Want To Get Better Faster?

There’s only one way to get better at anything – especially engineering and producing music. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but maybe not quite like this. Practicing is everything, but Geoffrey Colvin offers an interesting insight that could take your game up – and fast.

I had the opportunity to see Colvin, the Senior Editor of Fortune Magazine, speak a few weeks ago. He was a brilliant speaker – the title of his speech (and new book) is “Talent Is Overrated.” And by the end of it, he had the entire room believing him.

I’ll share a brief story that he told, then we can look at how to apply this to audio.

Black and white numbers backgroundThere is a test of human capacity and memory that goes like this: a number digits are read out, one per second. A person listens to those digits, then waits twenty seconds to respond. After the twenty seconds of silence, the person tries to recall as many digits – in the exact order – as they can remember.

For the longest time, people thought that humans couldn’t go much higher than 14 or so digits. But then, people tried to break that record and got to about 18 digits before they couldn’t go any higher.

A team of researchers studied a college student and tried to push the boundaries. Only this time, they focused on just getting one more digit than last time. If he got 14, they would try to get 15. If he got 15, they would try to get 16. They were determined to get just one more number.

Eventually, he got past 18. Then 30. Then 55. Then 83. The truth is, he quit because he got sick of working on this – not because 83 is the limit! Others have used this method and can remember over 100 digits in this test! Can you image that?

Ok – so – people can remember a lot of numbers and read them back. Big deal. What does that have to do with audio engineering?


You see, the moral of the story isn’t that people can remember a lot of numbers. It’s that there is truly no limit to the capacity of the human brain. To get better at something – and fast – all you have to do is focus your practice.

And how do you do that? Just pick a single thing to get better at and keep working on it until you’re amazing at it. Then choose another thing. Here’s how you might apply it:

1. Mixing. Try to get just one instrument to sound exactly right. Match it to reference tracks. Solo it out and make it perfect. Listen in the mix and tweak. Once you get that one instrument (maybe a kick drum) sounding just right, move on to another (maybe a snare). You’ll get better at mixing – and way faster than if you try to tackle every instrument at once.

2. Listening. Listen to a song. But don’t just hear it – really listen to it. Try to figure out just one element of that song – maybe the piano tone/sound. Try to recreate it exactly. Once you recreate one instrument, try to go for another.

There’s a ton of other ways to apply this – what are you going to try?

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