There are many qualities required to be a skilled sound engineer and a music producer. From theoretical knowledge of sound and audio, technical mastery of studio hardware and to marketing skills. However, the most obvious (and often overlooked) skill for all is the ability to listen. Over the past twenty years the audio sound has improved dramatically with all that technology progress. We have come to expect recordings of superb acoustic instruments, convincing sampling and synthesis, emulating environments...Making music can be both intuitive and technical, emotional and rational. The job of sound engineer / music producer is constantly making a decisions and evaluate the sound quality of individual sound sources in the mix. The ability to hear the quality of sound, to describe what is being heard and the facility to articulate possible audio issues is the essential skill for every one, who want to be successful music producer. Truth is that this critical listening usually take years to develop.Good news is that everyone can do it and it is never too late to start with it.
“Once you start, you’ll never listen to music the same way again”
How to start with audio critical listening
How to start? Im calling it yoga for your ears. You should clearly see your vision and aim for it. If you want to make great recordings one day, today you are creating your future. It takes your full commitment.
It is never too late to make new listening habits that will help you to evolve your own skills. Try to listen music in a different way. According to book The Mixer Engineer's Handbook by Bobby Owsinski, there are 6 elements of mix you need to take care on: Balance, Frequency Range, Dimension, Dynamic and Interest.
With developing new listening habits, try to focus on each one:
What is the appropriate weight of each instrument in the mix?
Are there any prominent instruments?
Is there any place where you are not able to identify some?
What is the stereo field of the mix? Where are sitting all these instruments?
Picture where from left to right each instrument seems to be coming from.
Try to examine the frequency range being used. Carefully listen for low, lowmid, highmid and hi freq.
Close your eyes. Can you feel the space where music is located? And now focus on individual instrument and try to hear its own space.
Train your ears with Audio exercises
Your ears do the remarkable job of allowing you to hear a huge range of sounds, from a whisper to a loud band. To do this, the ear transforms sound energy into electrical signals which the brain can interpret. Your ears also help to maintain your balance. Your ears function like muscle. If you train your ears regularly with audio exercises - every day-Monday-Sunday-regularly, in a few months you will be able to hear applied frequencies, compression, time delays, etc.... On the ,applications and courses which can help you on your way. Just to name a few:
- Critical listening for audio production - excellent 7 weeks long free online course from to provides you with tools for developing and refining the critical listening skills relevant to contemporary sound engineering.
- Golden Ears Audio Course - Golden are beginner, this is the great place to start.
- Application QuizTones - very handy application for your iPhone and also Mac workstation, you can get it cheaply in use it will get easier for you to guess the correct answers.
- Audio Production and Critical Listening - Technical Ear Training. This is my favorite one. It comes with book and software (only Win version). This software is so far the best solution eq, compression, reverb and delay, signal distortion and more. This interactive "ear training" software will help you to train your ears: with every module you can have different settings (like for example with compressor you can train correct attack, release, ratio identification). You play the audio file and by pressing a Question button ask the software to apply a random change within the boundaries you specified. The software sits alongside the clear and detailed explanations in the book, offering a complete learning package that will help you train your ears to listen and really "hear" your recordings.
Trust me, with every day training, you will start to hear subtleties changes. You’ll identify with new subtleties as your own abilities progress. Once you become aware and conceptualize something you had not previously noticed, you will start to notice it everywhere. Trust your training. Visualize it. I remember, when I was training to hear attack & release of compressor for the first time. I successful music producer or not.
Cover photo by pochacco20