What's the difference between an engineer and a producer and how much do they cost?
By: Rob Cleaveland
The music industry evolves at a rapid pace and has skewed what were once clearly defined roles in the recording studio. The following is my interpretation of the responsibilities and expectations of the different components of the recording process.
Recording Engineer: The recording engineer is responsible for many of the technical aspects of the recording. Engineering tasks can be divided into 2 phases, tracking and mixing. During tracking or recording the engineer is responsible for capturing the performance. This includes setting up microphones, patching in equipment, signal processing and operating the recording medium. These days almost all recordings are done in a multitrack fashion whereby each microphone is recorded individually to facilitate greater control later in the “mix” process. The mix engineer then takes the raw recorded multitrack material and blends the separate sounds together to create a stereo or 2 channel final mix. The engineer at both stages is responsible for the overall “sound” as it pertains to the recording. Engineers can be paid by the hour, the day or a flat rate for the project. Hourly rates range from $50-$150 an hour. $300-$1000 per day. Rates vary drastically in different regions and a with different levels of competency and project scope.
Producer: The producer is responsible for delivering the final product. The role of the producer can sometimes be a bit ambiguous as it varies with the needs of the project and the skills to of the producer. Historically, producers were hired by the label financing the recording to oversee the project and deliver a commercially viable result, sometimes at any cost. In the last 20 years, the job of the producer has evolved into more of a creative partnership with the artist and commonly acts a musical director and increasingly fulfilling the role of engineer. Typically producers are involved and oversee every step of the process from preproduction through to mastering. In many genres the producer may act as instrumentalist or arranger. Producers work with artists or ensembles to craft a creative vision for the project and to provide leadership and expertise in execution. It is common for producers to charge by the project or by the song. It is still common for producers to take a percentage of sales and in some cases publishing.
Mastering Engineer: The mastering engineer is responsible assembling the final compilation of songs and optimizes the recordings for different delivery mediums. In many cases during the process, they tweak and balance the final mixes to ensure cohesion and dynamics throughout the album listening experience. Professional mastering engineers typically charge by the song and can get anywhere from $300-$800 per song. Some get more. Some offer volume discounts.
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