the bulk of the first wave of plugins to hit the market.
The industry was soon rife with both emulations of classic effects and entirely new processing tools that took full advantage of the power of modern desktop computers.
Most software sequencer packages come bundled with the essential effects, and there are plenty more to be found both online and through your local retailer. However, you don't have to lay out any of your hard-earned cash to build up your effects arsenal - there are hundreds of the things out there for free, thanks to the abundance of talented software developers who are kind enough to create them.
For a whole magazine's worth of beginner-friendly tutorials, tips and gear advice check out the latest Computer Music Special - The Complete Beginner's Guide (issue 57) - which is on sale now.