Have you ever tried and failed to explain the sound of an effect that's been applied to a certain piece of music you love? It's a pretty specific problem — and as someone who writes music criticism, I probably run into it more than most — but it's one even casual listeners can understand. It's frustrating to hear something just beneath the surface of a song and not understand how it was created. That's why Pro Audio Essentials, a new "game-based course" being offered by audio technology company iZotope, is an exciting concept: it has the potential to help professionals and amateurs alike refine their listening skills. It's a little like Duolingo for would-be music producers.
Pro Audio Essentials is intended for use by people who are producing, mixing, and mastering music on a regular basis, but it's fun and simple enough for non-professionals with some free time and a decent set of headphones. You can watch a series of videos covering the basis of equalization, compression, and digital audio technology, and you can test that information right away with tools that let you tweak music in real time. (For the time being, you can only play with EQ technology; iZotope is still working on its compression and digital audio tools.) The course supplies standard descriptors, too, meaning you can watch a song transform into something "brighter" or "warmer" and know exactly how that transformation is taking place. Once you've finished playing around, you can take tests that gauge your ability to detect the technology you've just investigated. Can you bridge the gap between understanding EQ and actually hearing it in a piece of music?
You can think about the music you hear in a different way
It's not totally foolproof, of course. You'll have a hard time picking out the adjustments you're making if you're playing along with a set of old iPod earbuds. And listening skills are just like any other skills: you'll need consistent practice to keep them sharp. The course might only have extended relevance if you're actually trying to learn how to make music better. With that said, dipping a toe into the murky waters of audio technology and production might be enough to get you thinking about the music you hear daily in a different way. That's a change in mindset that can prove useful even if you just go back to blaring your car's radio while commuting.
"We've given people a chance to work with online, interactive practice tools... to help them connect what they hear to what they want to hear," said iZotope director of education Jonathan Wyner in an introductory video. "Ultimately, better skills means better music, and that's what it's all about."