74-Is your engineer deaf?

This somewhat inflammatory title grew out of my thoughts about the “Loudness Wars” issue.

A lot of professionals get their work because of their reputation (either deserved or because of self promotion) rather than their expertise or quality work. Of course this is true in any field, not just music. (This is why 25-year-old celebrities in the entertainment field can pontificate about politics and atmospheric physics and get interviews and press for everything they say, while unphotogenic scientists and experienced commentators can barely be heard.)

The art and science of recording, mixing and mastering is an advanced skill that takes years to master, and requires knowledge of electronics, acoustics, and music. On top of that, the best ones do have that extra intangible gift of “golden ears”.

But the reality is also that age, exposure to loud sounds and other factors cause hearing to deteriorate. Where this really came home to me was when I asked my doctor for a real audiologic evaluation, not just a screening. I was put in a soundproof room with headphones, and all sorts of tones of different frequencies were played in a 3D sound field. My hearing is nowhere near the “20 – 20000 Hz” number people talk about as “normal human hearing”, and I guarantee you that few of you over the age of 30 will be able to hear much over 15000 Hz.

So if you really want to see your mastering engineer get uncomfortable, especially if he appears to be older than 40 or so, ask to see his audiology results. Skill and experience are, of course, the most important things, but how much can they count if the guy can’t hear anything above 8000 Hz?

Page ID#=74 /last updated 20100215