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Million Dollar Upgrade to Your Sound - FREE!
 by: Michael Oster

There is one simple way to improve the production quality of your music and it requires zero money invested as long as you have a simple setup which includes: CDs, CD player, speakers, your ears, your time. That's it. I think of this exercise as a "million dollar improvement" in that doing this has taught me things about production and music that have improved my production skills without me paying millions in new equipment and studio time.

The absolute best thing that I ever did (and still do) to improve my production quality is to listen to CDs in my studio. What's key to this is that my studio is an environment that I'm very familiar with when it comes to sound. So what? Well, the "so what" is HOW I listen that makes the difference. I listen to the elements of the recording, not the recording itself. I'm listening to the vocals, and the effects on the vocals, I'm listening to how they relate to the other things going on at the same time. I'm listening to how the bass sounds. I know, you'll tell me that it sounds like a bass. But, how does it sound? What is really going on with that instrument? I listen to the kick drum, snare drum, cymbals, the guitars, synths, the "ear candy", and whatever else happens to come up during the song. I also listen for where these instruments are placed within the stereo field. I listen to the song many times over, concentrating on a specific element with each pass.

This process takes time to really get the hang of, but the rewards can pay off in ways that are unbelievable. See, once you really study the song, you can get "inside" the song. You can hear what's going on in an almost "behind the scenes" nature. Everything that was done to produce, record, mix, and master the song is right there in front of you. And it doesn't take magic or some special talent to be able to figure it out. It does take time and dedication, however. Zero money (assuming you have a CD, a CD player, speakers - headphones work too) and a listening environment that you know well.

So here are the keys to using this exercise to improve your sound: First, you must be in a listening environment that you are familiar with (a place where you listen to a lot of music). If you don't have one, then make one. To "make one" you need to listen to a lot of music in a room or space where you are in the same position relative to the speakers. Focus on the "same position relative to the speakers" part of the last sentence. Also, the playback volume should be constant. You can use any CD as long as it's been properly mastered (major label recordings pretty much qualify). It's important to keep the playback volume constant. Why? So that you can hear the differences from song to song and CD to CD with "all else" being the same.

How does all this kind of listening improve your sound? Well, once you have an established baseline for how a finished production really sounds, you can compare your work with "finished" work from the most skilled producers (and engineers) in the business. The best part about this listening exercise is that you can improve your listening abilities over time. The more you acoustically "dissect" music, the more it reveals to you about how it was made and the more you can learn from it. It's important, however, that you work on this exercise often so that you can develop and maintain your skills. And remember that it doesn't take special talents, education, or magic to benefit from this exercise. Just listen and learn.

About The Author

Michael Oster has been involved in numerous CD releases and professionally recording since 1992. Visit his website at for more information.

This article was posted on January 02, 2007


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