The Changing Perception of Your Own Music

I’m going to shift my perspective for a moment to write about something that pertains to psychology and the process of recording music.

Ever notice how some days your recorded songs sound too slow, but other days too fast, still other days just right? Or, on some days it seems the groove is lacking or just not there, but other days you’re impressed how tight the groove really is?

How could this be? It’s not a true hearing impairment. You might even start blaming your audio system or computer, but it’s not your gear. This is a type of phenomenon cognitive psychologists sum up like this:

Moods infuse judgements.

The same stimulus (i.e., the recorded music itself that remains in the same state) seems to be creating a different perception with the same person at a different time. To a large extent it happens because shifts in mood and mental status can affect auditory perception.

But if the same stimulus is perceived in altering ways, how do you pin down a final version?

Before it was released, I listened to the songs on my album when tired late at night or early in the morning and many times felt like some of them were rushed. I wanted to slow the tempo down for the final mix, but I learned to wait a day or two because I realized at the same time, if I was in a really bright mood (like after exercising or eating), it seemed the tempo was too slow. Only over time did I settle on what sounded right, and I suspect many musicians impulsively or impatiently keep going up and down with things like tempo without realizing that your mood is actually playing tricks on you.

This phenomenon is not the same as when live music is played at a different tempo compared to the original recording. In these cases the psychological energy associated with live performances (including audience response) affects how fast the musicians feel is right. This too can be way off. I’ve seen many musicians who play a song as if faster is better, but that rule of thumb definitely doesn’t generalize to recorded music where you need to anticipate if the song is played over and over, what’s the best tempo for it. Plus, we expect live music to sound a little different than what was originally recorded. Our mood at the moment is not the only thing altering our perception and judgement of what we hear.

Since most of us are our own worst critics, it’s important to learn how the perception of your own music can make you alter it, especially if you’re potentially going to make it worse. Almost by definition, artists are emotional people, and when stressed or worn out from thinking creatively our own minds can start to work against productivity. It could get to the point that you think you need to re-record a song because you’re not feeling it, even though everyone else does because they’re in a different mood or got adequate sleep last night.

Hold off on those major changes and remember: Moods infuse judgements.

Published by peterflaire

Aspiring jazzer, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and indie producer releasing music with soul that speaks to the heart spoken through the language of jazz. You can find me at BandCamp, Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple iTunes, and Deezer.

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