One of the biggest attributes for an engineer or producer to develop is what’s known as “studio ears.” That’s the ability to discern between minute changes within the music that you’re hearing. Is that guitar slightly out of tune? What frequency is the vocal harshness coming from? Is the keyboard part coming in slightly early or late? The better your studio ears, the more finely you can hear these irregularities.
While one method to develop more acute hearing comes from listening to reference tracks that you know very well and describing the details, sometimes just more time in the studio during situations that require close listening will do. That said, I find that it takes me about a week to get my ears on during a project after I’ve been away from the studio for a while (hopefully it’s less for you).
Fine Tuning In A Group
Recently I was hipped to another way of developing your hearing that I thought was genius. It was from an unnamed instructor (sorry, the person telling me about this method couldn’t remember the name) who explained it like this:
1. If in a classroom, turn off all sources of audio until you only hear the ambient noise.
2. Have each person describe one noise or sound that they’re hearing. No two people can describe the same noise.
By the second time around the room you begin to zero in on the environmental sounds that aren’t so obvious. The hum of a distant air conditioner; the buzz of a fluorescent lamp; the soft repeating call of a bird in the distance.
By the third time around the room you should run out of things to identify.
Fine Tuning By Yourself
You don’t need to be in a classroom in order to do this exercise as you can easily do it on your own. In fact, it’s an excellent way to prepare for a mix.
1. Sit in any room but remain still and quiet for 5 minutes.
2. What are the 5 loudest sounds that you can hear?
3. What are the 5 secondary sounds that you can hear?
4. Are there additional sounds or noises that only show up occasionally?
At the end of the exercise your ears will be a lot more fine tuned and you’ll be well-prepared for your next session.
You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.