“If architecture is frozen music then music must be liquid architecture” — Quincy Jones
How does a music producer listen to music?
Well, here’s an exercise that might give you an idea.
Look around you. Really take in your surroundings for a solid 20–30 seconds. Then look back at the screen for further instructions.
Without peeking, tell me everything you saw that was blue. Look around again for 10 seconds and come back to the screen.
Now, this time you saw a lot more blue, right?
OK, tell me everything you saw that was brown.
It’s basically about focus and attention to detail. Some people develop the skill of discerning instruments, sounds, and nuances without being producers. However, this is something that producers develop.
For example, I was listening to a drum take and it came to a softer part. There’s this thing called a “gate” that only let’s sounds above a certain threshold through.
I was using a gate to signal when to trigger the reverb for the snare drum. But there was one hit, just one small hit, that was too soft on that part to trigger the reverb.
You could barely tell the difference when all the instruments were on. While most people wouldn’t have cared about this miniscule detail it stuck out to me like a sore thumb.
Now, keep in mind that this isn’t a blanket statement. There are producer out there who’ve got different skills without going into the granularities of sound and so on. They might just be able to coax the best vocal performance out of artists and leave the rest to engineers and/or other producers.
I can only speak for myself and how I’ve understood many other producers hear music “differently”.
When I was heavily into production I could sometimes even tell what plugins and samples were being used for certain sounds and effects. This is simply because I used and tinkered around with them myself so much that I came attuned to the differences between some (definitely not ALL) synths, reverbs, compressors, and so on.
While most people hear that they’ve used a vocal tuning on a track, some producers might be able to tell whether it’s Antares Auto-Tune, Waves Tune or Melodyne.
How? Well, they probably studied or picked up on the artifacts the different plugins create which has made their ears sensitive to the differences.
So it’s basically like the difference between the average listener saying: “Oh, I loved that 80’s synth part!”
Whereas a producer might say: “Man, I loved the simplicity of putting that Roland D-50 with the Polysynth Stereo preset through Kramer Master Tape. Really gave it some serious 80’s vibes!”
Geeky as hell? Yup.
Now that might be an extreme example. But think of it as different levels of granularity.
Some people “just” hear a piece of music, some people can hear what instruments are being played, some people know what notes are being played, some people can tell what technique the performer used, some people can tell what effects were put on, etc.
Now that I’m “out of the game” I more readily enjoy listening to music as a whole.
But when I really get into something I often find myself sitting down in front of my speakers or putting on headphones and focus on picking out the details.
How do you experience music?
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