Listen Critically - Part 1: Our Ears, Our Data

Listen Critically - Part 1: Our Ears, Our Data

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Your ears are your most powerful weapon—use them wisely

As a freelance producer/engineer, I work with a wide variety of clients. Some are grizzled veterans of the music business who’ve been signed to major labels and made many albums; others are making their very first album. Numerous recent experiences have reminded me that regardless of their level of experience, at the outset of all projects, I need to remind all of my clients how to listen critically in order to make the best decisions regarding both their work in progress, and ultimately their final mixes.

At first I thought I’d just write an outline for my own use, discussing this with my clients. After I put some thought into it and ran it by the Editor, we decided that it would be worthwhile to turn this outline into an article I could share with the readers of Recording. Voilà!

Numerous factors determine how we perceive the sound of a recording. Our starting point must be at least a cursory understanding of human hearing. Resolution of the original recording and playback medium, playback equipment, listening environment (or the lack thereof—think head-phones or earbuds), extraneous noise, and of course the mix itself—all play critical roles in the listening experience. This is way more than can be covered in one piece, so we’ll split up these topics over three parts in the coming months.

No matter the links in the recording and playback chain, one of the first and most challenging lessons to learn, for all concerned is that the same recording is going to sound different in every circumstance in which it is played back, de facto! The best an engineer can do is hope to create recordings that translate as well as possible into all circumstances.