The Difference Between the Producer, Engineer, and Mixer is Sometimes Subtle and Sometimes Great. Here’s What You Need to Know Before Going Into the Recording Studio!
Knowing the Difference Between These 3 Roles Can Save You a Lot of Grief When You’re Recording Your Masterpiece
I will admit – the first times (yes, TIMES plural) I went into the recording studio as a musician, I thought the very nice and talented guy who owned the basement studio who mic’d up all our instruments, sat behind the mixing console, and made the guitar sound like it was panning from left to right over and over again (not my best idea), was the producer. We even gave him that credit on our releases. I didn’t know the difference between the producer, engineer, and mixer.
Honestly, the only thing we’d seen to help us understand the producer role was what we saw in the movies. There was a guy, sitting behind the mixing console, chain-smoking and hitting a button telling the singer when to stop singing. That was it. While the guy we were paying the hourly rate for use of his studio and his talent as an… engineer… was a really great guy and certainly put up with a lot from us young musicians, he wasn’t the producer.
And when he stared at us blankly when we wanted to take those raw recordings and release them, we knew something was wrong.
“These need to be mixed.”
“Weren’t you doing that already?”
“No. I was recording. Mixing comes after.”
“Um… how much is THAT going to cost?”
Needless to say, the mixing process doesn’t pop up in La Bamba, so how were we to know?
So, here it is – the difference between the producer, engineer, and mixer.
What does a music producer do?
The producer is responsible for everything – soup-to-nuts, as they say.
They are responsible for what notes get played, by whom, and with what. If you are making those decisions, congratulations, you are the producer. A producer can often have so much influence on a song, they get songwriting credit. The influence of the producer on a song should be felt each and every time you perform that song for years to come. Not just in the studio.The producer should demand great performances from the musicians during the recording and is the ultimate arbiter as to what is worthy and what is not worthy of your recording. The producer bosses YOU around. The producer bosses the Engineer around. And the producer bosses the Mixer around.
Do you need a producer? Watch and read what I think here!
What does an audio engineer do in the studio?
The engineer makes sure the performances are captured the best ways possible.
They are responsible for making sure microphones are placed in the optimal places near the instruments. The engineer is responsible for the recording volume levels so the recordings can be cleanly worked with during the mix later. The engineer hits the record button and the stop button and you always hope does so at the best moments possible.
What does a mix engineer / mixer do?
The mixer doesn’t come in until after all the recording is done.
They take all the recordings and blend them together into a finished, listenable recording. The mixer turn some sounds up and other sounds down for the final mix so they’re the one you tell when the vocals need to be louder or the bass quieter… or the guitar should pan to the left and right incessantly. The producer is always on hand for the mix because they are ultimately responsible for the finished product. But they are telling the mixer what they want to be louder than something else.
Keep in mind, often these roles are performed by the same person. There are some terrific producers who also have the talent of an engineer. Some producers insist on doing the final mix themselves. Whomever is doing what role for your recording, make sure you know ahead of time. This will save you a ton of embarrasment – and potentially money – later.