By Bruce Botnick
Have you noticed that when you first come into the studio/dubbing stage and play yesterday/nights mix, how more open and clear the mix is and you can hear all the detail and subtlety that you originally put into your mix? This is because as your day rolled on and you were listening at a moderate to loud level, your ears and brain get tired and you don’t hear the same.
Have you noticed that when you’ve driven to the studio that the road noise dulls your hearing, so when you arrive at your session/mix you are already behind the sonic eight ball? When I drive to a recording session I break the law and wear noise-cancelation ear-buds, not plugged into anything, just silence from the road noise. I hear sirens and most everything else, not the deadening roar of the tires against the asphalt.
Ear fatigue generally occurs after listening to or working with audio, especially at high volumes. Unless you are absolutely up against a hard deadline, when mixing with tired/fatigued ears, you shouldn’t be sending off finished mixes before waiting a day and having another listen.
When overdubbing with a vocalist, I’ve noticed how during the first couple of passes, the vocalists voice is clear and crisp, and as continued takes progress, their voices get duller. Matching vocals via a punch-in is sometimes tough as the vocalists vocal chords get tired singing the same lines over and over. The same goes for the mixer in the studio hearing the same thing over and over, the ears tire of the sonic repetition.
Play it Quieter, Not Louder
If you’re mixing at a level where you can’t talk comfortably to another human being sitting next to you – then it’s too loud. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set your EQ, reverb and effects and check the mix at a loud volume, in fact that’s an important thing to do. But for most of your mixing sessions, it should be at a reasonable level for two reasons:
- Your ears won’t fatigue as fast
- The mix will be judged better (louder psychologically sounds better)
Take Breaks, allow your ears to power down and reset.
When you get intensely involved in a mix session, and you become one with the song or cue, it is very easy to get ear fatigue: A – because you’re not resting your ears; and B – you are constantly turning the monitor volume up or pushing the level of the mix up.
Mix in 45-50 minute sessions with a 10-15 minute break in between. This allows you to rest your ears and give them a break from the same, repetitive sound.
Taking breaks also keeps you productive and will allow you to hear and feel what you are mixing without repetitive drilling down into a section and thinking your mix into place.
If you experience ear fatigue halfway through a mix, the worst thing to do is obsessively carry on mixing. Do something not involving focused listening. Take a walk on the beach; listen to ocean waves lapping against the shore and the trade winds gently flowing through the palm trees.
And don’t forget about a good nights sleep, your ears can and will reset.
Hydrate and sustenance
Don’t ignore the importance of hydration and don’t forget to make sure you eat regularly to keep your energy, humor and hearing on an even keel.
The last word, well sort of, as this subject will grow with time.
Keep in mind that ear fatigue can inhibit your sound and shorten your ability to be objective.
Have you taken a break yet? Go and grab a glass or bottle of water and while you’re at it, don’t forget to turn your speakers down a little.