Are You Really Listening?

One of the most important skills any musician, recording engineer, producer, sound designer, etc.., must have is the ability to listen critically. What do I mean by that? Not only must you be able to listen, you must be able to understand what you are hearing.

I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you are a recording engineer and you are spending your day cutting guitar tracks. The guitarist tells you that he has a specific tone in mind for the next song. He plays you three examples from other songs to give you an idea of the tone he is looking for. As an engineer, it’s now your job to listen to those examples and immediately understand what your client is looking for and how to get it for them.

Here’s another example… You’re writing a new tune and you need the ultimate kick drum sample. You search your sample libraries and realize that you just can’t find what you are looking for. Now what are you going to do? Well, if you are are a well trained producer/engineer you should have no trouble taking the kick drum sound that you are hearing in your head and turning it into a reality. You will have spent many hours listening to kick drum samples so that you understand what frequencies are involved. You will have also listened to the shape and envelope of a great kick drum. Because you have developed your ability to listen and understand what you are hearing it shouldn’t take you very long to find a kick drum sample that is close to what you are looking for. Then all you need to do is apply the correct amount of EQ and/or compression and other effects to create your ultimate kick drum.

A common question among new engineers/producers/sound designers is, “How do I practice listening?”. I have lot’s of ideas on this but I’d like to turn it over to you. How have you developed your listening skills? Are there specific books or courses that you’ve used in your studies? Leave me a comment and let me know. We’ll continue this conversation in future posts.

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