Ears are the most important tool of a music producer. Everything you do is based on your hearing. You will naturally develop your hearing skills over time while working, but you should really practice it, as well.
Our job as music producers is to make music sound good. We need to be able to distinguish even the smallest details in the music to do our magic to it.
While consumers might pay attention to lyrics, melodies and to the overall feel of a song, music producers may listen to things like how snappy the snare is or how nicely the kick and bass were side-chained.
Therefore, developing your analytical hearing is essential to be a successful music producer.
There’s a simple exercise you can do while listening music that helps you to improve your analytical ear. I learned this while doing my bachelor’s degree in music production in Finland and it’s been super useful ever since.
- Get a piece of paper and a pen.
- Set up your listening environment (studio monitors or headphones).
- Choose a song.
- Start listening the song and put your focus on the details.
- Try to differentiate how many instruments there are? What kind of instruments? If there’s vocals, how many vocal tracks are there? Write all of them down.
- Try to listen how each of the instruments (or tracks) are positioned. Are some of them in the middle of the stereo field? Perhaps some are super wide? Perhaps some are at 10 or 2 o’clock? It’s useful to draw the instruments in the stereo field to visualize it. See picture below.
- Finally, try to recognize what kind of effects or processing has been done to each individual instrument/track. Does the snare have reverb? Is there distortion in the vocals? Perhaps a delay on a guitar?
Write down an overview of the entire mix and learn from it. It’s unlikely that you’re able to do this with one listen so please replay the track as many times as you need. There’s no hurry.
By doing this exercise you will start to hear music in a totally different (analytical) way. You will also learn tricks and methods professionals use for mixing and take that into your own mixes. All by just listening music!
You can do this with any type of music you want. But, I recommend trying with different genres, as well. For example: There’s a lot to learn from jazz or classical music even though you would create hip hop yourself.
Let me know what track you listened to and what you learned!