How sound engineers and producers work their magic

 29 April 2016

How do you get magic to happen in a recording studio? It starts with a mutual understanding between talented artists, skilled engineers and experienced producers. This is my view on the importance of sound engineers and producers (and what the difference is between the two).

"If you can recreate that special feeling for the listener, they will be back for more."

The role of a good sound engineer

It is my job as a sound engineer to take what I hear from a live performance, find a space in the mix for all the different frequencies, and recapture the sound as honestly and transparently as possible onto a recording (making me nothing more than an elusive name that appears in the credits).

Sure, it can take a long time to learn how to add an extra dimension to a vocal track. You might agonise over the exact amount of reverb to send through an auxiliary bus. But you have to be brutally honest with yourself: the euphoric feeling you get after hearing a brilliant song comes from the artist’s performance.

Sound engineers should be felt and not heard. There is no space for us to be egotistical.

Being a producer

When I have my producer hat on, however, my job is to take what I hear and determine what is best about the song, taking into account things like:

Some of the best producers are known for their distinctive sound.

  • melody
  • grooves
  • hooks
  • genre
  • style. 

I nurture these, adding ideas and suggestions based on the artistic and creative elements that best reflect the artist. 

The key here is to craft an arrangement with a distinctive sound that fits with the artist. Some of the best producers are known for their distinctive sound – think Phil Spector (Wall of Sound) and Sir George Martin (The Beatles).

Use a film analogy to compare the two

A good way to get to grips with the roles of a record producer and sound engineer is by comparing them to the film industry. 

A record producer can be compared to a film director who helps the actors portray their parts truthfully in keeping with the script, with as much emotion as possible.

A sound engineer can be compared to a cameraman who is more concerned with the technical perfection of capturing the action.

Helping an artist achieve their goal

When witnessing a great artist live, you really get to see and feel something special. From a two-person folk act with intertwining harmonies in a pub, to a 70-piece orchestra at Carnegie Hall, live acts give the listener a much more complex feeling than being just sonically pleasing. The musicians play off of each other, creating a unity.

A record producer can be compared to a film director who helps the actors portray their parts truthfully.

When an artist arrives at the studio, it is essential to be able to recreate that special something that is real enough to reach out to their fans. With a skilled sound engineer and a creative, enthusiastic producer, the artist should be well on their way to achieving this goal.

For the talented artists out there, this is great news. The audience that has just been blown away by your performance wants to take a part of you home with them. They want to be back at your gig while they’re driving on the motorway, walking through the park or cooking dinner.

If you can recreate that special feeling for the listener, they will be back for more. But this time, singing along every word.

The magic comes from a mutual understanding between the talented artist, skilled engineer and experienced producer.

So when you feel ready, find a producer to nurture your songs. Treat them as an extra member of the band. And when there are people at your shows who want to take a part of you home with them, it’s time to find an engineer at a well-equipped recording studio to recapture that magic.

Jonathan Jacobs is the studio manager at Ventura Soundhouse Productions, which offers new artists the opportunity to record in one of the most advanced studios in the UK, with the expertise of a professional sound engineer.