Producer, Engineer, Beat Maker:
These days here in Studio 11, one major misunderstanding we’ve heard from our clients is what exact role a music producer and audio engineer play during a session in the studio. This encompasses everything from the concept, writing and arrangement phase of the song, all the way to the recording, mixing and mastering process of the song. Though the trend amongst newcomers to the music industry lately has been a blending of the audio engineer/music producer job description, it is important to understand the specifics in duties for each profession so you can get the most out of your session in the studio, whether it be with us here at Studio 11 or somewhere else.
Generally, the biggest misunderstanding people usually have is what the music producer does. If we were to ask 10 clients what the producer does exactly, 9 out of 10 would say “Thats the genius who makes the beats!,” to paraphrase correctly. Though this can definitely be part of what a music producer does or is involved in, usually the job of music producer is much more involved in all aspects of creating the final product of the song. Some of the most sought after music producers in the world don’t even make beats, write the music, or for that matter, touch the mixing console or software. Its the advice, knowledge and understanding these people bring to a project that makes them sought after. Jedi warriors they are. Wikipedia defines the music producer as:
A music producer (also known as a record or track producer) overseas and manages the sound recording and production of a band or performer’s music, which may range from recording one song to recording a lengthy concept album. A producer has many roles during the recording process. The roles of the producer vary. They may gather musical ideas for the project, collaborate with the artists to select cover tunes or original songs by the artist/group, work with artists and help them to improve their songs, lyrics or arrangements. A producer may also be involved with selecting musicians for accompaniment during recording, co-write music, coach musicians and singers during recording, and even advise the engineer or engineers during the recording, mixing and mastering process.
Also check out the additional article “The Music Producer” written by our in-house engineer Kris Anderson, which touches a little more in depth on the different kind of producers that exist in the music industry.
So with this understanding, the music producer is really the one with the overall responsibility of ensuring that the artist’s vision is transparent in the final product released to the public. From concept to commodity, whatever it takes, the music producer makes it happen. The producer’s role is generally the same over the course of different genres and sub genres of music. Its generally in hip hop, rap and r&b where their title is misconstrued as the person who only makes the beat. This mis-generalization has been in large part shaped by the trend of how hip-hop, rap and r&b are produced, especially over the course of the last 11 years.
In the beginning back in the late 80’s & early 90’s, it was definitely not as easy or affordable to make beats as it is now. Gear for music production was ridiculously expensive and you had to be both musically & technically skilled to use it. Unless you were in a major city, finding the stores to buy the right music production equipment was tough. Studio time, which was the only way to make your music sound good unless you had the gear, technical knowhow and space, took up lengthy time because of the tools used and cost a fortune. Remember, this was back in the day when computers weren’t really used in the studio. Not many people had the access or money for proper equipment or studios. So to be someone who made beats was a rare commodity. Artists’ in the hip hop, rap and r&b genres generally had their own team of people who provided the beat or music for each song. This person was generally referred to as the beat maker. The artist and beat maker would work together to come up with the song while the producer over saw the process, advising in the concept, direction, color of the song and lyrical content. Sometimes, the beat maker and artist or artists would team up to form a musical group like Arrested Development, De La Soul, Digital Underground, Gang Starr, Public Enemy, and Run-DMC, just to name a few.
By the early 2000’s, as the power and use of computers increased in music, affordable easy to use beat making software that was competitive to the early standards began to reach the market place. No longer did a person need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on production equipment to just make a beat. They could now make music affordably on their desktop computers in their homes. These ‘In The Box’ or ‘Desktop’ producers began to change the philosophy and approach for artists in the music industry. No longer did an artist have to entertain using beats and music from one single source or person. And no longer did the artist have to spend a lot of money just to get a beat made specifically for them. They could now utilize beats to rap on or music to sing over from multiple sources and beat makers anywhere in the world. In affect, this would dramatically change the role of the beat maker and their involvement in the process of a song’s production.
Now flipping forward to 2018, the beat maker has been granted the magical title of producer One ‘could’ say that they are the producer because they made the beat. They chose the tempo, the key, the sounds and color of the instruments for the beat. But unless they are involved personally in the project an artist has chosen their beat specifically for, from lyrics to cadence, layering, arrangement and mix, essentially they offer no other relevance to the project. They are just someone who made the beat who has zero opinions or say on the final outcome or direction of the product. So in reality, the beat maker is exactly what that name means, a beat maker. This isn’t a discredit to their service in the project. Without these fine folks and the creativity they bring, todays artists wouldn’t have such the wide selection of instrumentals to chose from. And because of that, not as many people would have the ability or chance to be the recording artist that they maybe could be.
So now that we understand what a music producer and beat maker exactly do, along with the few similarities and major differences between them, who exactly is this audio engineer person that we spoke about earlier and what role do they actually play during the process of making a single or album? Obviously, the engineer is an important person involved during the production process. Just take a look at the credits for any single, album or mix tape. They are almost always credited. So who are they? Once again, we will consult the wise scrolls of Wikipedia for the definition.
An Audio Engineer (also sometimes referred to as the Recording, Mix, or Mastering Engineer) helps to produce a recording or a performance, editing and adjusting sound tracks using equalization and audio effects, mixing, reproduction, and reinforcement of sound. Audio engineers work on the “…technical aspect of recording – the placing of microphones, pre-amps knobs, the setting of levels. The physical recording of any project is done by an engineer …the nuts and bolts” Its a creative hobby and profession where musical instruments and technology are used to produce sound for music, film, radio, television, and video games.
Additionally, our in-house engineer Chris Baylaender expands on the concepts & definitions of an audio engineer in his article “Philosophy of a Recording Engineer”.
So in a nutshell and for the sake of our discussion about the people involved in the music production process, the audio engineer in this case is the person responsible for every technical aspect of the sound on a music single, mix tape, or album. From the selection of microphones used to record the individual tracks, to the gear and plugins each of those tracks will run through, to the editing and fine tuning of each track, and lastly to how each of those individual tracks sound when balanced together to create the mix, this overall is what defines the audio engineers life. The engineer is probably the least sexy and thankful job title between all the people involved in the production process. These individuals (the engineers that is) usually work long long hours in the studio to capture the perfect amalgamation of performance and sound that defines the artist. In some cases, the engineer is also directed by the producer to help realize a specific color and sound in mind for the artist. Whether this be from recording techniques, to equalization and effects, to mix balance and stereo imaging, the engineer is the one trusted to make it all happen sonically.
In summary, the beat maker, engineer, and producer are all equally important to the production process of a single, mix tape or an album. Each role filled in a specific part of the equation, especially back 15-20 years ago when each of those job titles were a little more separate from each other. These days in our studio, many of our clients come in with beats either leased or purchased from a beat maker. Unfortunately, most of these same clients usually don’t have a producer with them to help guide the project along or to offer the proper advice needed while recording. So in essence, we at Studio 11 take over the role of producer as well as our usual job as the engineer, offering guidance on performance, arrangement, color and anything else the song or project may need to be the best it can be. And I do say, we are quite good at doing it!