The most important and valuable piece of studio equipment is the ear. Any expensive or high end gears you are using in your home studio cannot guarantee to produce quality results unless you have a “trained ear”. Trained ear helps you at arriving correct sound recording, mixing and mastering decisions. If you have noticed; great sound engineers (mixing and mastering) and recording producers all have the common trait of great listening skills because they possess a “trained ear” acquired from years of practice and listening to both good and bad music.
This is not a complete training guide but the tips and exercises below dramatically helps you to have a trained ear which you could develop from at least a year of studio. Take note that there is no overnight success of having a well-trained ear in working with professional studios. It takes time, consistent correct practice and dedication that can help you developed your listening skills.
Exercise #1: If you know how to play a musical instrument, then you should know how to tune it.
Importance: Before I worked with studio full-time, I consistently plays a musical instrument such as guitar that helps me a lot in deciding what makes the sound good and bad. This is where my production skills start shaping up. The most important skill is of course- tuning the instrument. Being acquainted with tuning the instrument can develop your listening ability in spotting out of tune recordings. It is why if you have noticed over the years of playing and tuning an instrument, you can easily spot out of tune guitars and even singers!
Evaluation method: Devote some time tuning your instrument to perfection. To test your tuning ability, you can even measure the results versus a digital guitar tuner to assess your tuning skills. I do this at times and it helps a lot.
Exercise #2: Consistent listening to professionally produced recording material
Importance: If you are working in a studio or having a home studio, it will be strange that you are not fond of listening to any professionally produced recording materials. This helps you again trained your ear by detecting how those professional recorded and mixed instruments would sound like, such as guitars, vocals, bass and drums. Beyond that you can also assess whether how much reverb they have as well as some techniques in panning, etc.
Evaluation method: The nice thing about this is that you can measure the quality of your produced works versus these professionally produced materials to see if your ear are trained enough to arrive you at the proper mixing/mastering decisions. If something is not right during your comparison, congratulations you ear starts to sort out bad music that you have created and then use your ear consistently to shape the sound of the mix so that it will sound as professionally produced as possible. You can use the existing CD’s of your favorite major label artist as a reference.
Exercise #3: Be familiar with subwoofer and bass frequencies and how they actually sound
Importance: Bass is the hardest frequency to mix in any studio. One limiting factor is not the hardware gears alone (of course to mix bass frequencies right, you need a subwoofer), but it’s the ear itself that are not attuned in listening bass frequencies properly. Based on my experience, there is a “drastic difference” on how a 35Hz to 50Hz would sound compared when it now reaches the 80Hz and 100Hz frequency level. This is an important skill particularly if you are mixing rock music where the kick drums and bass played a strong role in the success of the song.