The Basics of Music Visualizers

Audio producer working on session through music visualizer

Music visualizers have been a familiar sight on computers for a while. These stylized graphic presentations would gyrate on screens while someone was playing music, or serve as screensavers if the user stepped away for a moment. But if you’ve ever wondered how music visualizers get created, here’s a little bit of detail.

What is Music Visualization?

To begin with, music visualizers as we know them are animated imagery that is generated and rendered in real time by computer software. This imagery synchronizes with whatever musical selection is playing, and changes with every song. The visual depends on factors such as the loudness and the frequency spectrum. This differs from the other forms of music visualization or music videos but are really a slide show of images.

History of Music Visualizers

Music visualizers first appeared on the scene in 1976, thanks to Robert Brown. Brown was the man who designed Pong, one of the earliest video games. From that point, it more of a novelty until the early 1990’s, when music visualizers began to appear on home computers. Video games once again became the format where music visualization early use by different software developers.

Over time, music visualizers became more popular on personal computers. Other developers created several dozen freeware versions of music visualizers. In particular, one allowed for other designers to make their own. From that point onward, this visual gained a new use due to the rise of virtual reality.

How Do Visualizers Work?

Creating music visualizers begins with software that has the ability to render in real time. More intricate programs requires the user to execute scripts that accomplish two goals. These goals include extracting the data from the audio track that’s playing. Additionally, this means the user has to put the data into a format to be animated in 2D or 3D. The output depends on the program that is in use.

Audio Components for Visualizers

The first task is accomplished when the audio is loaded into the program and played. That goes through an embedded node in the program that analyzes the audio piece by piece. Then it’s processed through an application programming interface (API) which normally is used to help build software through a communication between the client and the server. In this instance, it is synthesizing the audio along with other effects like filtering.

What File Formats Are Supported?

When it comes to the audio, the API can work with multiple audio file formats such as MP3, WAV, AAC, OGG, and others. Furthermore, the API is compliant with all web browsers that one would use on their digital audio workstations. This process grabs all of the code for the next step.

Designing the Visuals

All of that data will then go through another executed script in the program run by an API for the visualization process. This API creates a line graph, which allows the user to add a load of vectors for the lines and to create scale factors to ensure all of the lines appear on the screen for the final visualization. Another embedded node will provide a range of decibels that this data will fall in.

The Final Product

Finally, the script initiates a function that loops through all of the collected data and sets one of the pre-allocated vectors up to create a loop to be rendered on the screen. After this, the user can add extra features to their visualization such as color adjustments and brightness and even audience engagement such as having visitors pick different tracks to get new effects. Of course, this all depends on the kind of software one would choose to use to create their music visualizers. All of these processes happen quietly behind the scenes so the user can focus on the mesmerizing visualization to their favorite music.

Want to Learn More?

Music visualizers have been a fixture in pop culture and audio production. The technology and the training behind this craft has improved to stoke the imagination with regards to how they can still be used today. If this kind of creativity appeals to you & you’re curious enough to learn more, take a moment to check out IPR’s Audio Production & Engineering Program and the training that they provide on-site about the tools needed to succeed in that area.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production engineering program and starting a rewarding career in the music industry.