If you have a home studio and are recording your own music, then you are playing the part of an audio engineer. If you want your recordings to sound good then you need to act and think like a good audio engineer. And to be a good audio engineer one thing you must do (among many other things) is to listen to a lot of good music.

TRR27 Good Engineers Listen to Good Music

Via Taylor Burnes Flickr

Be An Active Listener

To record and mix music well is to know what good music and recordings sound like. How do you know where you want and do not want to take your songs in the studio if you haven’t heard what’s out there? You can learn a lot by listening to top notch recordings: what guitar tones are used, what other instrumentation is featured, where things are panned in the stereo field, how the vocals are mixed, etc.

And it’s not just good enough to have gathered much of that information and then from here on, begin tuning out the radio or music in general so as to “not cloud” your creative mind. You need to always be reminded of what you like and don’t like in professional recordings.

The Process

Here are some suggestions for how to keep your musical mind fresh with ideas:

  • Get new music. Buy or listen to a new album every 4 to 6 weeks. This will keep you from just focusing on the same pool of music forever.
  • Grade the music. Determine why you like/dislike the recording. What specially sounds amazing/dreadful?
  • Borrow something. Pull at least one tone/sound/idea from a recording you like and try to emulate it on each project you work on. If it doesn’t turn out, no sweat.

An Example

I’ll give you a recent example for me. I was listening to some old Linkin Park albums. What I hear when I’m rocking out LP is big guitars, aggressive and hyped EQ, squashed drums, and an electronic vibe. Then I flipped over to A Perfect Circle. Their first album is definitely hard and edgy, but in a different way. The guitar tones are much less in your face (still high gain though), the drums are big and musical, and the EQ seems much more neutral. I instantly came away appreciating the clarity and listenability to the Perfect Circle album over Linkin Park.

The application for me was this: be careful not to overly hype the high end in my EQ and find other ways to make the guitars sound big like panning automation, and tone changes throughout a song. This will help me with some upcoming mixes!

The Good, Bad, and Ugly

The lessons you learn from simply listening to good music are invaluable. They give you an ever growing pallet of ideas and inspiration to use or avoid. Either way you are keeping your mind active and sharp; trying to not allow your recordings to become clones of each other year in and year out.