How to Train an Ear for Good Audio
In order to be an audio engineer, the most important equipment that you can have isn't anything that we can sell you here at Performance Audio. What is more important than anything is having trained ears that can not only hear the difference between good audio and bad audio, but can distinctly hear what is wrong with the mix. Few people can do this naturally. To really develop a good ear, it takes training. Here are some tips for how to train an ear for good audio...
Listen to well-mixed music
First of all, you need to know what masterful audio production sounds like, so that you know what to strive for. Seek out great albums, from a production standpoint, and listen to them regularly. Listen to these albums and take notes about what you are hearing, so that you can recognize it in your own studio work. Some good albums to start with are Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, My LIfe in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne, and Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.
Use good listening equipment
While we said that a good ear was more important than any equipment that you can buy, it is still necessary to have good listening equipment to train your ear. If the headphones you are listening with can't pick up the subtle nuances of the mix, then you are missing out on part of the educational experience of listening to good sound mixes.
Listen for critical components of sound
Here are some of the critical aspects of good sound design to listen for when you are trying to train your ear:
Balance: The balance of a mix is how all of the instruments sound when played together. Is one particular instrument dominating the mix? Is there a good reason for that? If no, then the mix is out of balance.
Frequency: The frequency range of a mix determines if there is important musical action going on in every frequency range. Ideally, each range is being used effectively, but certain tracks may not need lower or higher frequencies, especially if only one instrument is being played.
Dynamics: The dynamic range of a mix needs to vary, to keep the listener at attention. Aspects of the mix need to change, whether it be volume level, frequency, or timing, among other things. If a song has the same timing and decibel level for the whole song, then the listener can get bored, quickly.
Dimension: The dimension of a mix makes it feel like there is more going on around the mix. Mixes with good dimension will feel like each instrument has its own space in the recording, and adds some texture to the listening experience.
Panorama: Panorama is a stereo term that determines where an instrument sits in the stereo mix (left or right). Listen to any of The Beatles' remastered albums to get a sense of extreme panorama done well.
Emotion: This is one of the hardest to train, but should come naturally to many. At the end of the day, every mix needs to take into account the emotion of the music itself. If every track were mixed the same on every album, then music would be a very boring art form. Get a feel for what a song needs, and allow idiosyncracies to elevate the track.