Effective Listening Skills – Make the Most of Your Music by Monitoring Correctly

By | September 21, 2015

Effective listening skills are vital for any music producer to be able to produce a good sounding record. It’s recommended to take advantage of a variety of monitoring levels, to avoid staying static and make sure the music sounds good at every volume level.

The following three monitoring levels have different purposes in making music. Each can be used for their own purpose, as well as doing an overall volume reference of a piece of music, using all three levels.

Loud Listening Volume

Listen at high volumes to feel the emotions of your music. Photo Credit: EpicFireworks via Compfight cc

Listen at high volumes to feel the emotions of your music. Photo Credit: EpicFireworks via Compfight cc

Sometimes it’s useful to stay very loud. This is especially true when making music – producing the actual track. During times like these, you simply need to feel the music, transferring your own emotions into a track.

In the initial stages of writing a track, it is almost essential to blast out the music at high volumes, to capture the most of the emotion.

Be aware though, this doesn’t mean you should be listening at very high volumes for three hours straight. Your ears won’t like it, and it’s not healthy for them in the long run.

Think of the loud listening volume as the “creative” or “songwriting” volume level.

Normal Listening Volume

Normal monitoring volumes roughly equal to the volume of regular human speech. If your friends are around, you should hear them talk while the music is playing.

A normal monitoring level is useful for everyday audio editing, audio effect plugin comparison, producing and slight mixing work.

Think of this volume level as the one you’ll be doing the most of your work at. It is the regular level to produce music at.

Quiet Listening Volume

Quiet levels are great for mixing. Photo Credit: tristangage via Compfight cc

Quiet levels are great for mixing. Photo Credit: tristangage via Compfight cc

You’ve achieved a quiet monitoring volume when you can barely hear all elements of the track. In practice, it is really quiet. You also need a quiet working environment to be able to work properly.

This kind of monitoring level is handy especially in mixing. When putting together a mix from scratch (all faders are down), it’s recommended to use a low listening volume.

The advantages of quiet monitoring levels are many, such as being able to hear every instrument’s volume in relation to others, therefore being able to place them in the mix more effectively. Also, when a track sounds good and punchy at very low volumes, you can be sure that it sounds banging when blasted out.

Usually, the low monitoring level is used only when starting the final mixing stage, with all production, arranging and songwriting already done.

Stacking the skills…

Volume levels Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

Volume levels are important. Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

In the end, as you develop better monitoring skills, you will find yourself using them in every situation that needs them. A good practice is to change your monitoring level every once in a while, especially during long sessions to keep your ears fresh and not fool them by one static monitoring level.

I hope this article helps you in finding those correct volumes to monitor at. While monitoring levels vary from person to person, it’s good to have at least three different levels to yourself – low, normal and high.

-JP

If you have any questions about monitoring, please leave them below.

2 thoughts on “Effective Listening Skills – Make the Most of Your Music by Monitoring Correctly

  1. D. Ferguson

    Good info. I prefer to listen at low listening levels were I notice many people listen at Very loud volumes for a long time. I do listen at loud levels when I feel things are ready to listen to as a whole track. I realized years ago when tracking in the studio the engineer would have the volume really loud when listening back. I never felt it was needed to be so loud. But with time and experience things may have changed a little.
    I also think musicians expect it to be loud. They think it’s loud so it sounds good!
    There is a time when it should be loud just not the whole time.

    Reply
    1. JP Post author

      Loudness is also a very subjective matter, some simply prefer loud, some quiet. Though when one hits the brickwall of ear fatigue, there is no turning back – at least for a little while. A whole day of mixing duties might be smarter to handle with quieter monitoring, though only tracking can easily be done with louder levels. It’s always nice to blast out the music for the musicians to enjoy, no need to be quiet there 😉

      Reply

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