Music Production 101: How to Listen to Music

First of all, if you want to be a good musician, you have to be able to think like a good producer.

A producer sets the vision for the song, almost like the director of a movie. They are literally trying to produce the best possible sound they can, and they do that using several different skills.

One of these skills is the art of listening. One may think this is easy..I mean, almost anyone can listen..but not everyone listens in the same ways. This is definitely something you need to be aware of as a producer.

Producers need to be able to catch tiny catch subtle nuances of the sound, and decide whether it sounds good, or it needs to be tweaked. Listening to the music also has every bit as much to do with what you don’t hear, as what you do hear. You have to almost have a vision for sound you want, and not stop until you get it.

This requires some ear training. A good exercise you can do would be to get 2 sound files, preferably of the same song. One would be a .wav file and the other a .mp3. Take some (preferably good) headphones, and really just listen to the sound of the .wav file. Let the whole song play, turn it up, and drink in the music. Then put the .mp3 on, and, expecting the same sound you just drank in with the .wav, see if you can pick up on the drastic difference.

This change between the two files might not seem like a lot to most people. Most can’t tell at all, but as a producer, you need to be able to tell. If you keep approaching sound in this way, paying attention to the smallest of details, eventually you’ll be able to hear a degraded song on the radio and pick up on what that producer was trying to do with the sound. You’ll start to catch things in the sound that most people don’t. Sometimes you can even pick up on a certain producer’s signature just by hearing the sound.

As a musician, it’s imperative that you have this kind of focus on your music, or at least work with someone who does. The producer should know how loud each track should be in comparison with the others, what needs to be automated and when, what frequencies need to be taken out or boosted, and how compressed this whole thing should be at the end.

A good producer’s ear is his most important tool. If it’s not pitch perfect, keep trying. Remember, it’s also very important to have a vision for where you want the sound to go, so that you can keep checking what you currently have, against your vision, so that you know when you’ve finally gotten it right.

A lot of musicians often argue that they’re the ones that make great music, but this is just simply not true. Anyone can record anything into a microphone, and when it comes out, it’ll probably sound like shit. A good producer can take that shitty sound, and sculpt it into something great. Even the Beatles would have been lost without their “signature sound” which was manufactured by George Martin.

If you want to be a great musician, start thinking like a great producer. It also really helps to have this thinking when composing the songs, so you develop a vision for the production as the song is actually being created. A good song is defined by a good feel, and it all starts with the producer. You may even have been one all along, and not known.

Happy Listening!

Written by: Dante Cullari Founder & President Beat-Play, LLC

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One response to “Music Production 101: How to Listen to Music

  1. I agree the producer plays a huge part in taking the finished product to a professional level. I like the training example you have given with the two different audio files to help train the ear. I recently picked up a new pair of headphones and the sound quality is amazing. It has brought me to a whole new appreciation for sound quality. Musicians out there should practice on training their ear to make sure the sound they are looking for in their finished product is there. The fans will love the audio quality and the musicians will be able to tell the producer what sound they are going for. This will allow the musicians to be more hands on in the final stage of their creation. Honestly, now if the audio quality is not there when I listen to a song, I very rarely listen to the entire song.

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