Along the way while recording the FMP these were some of the roles that I had to partake in, what I’m about to list will be true but consideration is to be taken for the individual, so not everything be spot on correct based on the fact that experience, knowledge and interest does have an impact on each of the roles listed below.
Producer – These are on one of the many driving forces of a musical project, producers will have in some way knowledge of composition, arranging, musician or songwriting to help guide and shape a sound or concept for an album/song. They will usually be responsible for ensuring the success of the band/artist by bringing out the absolute best in them and suggesting several ideas that will be successful in the real world, i.e. rearranging a section of a song should it not have enough impact on potential audiences. Not to be mistaken as an executive producer who’s job is mostly dealing with financial aspects while the producer deals with the creation of the music.
Producers can make great recording engineers, with their vast knowledge of microphones, miking techniques, studio wizardry, bringing out the desired sonic aspects of an album. Take Alan Parsons whom is well know for his production in Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the moon’ which is one of the influential and well known albums of our time, Parsons is also known for the ‘Alan Parson’s Project’ and is known to produce and engineer most of his own albums himself. Producers don’t necessarily have to even have knowledge of engineering at all throughout their entire career and may not even lay a hand on a mix console ever such as Rick Rubin (Jay-Z, Linkin Park, Red Hot Chili Peppers) or Tim Armstrong whom produced hits like Rancid, Pink and has probably touched a mix console a handful of times in their life.
These producers will usually work closely with recording and mastering engineers to ensure the creative vision of the musical process runs smoothly and on point as can be. Now we have the modern ‘bedroom producer’ who is usually an all round producer, engineer and musician, they are known to posses the talent and knowledge of creating their music as well as mixing and mastering their own album to shape and suit their sonic visions and desires. Bedroom Producers usually work from the comfort of their home only using minimal amount of recording gear, usually in a untreated and mildly treated acoustic environment and are able to achieve near hit worthy results. During my mother recording it was down to me to make arrangements, compositions of the entire project, arranging for several musicians to step in to play what I’ve written.
Recording engineer – It is a recording engineers job to meet the bands/producers/A&R etc. needs and ultimately create the album. A recording will require knowledge of recording gear such as a mixing console, microphones, mic preamps, headphone mixes and possibly outboard gear that can be inserted at a moments notice. They will understand frequency responses, polar pickup patterns and acoustics to their best advantage to manipulate microphone placements into achieving the tone needed for the type of album in question, whilst understanding the phase relationships between all sources to prevent any cancellation or sonic limitations from occurring. It is also sometimes the recording engineers job (if you own your own studio) to ensure the studio and its equipment is kept well, cables wrapped around mic stands to prevent people stepping or damaging them, and ensure clients dont damage any of the equipment in any way and that they dispose of beer bottles before leaving the studio.
A recording engineer can make a great mixing engineer as their sensitivity and attention to subtle details of sound will achieve a mix to that of a polished album (experience dependant), they possess the knowledge of audio trickery to achieve the type of sound/tone an instrument might need due to time spent experimenting with different gear, to manipulate audio to their advantage. A recording engineer can sometimes offer suggestions to producers/band members to guide them in their search for the sound they desire, or to prevent any limitations that may be inflicted due to bad ideas for an album. In most cases they do not need to be involved in the creative process at all, and just concentrate on recording and meeting producer/band desires.
When I was recording Mother it was job to set up a Pro-Tools session with my choice of sample rate, bit depth and file format, it’s also down to me where I save and backup the files for all sessions and how I organise each track of every session to navigate. Gain staging into the interface and Pro-Tools is my responsibility and choice, I also had the option of using outboard gear such as compressors or adjust EQ movements on the mix console on the way in.
Mixing engineer – Once an album gets recorded everything will be summed from several mono track into one stereo output, now imagine the issues there will be with several instruments fighting over space and need to for everything to be heard and presented in a musical way to an audience. The mix engineer’s sensitive and careful attention to every frequency of the album will be cleaned up with knowledge of audio editing skills, equalisation, compression, use of effects and presenting the album in a polished and clean manner, taking the load off several HI-FI or regular audiences playback systems and not having to listen to a big wall of sound fighting over precious frequency space or headroom. For reasons mentioned in the recording engineer section, mixing engineers make excellant recording engineers, due to them being able to achieve the tone at recording stage which will allow them to foresee how a particular mix needs to be processed in order to achieve the desired sound requested by producers.
A mix engineer can also be a mastering engineer but usually (experience dependant) not after years of fine tuning and understanding the knowledge needed to ultimately create a masterpiece that will be published to members of the public. With knowledge of RMS and basic understanding of headroom can prevent common mistakes or side effects that occur at the mastering stage i.e. not being able to achieve a loud enough mix without the low end of the frequency spectrum suffering from over compression of limiting. My visions of how I want the song to sound like in my head is all down to every move I make in the mixing stage of Mother, at the time I had to take the style of Jeff Lynne into mind and transform the song with his examples, it was mostly the recording stage that made the mixing process a lot more realistic in terms o achieving a Jeff Lynne style production.
Mastering engineer – The final line of offence in an album production before being published to thousand/millions of potential audiences, a musical engineer will achieve that final album ‘polished’ sound we are used to on every album, with their objective and creative perspective of how an album should be presented. A mastering engineer listens to a lot of music everyday compared to the recording or mix engineer who works on crafting one song each day, they will be used to a perfectly balanced and professionally mixed and mastered album from all their days of listening from one track to the other. Becoming a mastering engineer can take years of practise before finally being considered a ‘master’, of being able to identify what an album needs to capture the attention of audiences.
The most notable role of a mastering engineer will be to achieve consistent volume between each track on an album, preventing people from getting out their seats to compensate for volume loss/gain every time a new song is played. They translate pretty well into any aspect of audio engineering due to their trained ear and experience of listening and mastering hit worthy albums. (depends how long it was they mixed, recorded or track)
Live sound engineer – they will no doubt posses the knowledge of recording and some mixing, live sound engineers are quick thinkers and adapt to their situation and environment quickly (again it depends), should a live engineer travel a lot with a band in particular will need to quickly identify best setups for the best possible sound and to ensure gear is placed in sensible locations to prevent damage. A typical scenario will be dealing with venue size and dimensions so will need to identify how PA’s need to be placed to prevent feedback as well as a good position for audiences, and a location that has the least amount of room resonances etc.
The live engineer will create a mix as quickly and efficiently as possible so that rehearsals can be kept to a minimum and to allow audience’s to get the best balance and experience the band as best as possible. A live mix will be different to an album mix so some aspects of the craft will need to be adjusted as the live engineer will be used to the live low end rumble and loudness that is involved in a live setup so a mix may sound a little less like an album. Live sound engineers usually arent required to provide any creative input at all for a band due to it being a live performance (time is of the essence) and normally the band will have a recording engineer or producer offering this advice in advance.