I was thinking about this today when I was driving to work. Recently there have been two skills that I have tried to cultivate for better production work. They are not fully developed for me. For a musical genius such as Mozart, I think he had it perfected, but for us mere mortals…
The first is to develop a highly critical ear. It means that you could quickly spot mistakes, wrong levels, odd sounds, wrong keys, something is not heard, muddiness, and everything that is not making the production perfect. This takes a lot of introspection skills. It’s so easy to get excited 4am in the morning after an all-night creativity session. But the next morning, it’s important to be critical about the material and go through it carefully.
Two things help. One is to give it time. Go back to the work later, you have a fresh mind then and could hear nuances you never thought about earlier. The second is just to hear over it, over and over again, if possible using different kinds of audio environments. If you can’t stand hearing it after ten takes, the customer won’t like it either, most likely.
The second still is to memorize and internalize music. Concerning the earlier skill, it means that you remember exactly where the problems are in the track you listened to in the car, and then when you get home you could just go in and fix each problem! The other nice thing with this skill is that you could work out rearrangements in your head, while you are driving, or doing something else, and then when you are ready, the plan is in place and you could execute it.
I do think most successful producers have these two skills highly developed. Someone like Quincy Jones could sort out any kind of problem just by listening to tracks, as well as arrange music in his head. As I said, these skills are not developed in my mind. But as a funny story, when I was a kid, we didn’t exactly have iPods or even Walkmans to take music with us everywhere, so what I did was to memorize tracks I liked on albums, and listen to them in my mind while working outside the house, or when taking the bus to school.
It’s a very good exercise to try to memorize songs, as well as analyze songs into parts and learn all the small things that are going on with music.