Join Garrick Chow for an in-depth discussion in this video Deciding what role or roles you want to play, part of Understanding Audio and Music Production Careers.
- There are several main roles that people play in the world of audio and music production. Engineer, producer, composer, songwriter, the various positions in post-production, and more. Here I'd like to discuss these roles, as you'll likely find yourself in one or more of them in various times while working in audio and music production. Understanding some of the specifics of each production role, may help steer you down the path of learning that's most interesting to you. Let's start with the engineer. The term engineer is the broadest category in the audio and music production world. Possibly the most common image of an engineer is here behind the console, either recording or mixing a song in a professional studio like this one.
But there are various types of audio engineers. A recording engineer for example, focuses on the recording aspects of audio production. This can include everything from setting up microphones, to running cables, to selecting the recording gear, ultimately culminating and recording tracks during a recording session. A mix engineer on the other hand, focuses on the audio after it's been recorded, and concentrates on the aspects of blending or mixing the project tracks together, to create a finished track. A mix engineer might work with anything from a single song to a full film soundtrack, including music, sound effects, and dialogue.
Mixing involves things like setting the levels of each track, panning the tracks using EQ, compression, reverb, delay, and other effects processors and plug-ins to create a balanced overall sound. Yet another type of engineer specializes in mastering audio tracks. Mastering engineers provide the final polish to a song, or collection of songs, so that they all have uniform characteristics such as the level of loudness, equalization, and tonal quality. Basically, mastering makes a collection of songs sound like they belong together.
Giving them sonic consistency from song to song, and an output level that's on par with other mastered recordings. Outside of the recording studio, you'll find live audio engineers, who specialize in capturing and mixing the audio for performances in front of live audiences. And within live audio engineering, you'll find the subsets of monitor engineers, who focus on the audio the performers hear, and front of house engineers, who determine what the performance sounds like to the audience. Live audio engineers also may work with non-musical performers and manage the sound for lecturers or presenters.
So the term engineer is a very broad term that applies to many different audio related functions, but generally, engineering entails being directly involved with the gear used for recording and mixing, as well as with the actual practice of recording, mixing, and processing the audio that's being captured or performed. You'll likely have to do some or all of these things when creating music, so learning the fundamentals of engineering is in your best interest. I recommend checking out the course, Foundations of Digital Audio. It's a great primer for learning many of the fundamental concepts associated with recording and mixing.
Including frequency and amplitude, analog and digital signal paths, sampling, midi, and effects processing. Another primary role in audio and music production is producer. If you've already done some audio or music recording on your own, you've probably taken on some of the responsibilities of a music producer. The role of a music producer can vary, and the meaning of the title has changed a lot over the years. But these days, a music producer is the person who oversees the entire project in a variety of ways.
The producer often works with the performer by helping to select the songs that will go on an album, as well as refining or rewriting the songs themselves, and offering input or advice on the arrangement of the songs. Most producers are also deeply involved in the lyric and melody creation, beat making, and music writing processes. And in many cases, the producer also directs the recording engineer, or acts as the recording engineer him or herself, and will be hands on with the actual recording process through operating the gear and software.
The producer often sees any project through to it's completion. Making sure it's mixed, mastered, and even released the right way. Next there are composers. Generally, composers score music to films, TV shows, or advertisements, often working with the project's director to make sure certain sections of the score sync up properly with the show to create the biggest emotional impact. Composers also have to be skilled in using digital audio work stations to create their music. Music notation software to score their ideas, and have some engineering knowledge to record and arrange their compositions.
In addition, composers have to be knowledgeable in several areas of music theory and compositional techniques, such as instrumentation, arrangement, and orchestration, often in multiple genres or styles. Songwriters, like composers, create music but operate within a more traditional song structure, that usually includes writing lyrics as well. Songwriters often write songs either for themselves or for others to perform or record. If you're a songwriter, you'll definitely need to know basic audio and music production when you're starting out in order to produce recordings of your own songs, either as demos or as final products.
In a sense, this role involves almost all aspects of recording when you're starting out, since you may not be working with an engineer or producer at first. So you'll need to know everything from how to set up mics, to multi-track recording, to mixing. Or instead of songwriting, composing, or music production, you may be more interested in the post-production side of audio. This can include work like recording voiceovers, and automated dialogue replacement, or ADR, for TV and film. Creating sound effects, editing and mixing for TV and film, and cleaning up or restoring noisy or damaged audio.
Or perhaps you aren't really looking to enter a career in audio or music production at all. Instead, working with audio is just a part of your daily job or is a hobby. For example, you might need to edit a lecture, or record a voiceover for a presentation. Or maybe you want to record your son or daughter's band for fun. Regardless of your ultimate goals, you'll likely take on more than one of the roles described here as you develop your knowledge and gain more experience in audio and music production.