GPT-4 is here. But what it is and should I care as a musician or recording engineer?
Just four months ago in December, 2022 we began experimenting with OpenAI‘s GPT-3.5 chat tool. It shocked us by how well it could write essays, articles, and provide answers to questions. And then Microsoft integrated it with Bing… to mixed reviews.
On March 14, OpenAI released GPT-4, providing an astonishing improvement in AI chat functionality. It is able to handle more complex questions or prompts, the responses are better, and it’s a huge step forward in these early stages of artificial intelligence.
GPT-4 is the chatbot behind Bing Chat, and it includes current information (OpenAI has limited the data to 2021 and before in their ChatGPT preview). Google will be unveiling their Chat function to the public soon, but we’ll look at what’s available at the time I wrote this article (Wednesday, March 15, 2023).
So what does this have to do with you and I?
Many of Puddlegum’s readers are musicians creating music. As a mix engineer, I know that a musician or engineer who is growing is one who is always asking questions. Continued learning is critical to creating great music. So I began testing Bing Chat with specific questions about recording and mixing. I wanted to see how helpful this tool could be for musicians recording their music or during the mixing process. Can GPT-4 chatbots give us recording or mixing tips?
The recording process can be intimidating, can’t it? We all have questions in nearly every session.
Where do you place the microphones in this situation?
What mics should I use?
How can I better use this Preamp?
What plugins should I use, and where do I place them in the chain?
The questions are endless.
There are thousands of YouTube videos that are immensely helpful, books that provide a foundation, articles, and forums. What about using an AI chatbot? Does GPT4 understand recording, mixing, plugins, DAWs, etc enough to help answer our questions? Let’s find out.
For this test, we’ll ask Bing Chat about Tape Emulation so our questions are focused. I chose to ask primarily about one tape emulator, Waves Audio’s J37 Tape, and the widely used but ever so complicated Avid Pro Tools DAW.
I began asking Bing really specific questions about mixing with tape emulators. I found that it provided highly detailed answers, sometimes providing answers to questions I didn’t ask.
For example, I asked Bing: “What is the best way to achieve a warbly sound using the J37 Waves plugin in Pro Tools?”
“To achieve a warbly sound using the J37 WAVES plugin in Pro Tools, you can use the tape speed options on the plugin. For example, on the J37 Tape plugin, modeled from a Studer J37, you can choose either 15ips or 7.5ips. For a more hi-fi sound choose 15ips, and for a little bit more grunge use 7.5ips You can also use the J37 Level Link feature, which compensates the input and output so that you can manage the amount of tape saturation while keeping the plugin’s output the same. If your tape plugin has delay, try dialing in a little slapback (80-150 ms) on the vocal. Depending on the musical style, it can be a cool effect. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.”Bing Chat
Notice that Bing didn’t answer the question. Instead, it provided tips on using the J37 Tape plugin. It did know that a tape warble is caused by fluctuating tape speeds, so it responded with information on J37 tape speeds. It seemed very confident in its response, which can be misleading. When you’re using Bing for recording or mixing tips, pay close attention to whether it’s actually answering your question. Also click on the sources it provides to continue learning.
What’s impressive is that Bing knew what features are in the J37 Tape plugin and how it related to our question.
Maybe it doesn’t fully understand what a warbly sound is? So I asked, “What is tape warble?”
“Tape warble is a term used in recordings using analog tape and in a tape echo. It refers to variations in the pitch caused by fluctuation in the tape speed, often as a result of an irregularly shaped or worn rubber roller wheel.”Bing Chat
Bing correctly answered the question, and it clearly knows what tape warble is. So if I rephrased my original question as, “What is the best way to achieve a tape warble sound using the J37 WAVES plugin in Pro Tools?”
“To achieve a tape warble sound using the J37 WAVES plugin in Pro Tools, you can use the J37 Level Link feature to manage the amount of tape saturation while keeping the plugin’s output the same. If your tape plugin has delay, try dialing in a little slapback (80-150 ms) on the vocal. Depending on the musical style, it can be a cool effect.”Bing Chat
What Bing is not mentioning is the Wow Rate and Depth dials that you can use to introduce a warble effect. But AI does understand that it’s caused by speed variations. (To get this effect, I personally dial in a small amount of Wow Depth, and tweak the Rate until I’m happy with the sound.)
Also, I should point out that Bing understands the lingo that we use when talking about achieving specific sounds. It correctly uses the phrase dialing in and the word grunge.
Tape Emulation as Compression
Now let’s ask about using tape emulation for compression. This is something that can be effective, but how much does GPT-4 know? I asked, “Can tape emulation be used to compress a track?”
“Yes, tape emulation can be used to compress a track. Tape emulation plugins mimic audio responses created by analog tape recorders and tape effect units. A tape emulator creates a digital mapping of the effect that tape devices produce and then applies it to an audio signal. Depending on the device being emulated, a few fundamental characteristics define tape saturation. Tape saturation is a type of distortion that occurs when the magnetic particles on the tape become saturated with the signal. This distortion can add warmth, depth, and character to the sound. Tape emulation plugins can also add compression, EQ, and noise reduction settings to the sound.”Bing Chat
Not a bad answer! If there are aspects you don’t understand, you can dive in and ask questions such as, “Why does tape distortion sound warm?”
“Tape distortion sounds warm because of the harmonic and non-harmonic distortions that are caused by transformers and inductors. Harmonic distortion in transformers is caused by two effects: hysteresis for low-level signals and saturation for high-level signals. The effect is always greatest for low frequencies, and results mainly in third-harmonic distortion. These distortions can add warmth, depth, and character to the sound, which is perceived as pleasant and musically enhancing. Tape emulation plugins mimic these distortions and apply them to the audio signal, which can add warmth and character to the sound.”Bing Chat
Note that each response is sourced; this response pointed me to Sound on Sound, Sonarworks, and Waves.
Automating J37 Tape in Pro Tools
One more question to see how well GPT-4 can handle the nuances of Pro Tools and Plugins. This question is going to test whether GPT-4 understand Automation in Pro Tools. I asked, “If I want a higher Wow Rate on the J37 plugin using Pro Tools, but I want the Rate to decrease later in the song, how do I do this?”
“To automate the Wow Rate on the J37 plugin using Pro Tools, you can use automation. Automation is a feature in Pro Tools that allows you to change the value of a parameter over time. To automate the Wow Rate, you can create an automation lane for the Wow Rate control on the J37 plugin. You can then draw in the automation points to create the desired effect. For example, you can create an automation curve that increases the Wow Rate at the beginning of the song and then decreases it later in the song.”Bing Chat
Notice I didn’t mention automation, but that was key to achieving the decrease. GPT-4 understood this nuance and that it’s possible to automate the Wow Rate in the J37 plugin. It also knew you can create lines or curves in Pro Tools to automate the settings in a plugin. That’s amazing, really!
Tape Emulation Plugins
I asked, “Which tape emulation plugins are considered the most effective at achieving a warm tape saturated sound?”
Naturally, most effective is subjective, so Bing responded with most popular (at least according to the sources Bing draws upon).
“There are many tape emulation plugins available that can help you achieve a warm tape saturated sound. Some of the most popular ones include:
- Saturation by URS
- Decapitator by Sound Toys
- Phoenix II by Crane Song
- Roundtone by Sknote
- TapeHead Saturator by Massey
- Ferox by ToneBoosters
- Saturn by FabFilter
- Saturation Knob by Softube (Free!)
These plugins are known for their ability to add warmth and character to your recordings, and can help you achieve that classic analog sound you’re looking for.”Bing Chat
Not a bad response. Of course if you bring ten recording engineers into a room and ask them this question, they’ll have twenty opinions.
This test wasn’t extensive, but it shows that GPT-4 is advanced to the point where it can be very helpful to a musician or beginning engineer. Sometimes the question needs to be reworded, such as changing warbly to tape warble. It’s possible to dive in with more questions (Bing limits this to fifteen questions before you have to sweep your conversation). And it appears to understand nuances of technical aspects, like the way it understood automation in Pro Tools.
If we use tools like Bing Chat, or the many tools that will be available in the coming months, with other tools like YouTube videos and articles, we can answer our many questions and learn better techniques. Read books to learn the fundamentals (I recommend Bobby Owsinki’s The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, and The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, as well as Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science by Bob Katz). Nothing replaces learning from experience or from another person, but GPT4 provides another tool that we can utilize. Check the sources and dive in with more questions.
Note: For the record, we do not use AI to write our content. All of our content is written by humans.