Critical Listening vs Analytical Listening.
When listening to your favourite music, whether it be on CD or perhaps live in concert, it is normally due to admiration or appreciation of the band or artists, and generally following will be the comment “THESE GUYS ROCK!”. From the recording and mixing side of things, it is important to have the ability to break the song down sonically to evaluate everything that is happening, this is what takes place during the critical and analytical listening phase of music production.
Critical listening incorporates focusing on the technical aspects of the sound. Physical details of the music such as frequency response, dynamic range, tone, and how the instruments all blend together are all factors. For example, understanding that the frequency content in the kick drum recording can possibly conflict and cause disturbance with the bass guitar recording as a result of both instruments sharing a very similar space in the frequency spectrum.
Analytical listening is focussed more around the interpretation and meaning of the actual sound. The message of the song and even the way a vocal has been delivered; these share common traits of analytical listening. Understanding the mood that the song is setting out to portray is another analytical listening trait. For instance, an up-tempo rock song is going to give off a particular feel to the audience, whereas a softer acoustic ballad will portray a different feeling all together.
Although this concept is explained as a separate entity, it is not uncommon for both of these practices to happen simultaneously and most times subconsciously. Understanding the way that the sound is behaving, as well as how the particular sound is supposed to make you feel, are extremely important skills when writing, performing and recording music.