Most producers working today are also required to be engineers and vice versa. It’s rare and a luxury when those worlds are still separate. And it’s kind of a drag. But that’s the economics of music. In the end it just means you have to know and do more.
In the pre-mp3 days there were iron clad definitions and distinctions of these two roles: producer and engineer. In movie terms a producer is the director, the engineer the cinematographer or editor. Simply said the producer is in charge and control of the artistic direction and decisions. From artist relations, to outside business forces, to creating a vibe, pace and direction. The producer is the only one that can say “that’s a take”. The engineer follows the producers instructions and works the technical side to achieve a sound. The producer wants to capture a performance the best that it can be, and engineer is responsible for how it is captured. The lines would occasionally blur but for the most part this was the hard rule.
There’s one thing that makes me feel like the old days – when something is ready or done before I ask for it. I divide my time in the producer’s chair with also being the engineer. I’m always thinking about what’s coming next in the session. The flow of creativity should not be slowed by the technical; the technical should be transparent, which means thinking ahead. The band may be in the control room talking about a take or aspect and I try to run out and set up piano mic’s or a vocal mic and run back in to set up a basic headphone mix so when the conversation ends and we are ready to go to the next thing it’s ready without fuss or break in flow. All the while keeping an ear out for the conversation and adding my two cents. Anticipate the needs. That’s the definition of pro for me. Multi task or lose the flow.
There are two situations that will tax both of my simultaneous jobs. Full band tracks and string sessions. With bands, I like to cut the whole band playing in the same room with amps in isolation booths and everyone under headphones. I’m trying to get the performance that’s needed, cheering or riling up, but I’m also thinking about headphone mixes and did the drummer just smack a mic during that take – is the technical cool and is the vibe cool. On string dates I’m also adding in looking at the charts while managing the technical and also the performance and expression, all the while not coming off like my head is exploding or in any way putting out a vibe that everything isn’t absolutely under control. If the artist doesn’t feel like you are in command of what’s happening, you are screwed. More so just not doing your job. When it’s too much, I just take a breath and make sure a situation is handled without fuss and with lots of calm.
The reality is a producer has to now be in command of the technical side of recording as well and getting performances. Engineers get asked more for their input on artistic decisions. Know what you are good and not good at and contribute accordingly. Producers have to stay current on the latest gear and knowing how and when to use it, engineers have to stay current on various genres of music. Producers have to know how to patch around, fix and get a sound – from micing to mixing. Engineers have to know how to help and communicate with the artist to achieve what they want to hear coming out the speakers.
So pick your hat, but you’ll need two of them.