Neutralizing Your Ears

The human body is really good at adjusting our senses to our present surroundings, and making them seem ‘normal’.  This is a phenomenon which affects all senses… for example…

  • If you wear goggles with a tinted lens while skiing, your eyes adjust to the tint, making it appear normal.  This is most obvious when you remove the goggles… e.g. after adjusting to, and then removing goggles with a yellow tint, the snow will look blue.
  • Our taste adjusts to strong flavours, making subsequent flavours taste less intense.  The reason ginger is served with sushi is to neutralize your taste in between pieces, so that the full flavour of each can be properly experienced.
  • Most people can relate to entering a room with a strong or bad smell… after spending 5 – 10 minutes in that room, the smell isn’t as strong anymore.

… and hearing is no different.  For example if we listen to music that is bass heavy for a long period, and then do a mix, our ears will have ‘normalized’ to the bass heavy sound, and we’ll very likely produce a bass heavy mix.

For this reason it’s important that before writing or mixing we neutralize our hearing to something well balanced.  In my case I have a collection of 5 or 6 well produced reference tracks in varying styles, and with slightly different tonalities (i.e. some are a little bass light, others are slightly bright, etc…).   The first thing I do each day is listen to 20-30 seconds of several of these reference tracks, to neutralize or normalize my hearing towards a cross section of balanced commercial mixes.  Also, if I’m doing a long mix session, I’ll periodically re-listen to the reference tracks… during lengthy mixing, it’s easy to listen to a track so repetitively, that a mix that is potentially unbalanced starts sounding normal.

Also, when listening on monitors or rooms with an uneven frequency response, it’s equally as important to listen back to reference material on a regular basis, to help avoid imparting the inverse of this unevenness on your mix (e.g. mixing a track bass-light, because your room has over-emphasised bass response).

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