When I want to learn something new, I hop on YouTube and binge-watch tutorials hoping to find the answer to a question I might have. Quite often, I end up checking out videos on mixing and mastering. When watching mixing and mastering videos, these YouTubers often ask, can you hear the difference? I can’t, never could, never will; my frustration grows with each video. I can’t hear a roll-off at 1600hz, a dip at 250hz, or whatever they’re asking. When I studied music production online through Berklee college of music in Boston, I could hear the difference. There were exams where examples would be played back to back, and it was up to you to say in the second example which frequency was boosted or cut. Other quizzes and exams dealt with identifying types of reverb and guitar pickups, which I could easily do. So what happened to me?
One answer could be I’m not taking courses anymore and, therefore, not submerged in that type of content or thinking and, therefore, out of practice. I rarely tell my piano students to play softer because their 250hz is ringing out. Secondly, I listen to these videos on my phone or laptop rather than on my good studio monitors. Thirdly there is so much going on in a mix unless I know what exactly I should be listening for; I could be listening to something that has stayed the same. Fourth, the audio example might need to be of better quality to hear the difference. The changes may be harder to hear if I’m not playing the video at its highest audio resolution. When I was taking courses, we used uncompressed audio files that were very clear. Fifth, perhaps I’m no longer good at it, which is a possibility. So should I get frustrated? Not at all. If you watch these channels, these people are using some of the best gear; it’s their day job, so they think and breathe this content; it’s their job to know.
If you’re someone who can hear the differences in examples on YouTube mixing and mastering channels, that’s awesome. If you’re not, perhaps we share the same problem. As I tell my students, position yourself for success. In this case, listen at the highest audio resolution possible and on a good pair of speakers or headphones, and do this in an otherwise quiet setting. It’s hard to listen to subtle details while the dog is barking, the baby’s crying or the dishes are being washed. Listen to what they tell you to listen for; if they aren’t specific, then you be specific. Listen to something particular in the mix, one instrument, its reverb, its tone, and try and hear the differences, and move across the entire mix doing this from one instrument to the next. Eventually, my guess is you’ll be able to hear the differences. Also, see if you can find some high-quality examples not on YouTube, perhaps some online audio engineering ear training websites.
Ultimately hearing these differences is only critical if you want to embark on a mixing and mastering career. So why get better at this skill if it doesn’t matter? Well, I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. Because it can be expensive to have your songs mixed and mastered, many people mix and master their songs themselves. So hearing details in the mix does matter if you’re doing this task alone. Should you get your music mixed and mastered by a professional? That’s for another time. Thanks for reading; I’m just a music teacher having fun; catch ya on the next one.