Friday, 6 July 2012

#FindOutFriday Summer School Specials - Lesson 5: Sound Engineer vs. Producer - What's The Difference?

You know those conversations that you sit in the middle of and you nod away in your most understanding fashion, upholding the pretence that you fully understand what's going on around you?

Well that's what happened the first...well ok, several times when I tagged along to film Lekhem's studio shorts. You never realise how little you actually know about music until you follow the story of someone who makes it everyday...

The more I went, the more I started to pick up little processes, terms and their meanings. But what if you've never had the occasion to take part on Scholarly jaunts of this kind? How do you know your 'WIP' from your mastered radio edit? Well it's only right that I brought Professor Lek back to tell you...

"Making music is like cooking a succulent meal. The Artist is the Recipe; they are the ideas that go into the mix. The Producer is the Chef; some people think that Producers are only responsible for making beats and in truth some are. But a good Producer does much more than that. They decide what will work for the Artist's ideas, what won't and the final decision is always with them.

That makes the Sound Engineer your Sous Chef. They have a lot of responsibilities beyond just assisting the Chef, or Producer though. Yes it's the Sound Engineer's job to help, or create the particular type of sound that the Producer wants; but there are a lot of key areas a good Engineer will be the only one to oversee...

Recording Techniques...

The main thing that I look to see is how an Artist records. When I worked at JetStar (Records), there was always a variation in the experience of the Artists that came through the studios. You could always tell who's had less studio time because as the Engineer, I had to teach them how far to stand from the Mic; their body positioning and technique. It's the same thing with instruments also; if you have a 7-piece Drum kit, you have to know the right placements for the Mics to get the right frequency. Check out the practical examples:

...Understanding Frequencies

As we know, Sound is measured in frequencies, from the highest to the lowest. I couldn't tell you about technical names for things because I'm not the book-trained Engineer - I'm the only other kind you can be; I have an Analytical Ear. This means that I can listen to a mix and hear where the frequencies need to be by analysing the sounds. For instance, a Hi-Hat wouldn't have the same EQ / frequency range as a bassline, because they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. To be a good Engineer, you need to understand the frequency range that every sound on a track works within.


Alright picture doing your shopping at the end of the month; you get it home, you empty your bags - you need to put everything away in the right place, right? That's basically what mixing is; taking different aspects of your music's sounds and putting them on their frequency shelves. Volume, frequencies, sound effects; you make every sound presentable at Mixing stage. You bring each one into line with the other, until nothing is out of place and everything sounds nice. No person with an untrained ear could listen to each individual element well enough to pick the source if one particular sound was slightly off; you would have to have a natural ear like myself, or be trained to know. Subconsciously, I've seen people listen to a track and say they don't like it, but not be able to pinpoint why, because it's an unmixed track that they are listening to. Those same people then heard the mixed version, like it, but didn't realise it was the same song that they were listening to.


So let's go back to that shopping...You've unpacked, put everything in its neat place and now it's time to clean up. Clean your counters, mop your floors, all of that; that is essentially what Mastering is - giving your 'WIP' or 'Work In Progress' that final buff, shine and gloss so that it's ready to be heard by the public. If you're into cars, Mastering is like audio turtle wax; it's when you take your works so far and Make Them Gleam!

This is where an Analytical Ear is essential. If an Engineer hasn't got the Ear to recognise all of the above and put it into play; it will be very hard for them to be successful. A good Sound Engineer must know what to do to fix the smallest problem; but even before that, they have to be able to hear what's missing first. From when that Artist first steps into the booth, the Engineer should be able to tell what's wrong with their stance for example, just by listening to the sound coming through the speakers

An Engineer won't be able to detect the differences between frequencies without an Analytical Ear. Take me for instance; my vocals are mid-range but someone without a trained ear might not be able to identify that and think they would need to fix my levels by adding bass; only that would be the wrong range and would have no effect on the recording at all.

That same Analytical Ear also covers everything from instruments to plug-ins to monitors, speakers and more. Every speaker is different so an experienced Engineer is going to compare the sounds when shopping for speakers, because not everyone of them sounds the same. That same experience would teach that Engineer what to look for and they would know the sound that best fits their studio."

I hope you were all paying attention to another great lesson from Professor Lek! You've heard a few examples of his Engineering exploits above, from mixing the ingredients to Producing that final tasty dish. But for the latest example of latter, check out 'Great Weekend' by fellow Artist Banditsu, released earlier today!

For more from Lekhem, be sure to connect via his Social Media Catalogue below:

And don't forget to Subscribe to LekLane for the latest on all of his kitchen exploits, from Artist Recipes to Chef Finality! Feedback on today's lesson via the Comment Box below and we'll see you next time.

Have a #GreatWeekend!
ES ;)