Critical Listening 1
Authored by Dan Thompson
Course Code: OMPRD-162
No matter how good a song is or how accomplished the musicians playing it are, the wrong mix can leave an otherwise beautifully crafted song sounding unprofessional and unpolished. Critical Listening 1 provides recording musicians and aspiring producers and engineers with a better sense of the mixing process, and develops the ability to hear and identify the key features of a well-balanced, artful, and professional-sounding mix.
Through weekly critical listening drills, analysis of classic recordings, and comparative studies of different styles of mixing, you'll learn to identify width and depth, frequency range, dynamics, and the different mix approaches used in various musical genres. You'll learn to hear and identify techniques such as panning, alternate types and uses of reverb, delay, compression, phasing/flanging/chorus, and different types of distortion. Critical Listening 1 also explores various types of instruments and arrangements, distinguishing between Telecasters, Strats, and Les Paul guitars, single versus dual-coil pickups, direct versus miked acoustic and electric guitars, tremolo versus vibrato, Rhodes versus Wurlitzer electric pianos, and more. The course will also take you through the steps to turn your listening space into a more critical listening environment. Whether you are a recording musician looking to ready your music for CD, or an aspiring producer or engineer, you'll not only learn what elements are most important in a mix, what sort of arrangements you should be working towards, and how to optimize your mix to make your song as compelling as possible; in the process, you'll open your ears up to a whole new level of critical listening and awareness.
By the end of this course, you will:
- Hear width and depth, frequency range, dynamics, and the different mix approaches used in various musical genres
- Identify techniques such as panning, alternate types and uses of reverb, delay, compression, phasing/flanging/chorus, and different types of distortion, distinguish between different instruments, pickups, miked versus direct acoustic and electric guitars, and what mixing approach might be most appropriate for your music
- Optimize your listening setup into a more critical listening environment
Lesson 1: Understanding Sound
- Getting Started: Reference Listening
- The Finished Mix
- What is Sound? Frequency, Wavelength, and Period
- EQ Bands: Bandwidth, Boost/Cut, and Center Frequencies
- What are the Ear Training Drills?
- Ear Training Drill 1: Pink Noise +24dB
Lesson 2: Understanding Your Listening Environment
- Room Modes
- Speaker Positioning
- Reflections: Ray tracing
- Absorption vs. Diffusion
- Ear Training Drill 2: Program Material +12 dB
Lesson 3: Frameworks: Optimizing Your Listening Environment; Exploring Song Structure
- Treating the Room: Bass Trapping Strategies
- Treating the Room: Absorption Strategies
- Treating the Room: Diffusion Strategies
- The Framework of the Mix: Song Structure
- Ear Training Drill 3: Pink Noise -24 dB
Lesson 4: Final Audio Setup and Imaging/Panning Analysis
- Tuning the Stereo Field
- Evaluating Speakers/Amps: What to listen for
- System Improvements
- Panning Drums
- Global Panning Concepts
- Ear Training Drill 4: Program Material -12 dB
Lesson 5: Balances
- Balances: Jazz
- Balances: Pop/Rock
- Balances: Hip-Hop
- Ear Training Drill 5: Pink Noise -/+12 dB
Lesson 6: EQ/Timbre
- EQ Revisited–Types and Approaches
- EQ in Jazz
- EQ in Pop/Rock
- EQ in Hip-Hop/Rap
- Ear Training Drill 6: Program Material +/-12 dB
Lesson 7: Reverb: Identifying Spaces
- Reverb Types
- Reverb: Stylistic Approaches
- Reverb: Special-Effects
- Ear Training Drill 7: Program Material +/-12 dB
Lesson 8: Time-Based Effects
- Delay-Based Effects Using Modulation
- Time-Based Effects: Stylistic Approaches
- Ear Training Drill #8: Pink Noise +/–12 dB x2
Lesson 9: Compression
- Recording/Mixing with Compression
- Compression on Individual Instruments
- Compression: Stylistic Approaches
- Ear Training Drill #9: Program Material +/–12 dB x2
Lesson 10: Phase and Distortion
- Understanding Phase
- Distortion (Amplitude) Types: Noise (Analog Tape), Poor Frequency Response, Tube vs. Solid State, Clipping
- Data Compression Formats: MP3, AAC, AIFF
- Identifying Creative Uses of Distortion
- Ear-Training Drill 10: A/B Drills
Lesson 11: Identifying Instruments/Types
- Guitars: Electric, Acoustic, DI
- Acoustic Guitar: Mic vs. DI
- Basses: Acoustic, P-Bass, Jazz Bass, Fretless
- Keyboards: Electric Piano, Organ, Analog Synths, Digital Keyboards/Synths (DX7, Korg/Roland))
- Other Interesting Instruments and Effects
- Ear-Training Drill 11: A/B Drills
Lesson 12: Final Listening Evaluation
- Listening Review
- Listening Examples
- Ear Training Final Exam
- Where Do I Go from Here?
Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements
Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
This course does not have any prerequisites.
- Understanding Audio: Getting the Most Out of Your Project or Professional Recording Studio (2nd Edition) by Daniel Thompson (Berklee Press, 2018)
Media and Subscriptions
- One of the following:
- Tidal HiFi, Student HiFi, or higher tier subscription
- CD player and the following CDs:
- Steely Dan - Gaucho
- Peter Gabriel - So
- Cannonball Adderley - Know What I Mean?
- Black Eyed Peas - Elephunk
- Fourplay - Fourplay
- Tom Petty - Wildflowers
- Sting - Mercury Falling
- Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Free options, such as GarageBand (Mac) or Cakewalk by BandLab (PC), are acceptable.
- Virtual audio routing software. Options include:
- Word processing software, such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs (free), Apple Pages, Apache Open Office (free), etc.
- Professional over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, etc.
- Audio interface
- Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as necessary cables. Monitors with 8-inch woofers are recommended, such as JBL 308Ps or better.
- One of the following SPL metering options with A-, C-, and linear Z-weighting scales:
- iPhone or iPad with one of the following apps:
- Both of the following:
- Dedicated hardware SPL meter. (Note: You may need to use the correction table in the back of your textbook to convert dBA or dBC readings to Z-weighting, as most affordable hardware level meters do not include dBZ.)
- Recommended: Real-time analyzer (RTA). The following options (from above) also fulfill this recommendation:
General Course Requirements
Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course.
- Latest version of Google Chrome
- Zoom meeting software
- Speakers or headphones
- External or internal microphone
- Broadband Internet connection
Daniel M. Thompson is assistant chair of Music Production and Engineering (MP&E) at Berklee College of Music, where he has taught advanced production, recording, and mix techniques, as well as music technology for more than two decades.
An independent writer/producer and Latin Grammy Award-winning recording engineer, his credits include work on records, feature films, and numerous network and cable television series and movies, including ER, The Sopranos, Melrose Place, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Touched by an Angel, NCIS, and Monk, to name just a few.
Dan has authored articles on music technology for EQ and Electronic Musician, and has been a presenter and clinician on music production topics in the US, Europe, and Central and South America, including at the Panama Jazz Festival.
His book Understanding Audio: Getting the Most Out of Your Project or Professional Recording Studio (Berklee Press/Hal Leonard) is a required textbook for Berklee College of Music's MP&E classes, as well as for numerous other music production and engineering programs throughout the US and abroad. Read Less
Alejandro Rodriguez is an associate professor in the Music Production and Engineering department at Berklee College of Music, with more than 20 years of experience as a recording, editing, mixing, mastering, post-production, and live sound engineer and producer. He has worked with artists such as Mariah Carey, Compay Segundo, Eliades Ochoa and AfroCuban All Stars (from Buena Vista Social Club), Silvio Rodriguez, Pablo Milanes, J.M. Vitier, Grupo Niche, Armando Mnazanero, Ricardo Arjona, Pancho Cespedes, and Tania Libertad.
Prior to Berklee, Alejandro was an acoustics professor at the National School of Arts (ENA) and a professor of sound studies at Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA)—both in Havana, Cuba. He has also taught audio and recording techniques at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores in Monterrey, México. Alejandro worked as a staff engineer for EGREM Studios in Havana, Cuba, and has since pursued a freelance career as an engineer and producer. He holds a bachelor's degree in music from ENA and a bachelor's degree in arts communication (specializing in sound for film, radio, and TV) from ISA. In addition, he studied telecommunication engineering at the Technical University in Havana and recording techniques at the Supraphon Recording Faclities in Prague, Czech Republic. Read Less
Mark Wessel is an Assistant Professor in the Music Production and Engineering department at Berklee College Of Music, where he has taught audio engineering and production techniques since 1996. After receiving a B.S. in Mass Communication from Emerson College, Mark worked as a staff engineer at Blue Jay Recording Studio for many years and is now an independent recording and mix engineer. With over twenty years of experience in records, films, and television scores, his credits include numerous label projects including Sony, Narada, MCA, Rounder, RCA Victor, Gramavision, Sire, BMG, American Gramaphone, CBS, and Flying Fish, as well as projects for Miramax Films, WGBH, National Public Radio, Paramount Pictures, and various independent records and films.
Leanne Ungar, professor in the Music Production and Engineering department at Berklee, is a producer/engineer with 30 years of experience in records, films, and television scores. With technical skills that encompass both analog equipment and digital applications, Ungar has produced or engineered seven albums for Leonard Cohen, and has worked with the avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson on Big Science, Mister Heartbreak, United States Parts I–IV, and a concert film, Home of the Brave. Ungar's list of collaborators also includes the Temptations, Fishbone, Holly Cole, Guster, Joe Henderson, Willie Nelson, Luther Vandross, Natalie Cole, Vonda Shepard, Carlene Carter, Paul Winter Consort, Tom Jones, and many others.
Since the outset of her career in the early 1970s, she has worked in both New York and Los Angeles, and has had a hand in creating many historic recordings, including those by James Brown, the Brecker Brothers, Manhattan Transfer, Cat Stevens, Loudon Wainwright III, and Janis Ian. Her film score credits include Kafka, Pump Up the Volume, and The Limey; television scores include work for Thirtysomething, The Wonder Years, Full House, and Family Matters. Read Less
John Broaddus is an instructor in the Music Technology minor program at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain where he teaches Recording Skills for the Musician, Critical Listening and Production Analysis. He holds an undergraduate degree in Music Theory from Drury College, a Recording Arts specialized degree from Full Sail and a Master’s in Music Production, Technology and Innovation from Berklee. As a teacher, technologist and music producer, John brings an infectious enthusiasm to his classes and is driven to see his students succeed as musicians, producers and engineers. He has produced a number of projects in his personal studio beginning in 1998 and has worked in digital media for Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures Entertainment in Los Angeles where clients included Disney, New Line Cinema, 20th Century Fox, BBC, Apple, Amazon, Google, Playstation Network and Microsoft to name a few.
Robin Moore is a professional, audio engineer with over 2 decades of experience as a freelancer and an employee of WGBH Radio, Boston, MA after having studied Music, Production & Engineering at The Berklee College of Music and Electrical Engineering at Brown University. She has recorded and mixed remote recordings of live performances and studio projects for a variety of genres that include jazz, (Dave Liebman, Saxophone Summit, at Birdland), classical, (The Chorus of Westerly), and R&B/house music, (Groove Theory, Brandy, Victor Simonelli) for major record labels such as Epic Records, Motown Records and independent labels. She also served as an audio technology consultant for (Numark Industries/Alesis) in 2002, when the 2 companies merged and has taught audio and radio production at Emerson College, Boston, MA.
Since 1998, Robin has become a well-respected and sought after audio engineer at WGBH Educational Foundation, where she records, edits and mixes music projects in the Fraser Performance Studio. Her Fraser projects include orchestral recordings for popular video games, like world renown, Final Fantasy XV, (Square-Enix, SoundtRec), folk and rock music recordings and mixes for the (WGBH Front Row Boston) video series, (Will Dailey, Tash Sultana), jazz ensemble recordings for video for WGBH’s Jazz 24/7, (John Stein, Lauren Henderson), Celtic music for Brian O’Donovan’s “A Celtic Sojourn” and recordings for outside client projects, (Gail Ann Dorsey). She regularly records, edits and mixes for (The World) news program, a WGBH co-production that airs weekdays on over 300 radio stations nationwide in the USA. Robin recorded, mixed and co-produced the remix of The World’s theme music that airs at the beginning of each show. While she is not working on other clients’ projects, she composes, performs and produces her own, as she is also a keyboardist of 39 years with a passion for dance music. Read Less
When taken for credit, Critical Listening 1 can be applied towards these associated programs: