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Why do my ears keep changing?
Old 18th November 2009
  #1
Gear Head
 

Why do my ears keep changing?

I don't really know the best way to explain this, but I'm talking about a phenomena which is driving me crazy at the moment.

I will listen to something, and then come back to it a few moments/hours
later, and It will sound very different.

eg I will be deciding which version of a bass sound I like out of two tracks of bass, I will clearly favor one, then come back a few hours later, and completely change my mind.

This is happening with vocal sounds, eq settings, pretty much everything.

It's almost as if my ears and there relationship to the totally subjective thing that is sound, is so inconsistent at the moment, I feel like
I'm never actually getting any work done as I keep changing my mind on decisions I have made.

Am I going crazy? Is this a normal part of the learning process?
(I've been doing this stuff for about 3 years or so now).

While my mixing/engineering is the best it's ever been, I feel so lost
right now as to what the hell I'm actually supposed to be listening for,
due to the fickle and 'impermanent' nature of my ears and therefore mix decisions.


Any thoughts would be most appreciated.

Cheers

-Mike
Old 18th November 2009
  #2
Gear Head
 

I should add, that this is almost always a direct result of my almost unhealthy habit of A/Bing with other mixes, and other songs from the album I'm currently producing.


Any thoughts on the problems/benefits of A/Bing and trying to match
different elements of commercial mixes would be most welcome
here too.
Old 18th November 2009
  #3
Gear Maniac
 
rockgod1968's Avatar
 

It'll drive you crazy, trying to match to mastered CD's these days can fatigue your mixing brain for sure!
Old 18th November 2009
  #4
Lives for gear
 
deve's Avatar
 

Ear is a very adaptive organ. It doesn't like to judge. I, personally try to keep the hesitation to a healthy amount.
Old 18th November 2009
  #5
Gear Addict
 
Amun Ra's Avatar
 

I think this is quite normal. It is part of learning to listen. Human hearing is extremely fragile and really easily biased.

Active listening is definitely an accuired skill. For some people it comes more naturally than to others. I used to get fooled and make bad desicions a lot more often in the past, so I must have learned something along the way even though it is very hard to pinpoint exactly when or how it happended.

It is often repeated on this board that it might take decades to become a decent AE. I believe this to be very true. Just make sure you never stop practicing.

Last edited by Amun Ra; 18th November 2009 at 01:27 PM.. Reason: spelling
Old 18th November 2009
  #6
Lives for gear
 
Sigma's Avatar
the very reason that you always use a reference song/songs to anchor your perspective
Old 18th November 2009
  #7
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Froombosch's Avatar
 

A/B-ing with known material will help you refocus. It can sometimes be in 5 minutes that your hearing has changed. I stop very frequent and then return after 10-15 minutes to listen again.

It is very easy to overdo things. So stop for a moment, take a rest and then return.
Old 18th November 2009
  #8
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Sk106's Avatar
 

It is a normal part of learning process. You're crossing the threshold to the next level. Sounds to me like you’re noticing hands on how human senses - even human intellect - work: they grow accustomed to whatever surrounds them at the moment. They strive to justify what is around you. But they also have a more relaxed state, which they turn to when the input from the outside is less intense and the mental focus is off.

Put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out instantly. But put the frog in cold water, and gradually heat it up ... the frog will stay in, gradually overheat and boil ..

Listen to music that is way too bright for a while, preferably in headphones, and soon it won't sound bright anymore, but sound quite alright. Not fully alright, but 95%. The hearing have adapted. When you listen to well balanced music right after, then that will sound very dark. If you don't know, or forget to take into account, that your perception is never really neutral then you'll trust the impression of the second music being dark ... until you listen to it again later. Some of this adaptation is purely perceptual, mental .. and some of it is actually physical. I believe it's like 90% mental and 10% physical.

Same thing with all senses:
- If you stay outdoors a really bright day, without shades, even the balanced indoor lighting will feel very dark.
- If you're cold, then a neutral body-temperature shower will feel very hot.
- If you hang within a nazi ideology group, or any ideology really, after a while it will start making alot of sense ... and other ideologies will seem unreasonable and unfounded.

"Habituation", I think that's what the über-geeks call it. It is one of the engineer's archenemies. As an engineer you have to take it into account alot or it will have your ass. The thing to remember is that you won't notice gradual adjustment of your senses over time – no matter how you try. So don't try to "figure out where your point of reference is biased at right now".

Take breaks, and stop listening to things around you. Do a crossword puzzle or whatever, defuse your hearing senses … And practice the difficult art of listening to sounds using different mental perspectives. You can change how the sound appears to you by switching between inner scenarios while listening .. sort of going into different zones in your mindset. Some listen to music through different apparatus for this, and compares, and tries to find the red line where it will sound optimally good on all things ... this is also a way of checking one’s own references: "did I succeed in making it into what I originally had in mind?" .. because what you originally had in mind tends to get lost in the process and ‘habituated’ away ...

In the military (mandatory where I live) we were taught to not use flashlights at night when looking at maps and stuff, because if you did the eyes would kinda "contract" and your nightvision would be wasted, took about 45 minutes for it to come back to the same nightvision again. Seems to me that this is relevant for hearing as well: if I get an unexpected really loud spike of bright sound in my headphones, it seems to take at least an hour or so before the hearing comes back down again.
Old 18th November 2009
  #9
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sk106 View Post

Put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out instantly. But put the frog in cold water, and gradually heat it up ... the frog will stay in, gradually overheat and boil ..
I think you just summed it up right there.
I'm realizing more and more that constant, regular 'pauses' are so important.

I'm also trying to get beyond the 'frequency' based thing where I'll A/B with commercial mixes, and everything will 'match', but my mix still wont feel right. I guess I'm still learning how much it's ok for me to 'sway' from the overall frequency 'picture' of my reference mixes.

Love all the posts so far, much appreciated, great to know I'm not
loosing my mind just yet!
Old 18th November 2009
  #10
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Froombosch's Avatar
 

I think that eq wise your mixes will sound right, but there is still a lot to do in compression/ delay/ reverb/ colours of instruments, etc.

There is lot to learn before good mixes are made. Making great mixes is an art.
Old 18th November 2009
  #11
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Saudade's Avatar
 

I got a worse problem than you. Depending on the caffeine level in my bloodstream or the time of the day or my mood, the same song can sound +/-15 in bpm (tempo)

For your case do you go back to the choice you made previously, for example you choose A setting, then after comparing other's mixes, you choose B. But do you find yourself going back to A again? I think that would be revealing as to whether it's your ears being adaptive or you ....need help, like me
Old 18th November 2009
  #12
Lives for gear
 

your earholes have muscles that expand and contract..
i bet you're monitoring a wee bit too loud..
Old 19th November 2009
  #13
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Saudade View Post
I got a worse problem than you. Depending on the caffeine level in my bloodstream or the time of the day or my mood, the same song can sound +/-15 in bpm (tempo)

For your case do you go back to the choice you made previously, for example you choose A setting, then after comparing other's mixes, you choose B. But do you find yourself going back to A again? I think that would be revealing as to whether it's your ears being adaptive or you ....need help, like me
Haha I have had the tempo thing happen before but thankfully my perception of tempo is pretty consistent *touch wood*.

As for the a/b thing, yeah dude I'll go back and forth like 5 or 6 times, re-track things a billion times, it's horrible haha

Old 19th November 2009
  #14
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Mark Kaufman's Avatar
 

I've been baffled by this for years...and I've learned to trust my short term instincts, then come back and see if I was right. This works better than mixing for six hours and ending up confused with a horrible mix.

One thing I'm trying to do less and less: look at the screen. EQ-ing to a visual just fools the mind too often. It's like drawing...when you first draw a table, you usually put all the legs along a straight line. But when you REALLY LOOK at what you're drawing, you realize there are actually some crazy angles that you have to re-create, and they go against your instincts. Mixing on the screen, for me, is like being encouraged to draw those table legs wrong.

I've noticed I can make absolutely perfect mixes when I drink alcohol, but devils ruin them while I sleep.
Old 19th November 2009
  #15
Lives for gear
 
The Listener's Avatar
I have (had) the same problem. My solutions are - treated room and monitors that are considered to "translate" well. Even if I change my mind on them it is usually only a different flavour not a difference between a usable and non-usable mix. I trust my initial judgement - I put emphasis on the first impression and stop tweaking after a couple of hours and return to the project later with fresh ears.

I also noticed that I make better and worse mixes on different days. It probably has to do with body fatigue and chemical balance - (not) enough vitamins, oxygen, minerals, etc., body and air pressure, temperature, etc.

Let's face it - we are a precision instrument, we can work optimally only within certain parameters, outside them we start to perform poorly or even die - just imagine - having a fever and only increasing your body temperature by a few degrees you can die - isn't this interesting?

So, immediate judgement, staying fit and rested, not overworking, having proper monitoring set and setting (monitors and treatment), having different sets of monitors for specific tasks - nearfiled, mid-field and lo-fi. I use Yamaha MSP5 for main mixing duties, Dynaudio BM15 for mid-field and Avantone Mixcubes to change the perception - on them you can only accurately hear mid-range and it sort of "re-sets" your ears.

As a curiousity - I noticed that certain factors affect my pitch perception - I don't know - maybe air pressure, temperature, humidity, fatigue?

I would love to have a "re-set" button for my ears or at least some "initialize" function...

Some more usual tricks to check what you are hearing: listening to mixes on another system in another room, listening from outside the studio, lowering volume until you only hear some elements - so you see if your balance is how you imagine it... or some things stick out too much, listening really loud (for a really short time) to check if you exaggerated with some (usually higher) frequency ranges, listening in the car, listening on a portable device a la ipod, etc.
Old 19th November 2009
  #16
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Saudade View Post
I got a worse problem than you. Depending on the caffeine level in my bloodstream or the time of the day or my mood, the same song can sound +/-15 in bpm (tempo)
Same here. I get very rapid mood changes and tracks often change direction mid song Don't know how I get anything done sometimes...
Old 19th November 2009
  #17
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5down1up's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sk106 View Post
It is a normal part of learning process...
very good reply, imo
Old 19th November 2009
  #18
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doorknocker's Avatar
Two thoughts:

- It happens because you're human and not a machine. Being conscious of this phenomenon is already part of the solution. I'm sure that being very self-critical actually will enhance the 'ear swings' as your brain might be extra sensitive to the sonic information it gets.

- The listeners will experience the same thing, their ears are even more 'manic-depressive' than yours because most likely they don't analyze what they hear.
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