The Art Of Listening

This article was taken from the Gear Slutz Forums. This is chopped up and edited by Obi…


This is a article on a often untouched on part of mixing. Critical listening. In my opinion too few new engineers don’t spend enough time training their ears. What exactly does that mean? It means that every home studio room, room response, D/A conversion and speaker system is different. In order to speed up the process of tuning your ears to your “mix room” or sweet spot (room treatment or not) you need to spend time there doing critical listening. I’ll explain a bit more…

Every fan of every genre knows what “good” music in that genre sounds like. Knowing that is not enough for you to “get there” by itself. You need to know what it sounds like in your space and that knowledge has to be imprinted permanently on your aural memory. How do you do that?

Two ways.

1. Spend lots of time mixing in that room and studying your craft and eventually you’ll get to a spot where your mixing skills and your ears meet at a happy place.

2. You can shorten that time considerably by planning for long periods of critical listening to high quality music at your mix position.

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A. Take a few songs – not mp3, full bandwidth audio – that you consider *excellent* mixes. Full round bass, great balances, smooth vocals, great use of panning etc, etc. Songs in the genre you mix often should be a obvious pick.

Note: A dedicated mix engineer will critically listen to *all* genres. That way the engineer is prepared for when he has to mix rock, country, or any other genres. Do not just listen to songs you like… songs that have excellent mixes…even if you don’t particularly like the content there is value in learning how that style should sound.

B. Pick a time regularly to do nothing but sit upright at your mix position in the sweet spot and listen at a moderate volume. For newer mix engineers who are dead serious about the potential quality of their mixes do this at least 3-4 times a week for about 60 minutes a sitting or more.

C. Close your eyes, sit at the mix position and just listen. Turn off the cell phone, smoke, pour a shot and just listen. Remember NO MP3!

Listen for balance, frequency, depth, space, and effects. Listen deep down into the music and analyze it. Listen to how the backing vox and leads interact sonically. Listen for really subtle things like spatial cues from subtle delays. If you do this regularly with really great mixes you will imprint on your brain a sort of aural image of what a really good mix should sound like on your system under your particular listening conditions.

Eventually it will start to stick and you’ll automatically know when something isn’t right. When something is 2-dimensional, too thin, too fat, or the mid range isn’t right. You will be able to center in on what needs to be fixed faster.

Try it. It’s the single reason why experienced mix engineers make better mixes, they know what the mix should sound like. They don’t hear better than you, they hear different than you. When you learn to listen the song, it tells you what it needs. It mixes itself. At the end of each listening session put up one of your best mixes. It’s an eye-opener. As you progress through your “ear training” bring up more recent mixes at the end of your listening sessions. You’ll hear that gap closing.

Oh and when you get those great new speakers that you couldn’t afford last year? Refresh your ears by doing it again. Same with when you get room treatment!

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