Listening to your own music may seem intuitive and self-explanatory, but getting the most out of your listening experience and communicating well with your producer will only help your studio project.

1. Production Mix vs Final Mix

As an artist, understanding the distinction between production and post-production will help you get better results from this stage of your creation.  

Production focuses on song structure and arrangement, performance and parts, tones and sounds as well as the overall vibe and character.

Post-production, which includes mixing and mastering, will balance the levels and apply final EQ, compression, and additional reverb so it sounds really polished and release ready.

In the early stages of recording, an experienced producer is thinking about the final product and where everything will land in the mix. As the song develops, you’ll make decisions with you producer about volume, panning, and effects but…

A production mix is not your final mix

Instead, think of it as a sonic template for what’s to come.

Here are a few examples of situations that (generally speaking) fall into either the production or the mix stage:

  • Section sounds too cluttered: production
  • The song isn’t dynamic enough: production
  • Voice is slightly too quiet in a section: mix
  • Guitar is out of time: production
  • Song is quiet compared to other songs: mix/mastering

In my experience and genre (roots/rock/folk), a production mix should get you 80% of the way there. The last 20% (mixing and mastering) is a vital refinement, but the majority of the sonic work happens earlier in the process. As you listen to your production mix, consider the above distinctions.

2. Headphones or Speakers

In terms of value for money, high-fidelity headphones are usually more affordable than equally good studio monitors.

For critical listening, headphones deliver roughly the same experience regardless of your acoustic environment, whereas good monitors work best in an acoustically treated room.

There are plenty of headphone options, but I use and recommend the following:

  • Audio-Technica ATH-M50x over the ear headphones. My #1 recommendation for artists (my studio has four pairs). I use these primarily for tracking, but they are great for listening as well.
  • Shure SE215 in-ear headphones. I use these with my phone for podcasts and streaming music on the go. These will work for listening to production mixes, are a major upgrade to your standard issue earbuds, and work great as live in-ear monitors.
  • Hifiman HE560 Open Back Headphones. Amazing hi-fi cans for checking mixes. They are incredibly natural sounding and balanced. Disclaimer: these are high end headphones with a price tag to match.

3. First impressions/demoitis

We get used to hearing our songs a certain way. 

Part of the reason you’re working with a producer is to create a whole new sound together. That is exciting! But sometimes your first instinct is to be critical of something new.

If you find yourself in that headspace, consider these approaches on your first few listens to a mix:

  • Listen all the way through without stopping, TWICE. Resist the urge to stop midway through. Make any notes on your third listen.
  • Feel, don’t think. Let your heart rather than your head take the lead and try to listen as if it’s your first time hearing it.

4. Feedback

Clear communication is vital to your project’s success.

When we collaborate something special can happen very naturally and quickly. Clear conversation and feedback will help that spark shine.

When you receive a mix from me, it will be a FilePass link (timestamped audio revision software). Here’s how to get the most out of this email saving app and make the revisions process a success:

  • Point out the stuff you like. I want you to be thrilled with your music. Tell me what you love. It generates positive momentum for your project and keeps us motivated.&nbsp
  • Show me the parts you don’t like. If there is something you aren’t feeling, please don’t hold back. A good creative relationship thrives on honesty.
  • Timestamped comments. When you’re ready to make a comment on a particular section, type it in the comment box when you hear it. The comment will be automatically timestamped. After you enter the comment you can drag the cursor to create a range (e.g for a section).
  • General comments. To make a general comment in FilePass, type your message in the box and then remove the checkmark for the timestamp.

5. Headspace

Before listening, take a second to check in. How’s your mood? How does your body feel? Take a moment to self-assess. If it’s the end of the day and you’ve already listened to a bunch of music, it’s common to experience some ear fatigue, so consider picking things up after a break.

Some things that can help you get in a good listening mindset:

  • Listen in the AM. Our minds and ears are fresh after a good night’s sleep.
  • Create a space that is conducive to active listening. To give your total concentration to your music, you need a comfortable and distraction free environment.
  • No multitasking. Turn off all screens and seek out a private space. Part of the journey of making art is making room for you.