Here’s an assignment that will really help with your critical listening skills, which are vital to creating great recordings and mixes. Choose five songs, one from each of the past five decades. It’s best to choose songs either from a single artist who’s been active that long or to choose songs from the same genre.
Listen carefully to your five songs, and write down a detailed comparison of the production values and techniques used. How compressed do things sound? How is the stereo field used or not used? What is the overall EQ or tonal shape of each song? How do the vocals sit in relation to everything else? How do the song dynamics compare?
Dig in as deep as you can, comparing the same aspects of each song. Focus on the kick drum and compare across the five songs. Now focus on the reverb and do the same. Continue through all aspects of the recordings. What makes the sound dated? What doesn’t sound dated?
Write it all out. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn and what you can apply to your own productions!