457833210_ac5964cb95A few months back I got to sit through a demonstration for Focal monitors. (These monitors are phenomenal, by the way. Definitely worth checking out.)

During a portion of the demonstration, the presenter had us all close our eyes and simply listen to the music.

As I listened, I was able to hear all sorts of details in the music. Was this because I was listening to some high-end, expensive studio monitors? Yes, but I think there’s more to it.

Does closing our eyes trigger our ears to be more attentive?

Have you ever met a blind person whose other senses were heightened as a result of their inability to see? I’m no doctor, but it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched that the human body could compensate for a loss of vision by overdeveloping the sense of hearing, smell, etc.

Motivational speakers like Tony Robbins make millions by training people how to use physical activity (like jumping around and shouting) to produce change to their mental and emotional state. Conversely, he teaches people how their inner mindset has a huge impact on their outward performance.

My point? We call ourselves recording engineers. We’re audio guys, not video guys, and yet we oftentimes use our eyes to achieve results.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Making EQ decisions based on how the EQ curve looks – Digital audio is an awesome tool. Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to getting further away from using analog equipment. For one, you can now see what your EQ tweaks look like. When you cut 250 Hz and boost 8 kHz, you can see the EQ curve of the plug-in changing in real time. Suddenly you stop listening to the audio, and you use your eyes to make decisions.
  • Tweaking a compressor based on how much gain reduction you think it should have – Since compressors give you a read-out for how much gain reduction is happening, you’ll end up dialing in the right compression based on what the meter is telling you…not what your ears are telling you.
  • Basing your recording decisions on how the waveform looks – It’s so easy to record something quickly that sometimes you think that you just need to get a good level and you can start recording. Unfortunately, just having a good level that doesn’t clip doesn’t mean your recording will turn out good. Listen to it first.

These may be obvious examples. Heck, you may not even struggle with these, but I know I do. It’s so much easier to make a mixing decision based on what I should do rather than what sounds right.

My advice?

Close Your Eyes

When I sat there during the Focal demonstration, I was amazed at how much more I heard when I closed my eyes. It felt as though my brain re-allocated my eyesight “processing power” to my ears.

If you close your eyes next time you’re tweaking an EQ, you’ll be amazed at how much more focused you’ll be. You’ll listen for certain frequencies much more diligently. And I bet you’ll find that your EQ decisions will be very different from what you would’ve done with your eyes open.

Let’s face it, our eyes are constantly wandering around, searching for something to look at. When working in a computer-based recording system, it’s even worse. There are all sorts of flashy buttons on the screen, begging us to look at them. Fight the urge. Grab an EQ knob and close your eyes until you like what you hear.

You can take this a step further by using a control surface. This is why I love my Digi 003. I didn’t think I’d like it all that much, but the ability to grab a couple of knobs and adjust an EQ without having to click around a plug-in is huge. It made me listen. You don’t have to have a control surface, though, to make yourself listen. Close your eyes, and…hold on to your chair…listen to the music.

What do you think? I want to know. Leave a comment! (And by the way, Happy Thanksgiving!)

[Photo Credit: francapicc]

  • Nanthaa

    really helpful messages for me I think it helps me man tnx a lot

  • I’ve always been fascinated by how the brain adjusts the senses in this way. What I like to do sometimes is grab my guitar, turn out the lights and play with my eyes closed. It helps me to evaluate the songs I write on a whole new level. This article reminded me of this actually. Great choice in topic! 😉

    – G. E. Marrs

  • I’ve heard you say this before, but you really put it convincingly and eloquently here! It reminded me of a couple things:

    There was an episode of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ (yes, I admit to watching that sludge), where they ate a complete meal in pitch black, and it was for the exact same reason — isolating the sense you’re using eliminates the distractions that otherwise are impossible to get away from.

    I read something recently about a blind man who uses sound (a fast tongue-click) for ‘echolocation’ — after years of practice, he can actually tell where furniture, etc are within a room, just by listening to the reverberation.

  • It’s great to see I’m not the only one that does this. I thought I was crazy. When I get close to what I “think” a final mix should sound like, I turn off the lights and computer monitor, close my eyes and listen. I then take mental notes on all the adjustments I need to make and start the tweaking process until I get what I think sounds good. Awesome article and site.

    • Great point, Chris. Those Focal guys actually did cut the lights during that presentation. It was pitch-black while we listened. So cool.

  • det

    that was sort of the idea behind some of the hardware pro tools were introducing a few years ago… i remember that in the presentation they mentioned exactly that, how we stopped “hearing” and started “watching” when mixing material… really, i know that sometimes you can actually mix something without actually listen to it, based on what you see… but that is an absolute mistake…

    love your blog!!

  • I think it helps me that I have no idea what I’m looking at when it comes to compression, EQ, etc….I just automatically go with what sounds right, since I have no clue how it’s “supposed” to look.

    Happy Thanksgiving, bro…save travels.