Golden Ears: The Myth and Frustration of Superhuman Hearing
This post is inspired by @thereelvalentin, who asked me this: “Does good mastering really come down to if you have a great ear?”.
I’ve got a confession to make. In the past, I’ve often times felt lost. Completely disappointed in my ability to make my music sound great. I didn’t think I had it in me. At one point in my life I was in fact convinced I physically couldn’t do it.
Because you see, there was one thing that I just didn’t have:
If you’ve never heard about this, let me quickly fill you in. The concept of ‘golden ears‘ refers to someone with an almost super-human ability to discern among minute differences or changes in frequencies (or tones). They can hear sound in unbelievable detail. These guys are supposed to be some kind of insane human oscilloscope.
Sounds great, right? Just imagine: to be able to differentiate between 100hz and 101hz perfectly. The possibilities would be endless! You would be able to do the most amazing EQ moves and your mix would benefit from it.
You could fit all of the pieces of the puzzle together perfectly – without any mistakes whatsoever!
But what if you don’t have that ability?
At the time, I was a young and insecure lad. So when I first heard about this concept of people having golden ears, I was dishearted. I couldn’t differentiate between 100hz and 101hz at all and so I thought I wouldn’t have any shot at all at making my music sound good. There was just no way.
Surely, I thought, this was the problem with my mixes. As I’ve mentioned before, I needed to go through a lot of study and practice to get to where I am right now. Every time I compared my mixes to those of a great mix engineer, it sucked – and I blamed it all on not having these elusive golden ears.
I kept going though. And contrary to what I though would happen, over time my mixes got better and better. To a point where my mixes do stand up to the competition. To a point where I’m now really proud of my work.
That’s when I realised:
Golden ears is a myth.
Total bolony. It doesn’t exist. There’s only one reason why my mixes got from terrible to competitive over the years. It’s the same reason why those great mix engineers had better mixes in the first place. They don’t necessarily posess golden ears. They don’t have super-human capabilities.
What they do have – or rather had – is practice. And a hell of a lot of it.
Just like the pros, if you want to make your mixes better, you need to keep practicing. It’s the number one way to develop your skill and get better at just about anything you do. So why wouldn’t this apply to mixing and making your music sound great?
You will improve over time.
Sure, right now you might not be able to hear what a subtle EQ sound does to your sound. But it’s got nothing to do with having golden ears. It’s got everything to do with the fact that right now, you’re still learning. You’re still trying to absorb all the information and you’re actually being overloaded all the time. No wonder you can’t hear subtle differences yet!
But keep at it and you will have that magic moment. And when you to, let me tell you… it feels great!
That moment you realize that you actually can clearly hear what you’re doing? That’s what’s golden.
You aren’t born with golden ears. You make your own.
The only thing you need to do is keep practicing, keep mixing, keep listening very carefully and keep focused. So come on, what are you still doing here? Turn on your speakers and get to work!
Thanks again for letting me be your soundcoach,