Musical Vantage Points


What is your vantage point on the music? From what position do you listen—from a point of doubt, sympathy, skepticism, good cheer, confidence, or anxiety? Does your vantage change as the music changes, moving from a positive glance to a negative sneer? Does your positioning allow you to hear the music as it is, as you wish it would be, or some combination of both? Do you have a sense of the music’s big picture vista as if you’re looking through binoculars, or are you caught up in one of its foreground details as if looking through a microscope? Can musical vantage points be changed, and if so, how? 

While mixing I’ve been thinking about my positioning. By this I don’t mean how far my ears are from the monitors—although that too is important, and for the record, the monitors are about three feet way. Rather, my positioning is where I locate my critical listening self with regards to what I’m hearing. I find that as I mix the music I’m also playing with different mixes of my attitudes and noticing—as if moving faders up and down to alter my perceptions and compensate for my aural blind spots. Even though I think I’m hearing the music sounding better—meaning, more as I want it to sound—I’m not entirely sure that I should trust how I hear.

Some of this perceptual doubt is a good thing and I recommend that every musician try out mixing because it’s wonderful way to study the nuances of your hearing. Mixing multi-part music is an especially useful teaching tool, because it requires you to discern different musical lines and timbres simultaneously and figure out ways to have them play well together. What happens is that as you find a rough balance among parts you begin noticing new details within this balance, which in turn inspires new mix adjustments. Soon your noticing is on overdrive and you’re scrambling to adjust to the demands of what feel like new listening vistas. And doubt creeps in: Am I noticing what is most prominent or just what I’m most attuned to? Is the drum part too loud, or does it only seem that way because something else needs adjusting? Would someone else notice what I notice, or would they have different vantage points?

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