Critical listening to console features make an audio console operator arguably one of the most challenging positions in live production.
Brad Duryea · November 3, 2017
A great engineer has to balance technical understanding of the systems, artistic sensibilities, and solid interpersonal skills.
This is challenging enough for professionals, so when you’re working to get volunteers to fill that A1 role, there are a lot of things to think through. Before we even consider the technology behind a great worship experience, I believe there are three key things audio volunteers need to do.
First, they need to learn the art of ‘critical listening.’ This is the process of mentally deconstructing what you’re hearing and analyzing the components. It’s one of the keys to great audio engineering. Our ears all take in essentially the same information (notwithstanding hearing loss), but the average listener’s brain will discard most of the details and just hear the overall product. An audio engineer will (hopefully) have trained their brain to pay attention to those details, and ‘critical listening’ is the auditory ‘workout’ that builds that capability. Once your brain can quickly zero in on various sonic details, it’s a lot easier to figure out what’s wrong in a mix and fix it, or to rapidly solve a technical problem like feedback.
It’s quite easy to do some ‘critical listening,’ of your own. Simply play back an album and listen carefully. One by one, listen for details being produced by every instrument. Listen to the reverb tail on the vocals or snare drum. See if you can guess which type of microphone was used to record the kick. Listen for the room ambience from the studio in which the song was recorded. It doesn’t matter if you can actually identify the kick drum mic, by the way, it’s the process of focusing on those details that helps develop your ear. I recommend doing this in a controlled environment like a studio, living room, or via headphones, although you certainly can also do it over your PA.