When your band is getting ready to put your music together for an album or digital release, there can often be a lot of confusion around what you are supposed to do. One of those items is all these titles studio professionals have. I mean, what does any of it really mean? What am I even hiring them for? Consider the list below a brief primer on the roles each person plays in the studio to produce high quality records.
This is your technical expert when you show up to the studio on tracking day. He will run the session in the recording studio, set up microphones, record all the inputs to Pro Tools (or tape for those who go for the old-school style), and generally handle all the dirty work of capturing each and every sound the musicians make. This part is so critical because high quality sounds makes the rest of the process so much easier. Also, small decisions like microphone choices can have a big downstream effect.
This is the sneaky hidden job in almost every one of your favorite songs and records. The editor takes all those recordings and selects the best takes, tightens up the performances, and tunes the vocals. This importance of this is often overlooked, but can be the difference between a “that’s pretty good” recording and a “THAT’S MY FAVORITE SONG OF ALL TIME!” recording. When you take those minor timing differences between the drums and guitars and get them just right those powerful moments pop out of your speakers and punch your fans right in the face (in a good way). The trick is that the editing can’t be too rigid or else the feel of the song is lost. That’s why a good editor is worth their weight in gold.
Terrible analogy time: if the audio engineer is the one buying the food, and the editor is the one who does all the chopping and measuring, then the mix engineer is the chef who blends everything together for taste. Their responsibility to the recording process is to take all those individual tracks and apply EQ, compression, panning, reverb, delays, saturation, and tons of other tools to bring everything together in a cohesive sound that matches the vision of the artist or producer. Outside of the producer, this is probably the most creative role of someone hired during the recording process. Two different mix engineers can take the exact same song and come up with drastically different results.
At this point of the process, 90-95% of the song has been set. What the mastering engineer can bring to the table is that final touch to get the volume, punch and clarity just right so that the songs blend together as an album and that they match the commercial volume of similar artists. While mastering is a critical step in the process, it can’t make up for a poor recording or mix, so it’s important to make sure the song is the best it can be before this stage.
BONUS NOTE: It is important to note that mixing and mastering are two separate processes. The final mix will be quieter than the mastered product (because mix engineers leave room for the mastering engineer to work). Every song needs both mixing and mastering, so make sure you have that planned for your project.
The producer is the creative mind that joins the band or artist through the entire process of the song creation. They help with pre-production, making sure the song is ready for recording. Many times, they will even help with the songwriting and final refinement of the music that will be recorded. They will help during the tracking of each song, helping identify which sound to go for on each instrument through microphone choices, helping with the arrangement. They will follow along with the artist through editing, mixing and mastering all the way to completion. Sometimes a band will serve as their own producer, making these decisions along the way, but that is most common when a band already has a lot of recording experience.
While not specifically a part of the recording process directly, the A&R is responsible for the development and direction of a musician or band for a record label. This means they might be helping to define the sound or direction of a record from behind the scenes or may serve as the producer themselves. When a band is signed, typically an A&R representative is assigned to them to help grow the band as artists and creatives while keeping an eye on their commercial success.
As you go through your recording project, now you know what roles each studio professional plays. Keep in mind that one person can have multiple roles. For example, your audio engineer might also do the editing. Or one person may do both mixing and mastering. The important thing is to ensure that each of these tasks will be taken care of.
Next time on the blog I will be giving you some tips on finding the right mix engineer for your project! Stay tuned!