Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Dump the headphones...

...they're a distracting nuisance anyway.



When I got my first job in radio back in 1964, headphones were a utility whose only purpose was to reference other things. Let me explain. By that time a radio announcer no longer had the luxury of a studio engineer. He had to run his own control board, do the mixing of music, sound effects and do the announcing. I say “he” because it was still a very male dominated industry at the time. 

Stereo broadcasting was still in its infancy.
So, mono ruled because most radio programs were heard on AM. I was provided a headset that had only one ear cup. If there were two I would cover one ear and place the other cup behind the other ear leaving it free to hear what was going on in the room and was only used to know where the levels were in reference to my own voice. This system worked perfectly for many years.

By the time the 1970s rolled around, DJs had access to headphones for stereo music listening at home and began to bring these hi fidelity stereo headsets to work at the radio station. By this time, I was in management positions and saw a trend begin. The headphones were feeding the egos of the DJ's and they started to become infatuated with listening to their own voice and paying less attention to being a good performer. There wasn't much I could do about the problem and it is a phenomena still plaguing broadcasting to this day. The DJ's were not supposed to be listening to the music or their own voice for that matter. They were actually supposed to be spending the time while the music was playing to prepare for the next break. Of course the advent of voice tracking changed all that anyway. I left radio in 1987 to pursue a public relations and promotion career and no longer had to worry about the problem.

I did continue to do voice and on camera work, but never had to worry about headphones. When I visited a studio to record, the engineer always had an intercom and did his directing through that. The talent never had to wear headphones. There was only one time I really needed headphones and that was for a project where I needed to replace video narration but stay timed to the original script. The old audio was fed into my headset so I could pace myself. Again, this was a utility and not to hear how my voice sounded.

Today in my home studio I have set of headphones. And the only time I use them is when I'm in a remote session and the director is in another city, so I don't get feedback from the speakers. Again, the headphones are there only as a utility to hear the director, not my voice. That's what studio monitors are for.

If I'm alone in the studio laying down voice tracks, I never wear headphones. I don't need to hear my own voice. Besides, I find headphones are simply a nasty distraction like texting while driving. Plus, they're not good for your health anyway, especially if you have the levels jacked up too loud. What's that you say? I can't hear you?

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