In order to be not just a ‘good’ audio professional, but a sought-after audio professional, one needs to be able to first differentiate between analytical and critical listening and also have the ability to put them into action.
“Critical-listening techniques are used to evaluate the perceived parameters of sound; it is evaluating sound for its own content, out of the context of a piece of music, and out of time; it makes use of the concept of sound as an abstract idea, or a sound object (Moylan, 2014, 445).”
“Analytical-listening techniques are used to evaluate the artistic elements of sound; sound is evaluated within musical contents and these techniques seek to understand the function of the sound in relation to the musical or communication context in which it exists; it evaluates sound over time and uses the concept of sound event (Moylan, 2014, 444).”
Fundamentally, critical listening seeks to evaluate each sound as just that – a stand alone sound, while analytical listening assesses the sound within the context of a song and how it affects the other sounds. For an audio professional to be able to create great work, they must first be able to pull apart the great work of others and find the path that led them to that sound. This is where critical and analytical listening come in.
Case Study Framework
For the upcoming case studies, a general guide will be followed in order for the work to be easily read by anyone, audio professional or otherwise. The following aspects will be continually included in all future case studies:
- General Song Information (Artist, Tempo/BPM etc.)
- Band Background/Genre Exploration
- Song Structure
- Instrumental Breakdown (In regards to: Dynamics, EQ/Spectral Analysis and Imaging/Spatial Attributes)
- Variations Audio Timeliner will be used to aid in the ‘Song Structure’ part of the analysis
- Pro Tools will be used in multiple parts of the case studies to show stereo image and dynamic range, amongst other things
“Dynamic range in the musical sense describes the difference between the loudest and quietest levels of an audio signal (Corey, 2012, 78).” A developed audio professional will be able to “maintain a persistent perceived loudness (Corey, 2012, 78),” throughout their work. This can be done manually by adjusting faders during recording or mixing, or it can be achieved through the use of hardware or digital plug-in compressors and expanders. Dynamic range control is important in many genres, particularly in Rock and Pop music, as the loudness represents a certain amount of the emotion of the song. In something like Jazz however, it would probably be less important to have a large dynamic range. Furthermore, the timbre of the instruments would further effect the perceived dynamic range. Questions I may cover in the following case studies include:
- What is the timbre of the sound? (Full, muddy, narrow etc.)
- Can you hear the effect of dynamic processors? If so, can you hear the processors themselves?
- Visual analysis of dynamic range using the wav file in Pro Tools
- Are the gain levels consistent?
“This refers to an audio signal’s frequency content and the relative power of each frequency or frequency band across the audible range of frequencies, from 20 to 20,000 Hz (“Ultimately, spectral analysis is the balance of each instrument in regards to their frequency range and how it sits with the frequencies of the other instruments.
The below Interactive Frequency Chart, found here, will assist me in my analysis of the spectral elements of each case study.
- What sort of spectral processing can I hear?
- Frequency ranges of each instrument?
- Based on my frequency range analysis, is there anything I can deduce about the original tracking session, equipment used or techniques applied?
Spatial Attributes and Sound Stage
Spatial Attributes are the balance of the song; where the instruments each sit in relation to the others. This includes reverberation, echo, reflections, delays, as well as panning and positioning of sound sources within the stereo or surround image (Corey, 2012, 12). Further analysis of spatial attributes bring us to evaluating the environment in which the song was recorded or which the engineer was trying to achieve. We can deduce the environment by linking back to listening for things such as reflections and delays, as previously mentioned. In this section, potential questions may include:
- Where is everything sitting in relation to each other?
- Visual diagram in relation to above question
(“Stereophonic sound”, n.d.)
- Song setting?
- Big venue/Small venue?
- Room materials
- Ceiling Height
- Which instruments are the ‘star of the plate?’
- Visual of the stereo image using Pro Tools
(“Ozone 7 Audio Mastering Features & Plug-ins”, 2016)
- Does the stereo image change throughout the song?
- How much space is there in the song? How much of this has been processed through reverb, delay etc?
Overall Analysis of Sound
The final impression of the track.
- Lyrical content/meaning?
- Overall mood of the song?
Corey, J. (2012). Audio Production and Critical Listening : Technical Ear Training. Burlington, US: Focal Press.
Moylan, W. (2014). Understanding and Crafting the Mix : The Art of Recording (3). Independence, US: Focal Press.
Music / Concert 2. (2016). Flickr. Retrieved 7 October 2016, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikerosen/galleries/72157623464146703/
Ozone 7 Audio Mastering Features & Plug-ins. (2016). Izotope.com. Retrieved 7 October 2016, from https://www.izotope.com/en/products/master-and-deliver/ozone/features.html
Stereophonic sound. Wikipedia. Retrieved 7 October 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereophonic_sound