Hearing what your own music sounds like

Another thread I’ve been reading here: Can you listen to music without analyzing it? has reminded me of an issue I find with music making.

As a musician I’m the eternal novice and I really have very little of any understanding of music at all (and that’s never really bothered or stopped me), I plink around and make unfinished loops of kind of muddy sounding melodic ambient/drone (and thoroughly enjoy it!), but I always feel that because it’s come from me I can’t tell what it really sounds like. The way I listen to other people’s music somehow just isn’t the same as how I listen to my own. It’s like I can’t separate or distance myself enough from what I make to actually hear what it sounds like, or put it into some sort of context. I guess it’s not really a big problem though, I like what I make and its not something I tend to share much, I’d just like to be able to put it into context with the kind music I like listening to.

Is what I’ve described familiar to others here?


Totally. I totally struggle with that. Things I am doing to get around that and that help to some degree:

  • listen to your music in a different context, place, time. I.e. put it on your phone/portable media player and listen to it on the go, or on your home system etc.
  • Listen to your stuff several months later.
  • Listen while doing something that keeps parts of your brain occupied / keeps them from interfering, for eg. while drawing or doodling.

But I guess it’s a bit like listening to your own voice in a recording, isn’t it?


Yeah, nice ideas. I think I’ll render some stuff to flac or mp3 and bung it on my phone to listen to on headphones when I’m out and about. Maybe randomise a bunch of tunes with some of them mine in the folder. I sometimes listen to my music when I’m washing up and I always hear more in it than I do when I’m making it.


I think this is the most import thing. Hands down. Sometimes I listen to a track I finished a year ago and couldn’t even believe it was something I did.


I listen to my stuff at work, while keeping busy – the same context in which I listen to a lot of other music. Often it eases doubts I had, or feelings like it might be too extreme in some way. Sometimes it makes me realize it needs a little editing, or could have been longer. Once in a while it shows me that piece isn’t up to my standards.

Another way to change the context is to listen to it with someone else. You’re not even necessarily watching for their reactions, but your own will probably be different.


for me i just find (like all music for me) that i only like to hear certain things at very specific intentional times (sometimesi’m not quite sure what i should be listening to or hearing). so my music can either sound terrible if i am not in the mood or perfect if mood hits. time definitely as other have said helps. call it immeasurable but distinctive objectivity.


It’s a struggle I think will just always be a part of being a maker of things. I’ve found that it’s important, like others said, to take breaks and not listen to your own stuff too much. I’ve always found success in trusting my instincts, that is- I’ll often have tracks/sounds/etc. that when I first stumble upon them I think they’re amazing and I love them and I’m very excited, and then after days and days of fine-tuning, mixing, etc. I start to doubt that. I’ve learned to just ignore that, and make note of when there are tracks/sounds that grabbed my attention upon first discovery and to have faith in them based on that no matter what happens later.


not quite as bad as listening to a recording of your own voice (which iirc William Burroughs suggested as a method of assassination).

but yeah, I listen to my work at home or on my phone a lot, commuting, walking, whenever. if it doesn’t sit right, it’s not right. I think listening back is a crucial part of my creative work - I’ve got to be comfortable, I’ve got to find my own relationship with what I’ve done, and what I’m asking you to engage with. I listen to “albums” sometimes for years before they get finalized and released.


One of my criteria/aims for Cementimental music/noise is to make something which when I hear it back can’t tell how I made it :slight_smile:


Work sober, analyze inebriated.


the other way around works too


i try to trust that at some point i liked it, commit to it and release it (in whatever form that is) then try not to listen to it ever again. i fail miserably at the latter however.

also working fast and not allowing myself the ability to edit for very long helps tremendously. i find that listening to anything over and over, my own or by other people, will lead to finding flaws. and to me that’s not what music making or listening is about. most of my favorite musical experiences are live performances that were not recorded. its better for me if my feelings on something are more impressionistic. i recall seeing some paul klee pencil drawings in a museum that i thought were amazing. i am totally fine with just that memory of them.