Circa 16 Sound Recording

72 Brooms Road | Dumfries | DG1 2LA 

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  • Dave

Engineer or Producer?

There are a lot of terms banded around whilst making a record. Producer. Engineer. Mix Engineer. Additional Production. Additional this and assistant that. I want to chat a bit about two of these roles - Engineer and Producer. It's important when making a record to understand these terms, and the scope of each role. There are some instances when a producer will transform your work and help you realise your vision. There are some instances when a producer will impart their vision on your work and take it to places you hadn't thought imaginable. There are instances where a producer will aimlessly meddle, slow you down, kill your creative process and ultimately leave you with a record you don't think does you justice.


Lets begin with studios and engineers. Studios, and recording engineers are there to serve one simple function. They work to commit physical, real-world, sounds to a recording medium (these days digitally, but this may be tape, or any other intermediate format) as directed by the artist or producer. They typically don't offer too much guidance on the musical direction of work, or the "vibe" of a track, or artist. They are there to achieve the sonics someone is after, in a time and cost efficient manner. So what does the producer do? The producer is engaged by the artist (or record label) to oversee the production of a record. The role of the producer varies greatly from example to example, but they tend to be skilled in arrangement, songwriting and have a deep interest in music. A producer may assist in arranging the artist's material, steering the vibe or feel of the track, coaching the musicians to get the best possible work from them, co-writing material and even selecting and hiring session musicians to play on, or add, to tracks. Both engineers and producers may have assistants, who complete practical tasks under direction of the engineer or producer to assist in the running of recording sessions.


In the current climate, it is common to come across engineer-producer types who essentially fulfil all of the roles described above. These pros are really useful, and cost effective, for smaller independent bands and labels to get a lot done with limited time and budget, albeit sacrificing the objectivity multiple people can bring to the process.

It is really important to think about what assistance you need for your project, and select the appropriate team to get you to where you want to be. Think about what you want to achieve. Do you know your work so well that you just want an exact replica of your live performance without any changes or alterations whatsoever? Do you have a demo that you love and just want to recreate without the clicks and pops of your phone recording? Do you have an idea in your head that you can communicate to someone else to sonically create as a recording? If you're leaning this way, then perhaps a studio and engineer is all you need. You, as the artist/band, can produce your own record and get an engineer to help you record the material. For example, when you begin to track drums, if you feel the kit should sound bigger, more ambient, with more room sound, you can let the engineer know this, and they'll be able to alter their microphone technique to achieve what you want. There is nothing wrong with dictating in this relationship.

On the other hand, if you have chords and a melody and you have no idea what should be placed around this to convey the right feeling, or if you feel something is lacking in your arrangements or performance but can't decide what that is, then perhaps a producer (or an engineer who is also willing to produce for you) is right for you.


It doesn't stop there though - you need the right ones too! Choosing a producer is a tough task. Try and pick someone that you think may be able to add to your work. Look at producers' previous work - are there elements you like? Talk to them - get together for a chat and discuss your ideas. Personally, I always find you have to get on. You will spend a considerable amount of time together - it makes it all the more enjoyable if you have things in common and a similar ethos, perhaps work ethic, and if you like some of the same music or share a love for craft beer. Pay attention to someones desire to work on the project. Producers are very expensive and sometimes a cheaper option, with a desire to smash it for you, will work wonders over an expensive A-lister that isn't all that into what you do. Ultimately, there may also be practical constraints like budget, or geography. It is also important to keep expectations in check. Sometimes big posh producers with a commercial portfolio just won't work for you. Remember: just because someone produced Kanye West, doesn't mean they can turn you into Kanye West.


Before I finish, above all, it is important to communicate to the team around you, and have a clear agreement as to who will fulfil each role (preferably before you start). Don't make assumptions on how much of something someone will do. Ask. Make it clear what you'd like and clear what you are looking to someone else for. As an artist or label, you are in control of how you go about this. Get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet and you stand a great chance of getting a result you can be proud of.


On a wider note, we have made a new spotify playlist! Check out what has been inspiring us musically as we head into spring: https://open.spotify.com/user/wt7d43srz1yduq7bhfy21g3rh/playlist/5jOJlFUIGAwYQXLIIyhw7N?si=eIrRvaPRTQCSezDt9_Aalw


Also, here is a wee gift from plug-in gurus Waves - a 10% off voucher from one of the best developers in the business. Get your 10% off here: https://www.waves.com/r/4i1ttm