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The Engineer's Curse

Discussion in 'Studio Lounge' started by DonnyThompson, Apr 17, 2014.

  1. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    There was a time, before I got into the craft of audio engineering, where I could hear a song and enjoy it for what it was... a great song with a hooky melody and cool lyrics... but for the most part, those days are gone, and they have been for a long time now - and I find that sad.

    I cannot listen to a song without immediately focusing on certain facets, without de-engineering the tracks.

    If you've been an engineer for any length of time, let's say 3 years or longer, you too probably suffer from this curse; at least once in awhile - you can't listen to a song without immediately analyzing it.

    You hear a song and the first thing that pops into your head is something like "Those vocals are so smooth, I wonder what mic and pre was used?" Or, "Man, what a great guitar tone!"

    But it can go further than just that... you find yourself in the "what I would have done" mode.

    "I would have brought that kick drum back a bit"
    "That vocal sounds harsh, they should have trimmed the hi mids a little"
    "They should have added a 4k snap to that snare."
    "The sibilance on that track is terrible. They should have dampened the EQ on the reverb."
    "Too much Reverb."
    "Too dry."
    "Too Compressed."
    "They should have compressed that more."

    I'm can only speak for myself, of course. Perhaps I'm wrong, and it's not as common as I think it is, and maybe I'm one of a very few who suffers from this curse. (But I don't think I am).

    I miss being able to listen to music the way I used to - when I first heard Sgt. Pepper, or dropped the needle on Dark Side Of The Moon for the very first time. I was amazed at the artistry, the performances... the soul of music.

    Now, I'm forever stuck listening to music through the ears of an engineer.

    Anyone else?

  2. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Donny, I'm right with you! I'm also sensible to timing and pitch mistakes. Worst part is when I listen to live music, or via TV shows... OMG!!
    Sometime I argue with my girlfriend that get tired of hearing me complain... When you hear things that others don't, it creates tensions.
    Last time I went to a big show (BonJovi) I couldn't get passed the fact that we where sitted on a nasty spot full of slapback echo.
    A line in the film the Matrix said, 'ignorance is bliss' !! ;)
  3. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    Amen Donny! I definitely suffer from the curse, and have been known to visibly wince when I hear bad engineering. This is especially true at live shows where the "engineer" is the younger brother of one of the band members, and thinks that "Set it and forget it" is his mantra.
    I rarely do live sound, but if it's an artist/band that I like and I know I'm going to want to enjoy the show, I'll likely volunteer as sound operator just so I can have an enjoyable experience!
    When it comes to enjoying recorded music it's the same thing really, but add in bad production values, musicians showing off their skills instead of supporting the music or song. It's both a blessing and a curse, and since I've spent decades training myself to listen, I guess I can't complain too loudly!
    When it comes to sitting in the control room during a session, I'm often the hero with "super hearing"... I'll take it!
  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Well, it's comforting for me to know I'm not the only one. ;)

    I really wish there was some way to get back to listening in the way I did before I became a professional in the audio field. To listen to a song without peeling away the layers of the onion, to be able to just listen to the song and enjoy like a"civilian". LOL
  5. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    After being around me for a few years my girlfriend started hearing things wrong with live sound mixes on her own without my help. I was so proud.
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I call it a gift and a burden. 38 years pro for me. I can't even go into noisy halls anymore, its way too distracting. I can't talk to people in noisy places because my hearing is so acute, it becomes a serious challenge to try and not be effected by the reflections.
    I also lost this as a musician too. I remember when music was magical ( the first year playing guitar). I lost that "innocent magic" a year after working with bands trying to keep up being a human Jukebox in the club scene. I mean, listening to every part of a song from notes to mix, to stay on the A circuit. I don't regret it though, because I think it has made me a better person who's aware of life in general.

    I've developed wonderful personal skills which has served me well in business. I've had the ability to infect others with this as well. (not so much online though :))

    I love music so much, its hard not being excited about it. Being excited has kept me youthful. I'm 57 this year and still don't have gray hair. Everyday i can hardly wait to do something with music. I stay up until 2 AM and wake up at 7/8AM. Been like this since I was 14 years old. I hate to sleep because its all so exciting to me.
    It all gets better and better every year.
  7. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I'd never have known, Chris. You don't look a day over 57.
  8. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Bos! You caught that before I had a chance to fix it :) . My big problem with aging is with my eyes and computers. I can't see things quickly anymore. My mind is sharp but something is happening with my vision. I hope it doesn't get worse. I should invest in better glasses lol
    I'm debating passing RO onto someone new solely because computers might have to part in my life. I need to save my sight for audio. Its scaring me some but...
    If I stay outside more, it improves. Mobile phones are terrible for me. I can't see well if I use them for more than 2 minutes at a time. Do you guys find this with mobiles?

    Sorry, didn't mean to distract the OP. As long as my ears hold out, I'm smiling.
  9. apstrong

    apstrong Active Member

    They make a product that can help fix this problem. Unfortunately, you can't just go buy it at the music store, although sometimes you can buy it from a guy who hangs out in the alley behind the music store. Or any of the employees when they're on their break. I hear they're starting to sell it retail in Colorado and Washington. :)

    audiokid, investing in quality vision is pretty important, IMO. I was getting really tired at work staring at a computer all day and I couldn't figure out why, other than you know, work. This went on for the better part of a year. Eventually I got new glasses with a better prescription and the problem went away immediately - slight, subtle eyestrain is very tiring. Also, I hear there's a product you can get from the guy behind the music store that helps prevent glaucoma.
  10. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    my auunt was about your age and had laser corrected eye surgery and it brroughther vision bback to 20/20. its unfortunate, but i think lcd screens are going to be part of adio for a long time. i think the standalone screen is going to become extinct as touchscreenn control surfaces like the slate raven keep coming out. hopefully this will ease the boring ness of staring at the same spot for hours, by at least having us lookk al around the control area. cant wait to get rid of the mouse. faders and endless encoders aarent enouogh for me.
  11. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i've always been aware of production. even before i started to record. i used to wonder how everyone got through the whole song without mistakes, how Elvis got that echo sound, how good the reverbs sounded on Drifters records ... i used to sit and picture them singing in a big dark studio with huge drapes everywhere ... and when i saw pictures of them with the mics like 44' and 88's i would say to my self i want one of those.

    i would sit in my Dads Nash and de tune the am radio so there was more high end and slight distortion ...on purpose.
  12. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    You are NOT alone Donny, it's an occupational hazard. I can enjoy a good recording without over analyzing it, in fact that's a sort of litmus test for me. Because it becomes a chore as soon as I find something unpleasant about a recording, televised music, or live show and it takes me right out of enjoyment-mode. At least with a bad recording or bad TV show you can just turn it off, or change the channel. At bad live shows, you might find me trying to fashion a crossbow - or locate a loose brick to get the soundman's attention.
  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    The thing is Hawk, I don't only get that way with poor recordings... I wish that were the only case... but I'm that way with good recordings too. If I hear a song that was recorded great, I still pick it apart to see what makes it so great. LOL

    I always listened to things like drum performances and great singing, just as your typical civilians do. But I think I can recall the exact time when I changed my listening, it was shortly before I became an assistant engineer, and if memory serves correct, it was Boston's More Than A Feeling that made me perk up my ears and start picking songs apart. The guitar tone on that album amazed me, I'd never heard anything like it before, and of course, Brad Delp had an incredible voice, too.

    The thing is, it's not like I was a huge fan. I liked them just fine, but I wasn't like a raving fan boy about them. It's just that around that time, that song got so much airplay that you couldn't help but hear it.

    I'm pretty sure that this was the benchmark that made me start listening in a technical sense... which is weird, because I was a HUGE Beatle's fan at the time (still am) and if anything , you'd think that I would have deconstructed their stuff first.
  14. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    after few months working on a project, and the excruciating word up a half db, word down a half db, my client old me last week "an im never gonna here music the same way again", i said yup, theres no going back.

    im partilly able to control my mind when listening for entertainment but it really never stops. Although ican say that the opposite has held true where ive discovered new songs/music, that i would never have otherwise listened to, just cause the production was amazing, tori amos is just one example.

    i think this happens to everyone, whether your a couch coach watching sports, or critiquing the finish moulding on a house if your a carpenter. i personally dont feel like i enjoy music any less, just because i might miss a verse while dissecting the effx chain :)
    DonnyAir likes this.
  15. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    My girlfriend started to hear pitch errors of some signers.. we're getting there !! ;)
  16. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Its a good feeling when your spouse is with you, nothing better. But, tread lightly. It can go sideways when they start telling you the mix is too bright at the baby freqs, especially during parenting years. :eek:

    I'm not ego centric or a chauvinist but, I'm aware and careful of the cross over points between men and women. I do trust my wife for many area's of music but not when it comes to mixing at the finer levels where I purposely add excitement and snap. She can become very annoyed with upper freq fast. That would be a good thing if all i was doing was her style of music, when it comes to attitude in Rock, one must be careful who we let influence us too. I know there are exceptions to everything, but that doesn't apply with my wonderful wife. She is definitely not an asset in the upper registers.

    That being said, I trust my daughter for checking high freqs all the time. So, I suppose our hormones and where we are at different ages has a lot to do with this too.

    and just tossing out links here:
  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I think you're right. My girlfriend is a paramedic - we can't watch a medical show like Scrubs or Grey's Anatomy without her critiquing and pointing out all the things that the "doctors" are doing wrong.

    "Hey! That's wrong! They're crazy...That's not a Tension Pneumothorax!" :rolleyes: I just nod my head and say "you're really smart" as I invisibly roll my eyes.

    But, I'm often guilty of the same thing - if I'm watching a period movie where music that was popular at the time is being played in the background to set the point of reference in time.
    I fancy myself a bit of a musical historian with rock and pop, and I get aggravated when I hear a song in a period movie that wasn't released - or even yet recorded - at the time that the movie is set.

    "Why am I hearing"Badge" by Cream in this scene? This movie is supposed to be set in 1967... "Badge" wasn't released until 1969!"

    Yeah, you can tell I'm the life of the party. (y)

  18. Josh Conley

    Josh Conley Active Member

    ahhh, i can relate to the noisy room issue. its very confusing because you are zoomed out "listening the mix" out of habit.

    difficult to turn off.
    stop mixing!!!
  19. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I have a hard time watching the TV show Monk because they get details about being OCD wrong.
  20. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Wake up. I just think you guys have forgotten how to enjoy the music?

    Remember? The way you used to? Headphones on. Lights out. Joint lit. And the beer. While watching Star Trek reruns. It still works. I can prove it. Here, wait.

    Oh wow


    Don't Bogart that... who's knocking on my car window?

    Try that and everything will be fine again.

    Go ahead. I just tried it.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
    bigtree likes this.

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