Sound is deadly.

No, seriously. It can kill.

And no, I'm not just talking about killer beats. Sound can literally kill you. 

We forget that sound isn’t etherial. It doesn’t hang out with unicorns, leprechauns, and good-tasting healthy-food.

But what is sound?

Sound is a push; a mass-less shove.

Everything you hear, you hear because it knocked on your ear dum. 

The louder the sound, the firmer the push. If a sound is loud enough, it can punch a hole right through your ear drum. If a sound is louder still, it can knock your entire body to the ground

You’ve seen those lovely videos of bomb shockwaves flattening houses, right? That wood-tearing, brick-splitting, glass-shattering shockwave is sound.

Sound is dangerous. Sound can kill. 

It is estimated that the loudest sound ever recorded was the sound made by the explosion of the volcano Krakatoa (that’s got to be one of the best names for a volcano ever) in 1883. 

How loud was this sound?

Oh, it only ruptured the ear drums of people 40 miles away and travelled around the world four times and was clearly heard 3,000 miles away. 3,000 miles! Imagine shouting in New York and people in Los Angeles hearing you. 

That’s what we like to call “too loud”. 

Thankfully, most of us don’t encounter such dangerous sound levels; however, we are bombarded with sound every day, all day. 

Even when you sit in a perfectly quiet room…you will find that it’s not actually perfectly quiet. If you listen, you’ll hear sounds that you didn’t know where there, from cars passing outside, to AC, to the air particles bouncing around inside your ears. 

But what really is sound, and how does understanding it’s basic properties help us with music production? 

To put it as dryly as possible…

Sound is a sensation experienced through the sense of hearing, mechanical energy transmitted by longitudinal pressure waves (a la air) that is the stimulus to hearing. Sound arrives at the ear in the form of periodic variations in atmospheric pressures. These atmospheric various are called “sound waves”. 

In other words, sound is waves of energy that physically vibrate our eardrums. 

What does sound require? 

Think of sound like a pebble dropping into a sill pond. What happens? The pebble disrupts the surface, and creates ripples in the water (small waves) that radiate outward from the source (the pebble). In order for us to perceive a sound, 3 things are required. 

1. A Vibrator

Something has to create the vibration. In our pond pebble example, the transmitter is the pebble. Something has created the ripples, or sound waves. 

2. A Medium 

No, this is not a person claiming to be in contact with spirits, or Baby Bear’s porridge, happy space between two extremes, but rather the intervening substance through which impressions are conveyed to the senses.

In other words, sound needs something to travel through.

This “thing” that travels through is called a “medium”.

The medium we most frequently experience sound traveling through is air, but sound can also travel through other substances, such as water. 

In our pond example, the medium the ripples are traveling through is the water.

When sound travels through air, it creates ripples (more technically “waves”) in the air, we just can’t see them, because the air particles that the sound is traveling through (the medium) are microscopic. 

3. A Receiver

We would never know the pebble created those ripples unless we could actually see them with our eyes. Therefore, in order for a sound to be perceived, we need a receiver to capture the sound waves. This is commonly our ears, or if you’re recording, a microphone. 

Sound & Music Production

Okay, this is all nice and technical, but what has this all this sound stuff have to do with music production…other than the fact that music is sound?

Understanding what sound fundamentally is will help you in all phases of your music life. Rather than having to memorize different theories about how to get a good sound, if you fundamentally know what sound is, you can arrive at a good outcome on your own.

One major difference between an amateur music producer and a professional is that an amateur guesses, where a professional problem solves.

An amateur will use equalization the way he thinks equalization should be utilized. Meanwhile, a professional will EQ to solve a particular problem, or create a particular sound.

How does that professional know what problem needs fixed?

Partly because he has experience, and has developed a critical ear, but also because he know what the material is he is working with, and how to use the tools he has.

If you would like to better understand one of the most utilized tools in music production, then download my free ebook on how to EQ.

What is the biggest struggle you face right now with your music? 

If you found this post on What Is Sound helpful, then feel free to share and comment.

Reagan Ramm

Hi! I'm Reagan, and I've been writing, recording, and mixing music since 2011, and got a degree in audio engineering in 2019 from Unity Gain Recording Institute. I also work full-time in Digital Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and am striving to help fellow musicians and producers improve their art and make a living doing the work they love.

- Reagan Ramm


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