One of the questions I am most frequently asked is, “What’s the difference between an engineer and producer?” This used to surprise me until I really started thinking about it. The quick answer? The producer is responsible for the the final product and the engineer is responsible for recording and mixing it.
But when is a quick answer ever enough? Being both an engineer and producer it’s tough for me to separate the two roles but this is a general guideline of what each does:
What an engineer does
- Responsible for running and maintaining the equipment (including any hardware or software) and knowing the signal paths for the sound sources
- Decides what the best method for recording will be. If you’re micing the sound source, an engineer will pick which mics to use and where to place them to get the desired sound.
- Responsible for labeling and managing all the recorded tracks as well as editing. They need creative ears when mixing to help choose the right compressors, EQ’s, reverbs, leveling and panning as well as a host of other little tricks to help the final product sound great.
Engineers require solid technical knowledge, good ears and great communication skills. A good engineer has some of these qualities, a great engineer has all of them and extra to boot.
What a producer does
Producers have a hand in everything, and their responsibilities are wide-ranging. This can include (but is not limited to):
- Helping in the writing process and arrangement of the songs (sometimes providing the music itself)
- Choosing which studio and engineers to use (Including recording, mixing and mastering engineers)
- Deciding which guitar or keyboard tones sound best for the material and which drum kit to use
- Having the final say in which takes you keep and which you do again
- Inter-mediating between the band and engineer(s)
- Enlisting studio musicians and songwriters if the project calls for it.
Producers don’t need technical knowledge, but they do supply the sonic vision and carry it forward through the whole process. Stylistically they can range from tyrants to pushovers and everything between, but the best producers will bring out the best sound from the band and engineer(s) and capture it for the world to hear.
I couldn’t begin to tell you which one is more important as I’ve found both to be equally vital components to the recording process. It is my firm belief that without both skill sets, you will never get the best recording that you can.
Cary Crichlow, Senior Producer and Engineer
RCR Recording Studios