What is the Difference Between Audio Engineering and Music Production?

Audio engineering mentor new yorkAn artist or a band may think they have a hit on their hands–audio engineers and music producers do their very best to make sure they do. They come together to ensure an artist or band sounds as good as possible, during the process of tracking or professional recording in a recording studio and during the mixing and mastering phases.

While there is some overlap between the two industry positions of audio engineer and music producer, each of them has very defined roles and responsibilities when it comes to the creation of a record or album. When they’re at the top of their game, nothing is left to chance creatively or technically. Music may come from the soul, but it’s perfected in the studio.

What’s the Difference Between an Audio Engineer and a Music Producer?

What’s the difference between an audio engineer and a music producer? You can think of an audio engineer as someone who uses the technology at their disposal to make the artist or band sound as good as they can while recording. A music producer, while they should still know the technology, is responsible for bringing all of the pieces of a session together.

This includes bringing in a specific engineer for certain sessions. Experienced audio engineers should be able to work with any band in any genre, but there are times producers are looking for a certain something for a particular session. It could come down to something as simple and hard to define as the right personality, or a specific “sound” that an engineer is able to capture.

A producer may even take on some of the duties of an audio engineer. In recent years, with the proliferation of self-produced music and more hybrid artists/producers entering the industry, the line between audio engineers and music producers has become blurred more than in yesteryear.

Nevertheless, there are very defined functions that fall into the music production domain and ones that fall into the audio engineering domain. Below, we explain those domains, so that even if you’re wearing more than one hat, you’ll know when it’s time to don the engineer’s cap or put on the producer’s fedora.

What Does an Audio Engineer Do?

What does an audio engineer do? Audio engineers are responsible for all of the technical aspects of recording music. This isn’t to say they don’t have a little flair for the creative, but they are there to make sure the gear, the software, the hardware, and all of the equipment act just as it’s supposed to. An understanding of the physics of sound is crucial.

Sound engineers will spend time making sure the studio is ready for the session. This means having musical instruments ready and correctly spaced, checking for phasing issues, setting up the microphones, preparing the digital audio workstation (Ableton, Pro Tools, etc.), analog equipment, headphone mixes, and so on. When the client comes in, it’s the audio engineer’s job to make sure they hit the ground running.

Let’s take a look at something as simple as a microphone. The vintage-sounding Neumann M49’s big bottom end and smooth sound might be perfect for that Massive Attack-sounding band. A solid music engineer also needs to know how to maintain those mics so that they’ll deliver decibel-to-the-dollar on their value.

In addition to recording the music, the audio engineer will also handle certain post-production duties (removing any errors, cracks, scratches, etc.), and otherwise cleaning up and editing the sound. After the clients are done recording, the engineer follows the producer’s dictates as to which effects they want applied and specific changes they want made (reverb, autotune, etc.). The producer’s instructions could be anything from a numbered list, to “Make them sound like Morcheeba.” The long and short of it is: engineers make the sound recording polished and professional.

Mixing the tracks and taking those tracks from mere recordings and turning them into a fully mixed song is oftentimes the result of the audio engineer or mix engineer and music producer working together closely. Mastering is also the domain of the engineer, often called a mastering engineer; such professionals are oftentimes the last pros to touch a project prior to its release on the market and on the airwaves. Mastering engineers have usually spent years working as recording engineers and/or mixing engineers, prior to becoming mastering engineers.

Sound and audio engineers also work outside of the music industry. Working in television, films, commercials, video games, and more, these engineers work to make sure everything is heard just how it’s supposed to be heard. No matter the medium, if it has audio, an engineer will make sure it sounds good.

What does a music producer do?

What does a music producer do? The music producer oversees the recording of a record or song, makes suggestions when needed (for both the client and the engineer), makes the final decisions for how an album is arranged and gets all of the key players (artists, engineers, technicians, etc) on the project and in the room. Basically, if the audio engineer isn’t taking care of it, it falls on the music producer.

They’ll often provide their songwriting talents, hire backup vocals, employ a studio band or session musician, or pick up an instrument and play, if they have those capabilities. Throughout all of the above, the music producer is keenly focused on making sure the projected format and sound of the song is what gets made.

In order to achieve that big, overarching goal, they’re keeping everyone on point, and know when to rein things in and make changes, if needed. Record producers will also be responsible for those “non-creative” aspects of a good-sounding song, such as getting all of the contracts signed, securing studio time, and eyeballing the budget.

Producers must be master communicators and collaborators. They need to convey the vision of their musical idea, lean on the artist to get the most out of their abilities, and know when to sit back and let the magic happen. Often, they’ll act as a conduit between artists and labels or even help the two find each other. With enough clients, that can be a full-time job by itself!

Both music producers and audio engineers should have an understanding of music theory, how sound moves through the air, and how it enters and is processed by the ear, as well as, how to turn “meh” into “marvelous.” The Recording Connection feels the best way to learn these skills is by doing–not by sitting in a classroom.

Learn Music Production and Audio Engineering in the Studio

The Recording Connection Audio Engineering and Music Production School places you in the middle of a working recording studio, not a classroom. Direct, one-on-one online mentoring is available too. With this real-world-oriented post-secondary institution, you get one-on-one mentoring and hands-on experience from a professional engineer or producer.

No matter where your skill set is, you can level up your experience in one of our six to nine-month programs. With our remote learning options, you can work with producers located hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Why pack up your entire life to attend some university when you can get a world-class education in your hometown or even in your home? Are you ready to Amplify Your Life? Apply today.

Get your music production certification and build your music production and audio engineering skills by learning with an industry professional near you.