With technological and social change, the Audio Industry has developed exponentially since the 1970’s. This change includes the reduction in the number of corporate large format console studios and the increase of project and portable studios. Roles within the audio industry are therefore also developing with this change, spurred on by the cultural phenomenon of DIY. Below is a traditional list of roles, roles whilst may be becoming more rare, the functions these roles conducted still in most cases need to be completed by the contemporary music practitioner.
I also attach two links to sites which are useful with contemporary role outlines.
There are many different sized studio which are in operation throughout the world today, and the size of the studio can and often does determine the roles of its staff members. The roles in which you will read about are a guide only, as the music industry is so diverse and often unstable, roles of a particular staff member can and often will change or combine a number of roles. Such is the case in many project studios where a Recording/Mixing Engineer will after time become the studio manager.
Most project studios will only have the one staff member, which does a variety of duties from Studio Manager, Recording/Mixing Engineer to Accounts. The reason for this is that project studios normally don’t have a large turnover and therefore cannot afford to hire many staff. They may however hire staff on a casual on-call basis when needed. Though such isn’t the case when it comes to a professional recording studio, studios such as SONY CBS have a much larger turnover compared to many project studios and because of this allows them to hire more staff which will in-turn specialise in specific fields. Such fields may be Recording Engineer, Mixing Engineer, Producer, Mastering Engineer and Session Musicians to Accounts and Reception staff.
Generally most audio positions are not permanent; engineers may be hired on a contract basis for a period of time or for a particular project. It is very rare for an engineer to be employed full-time by a studio; these types of engineers are referred to as in-house engineers and generally work on all recordings the studio is hired to perform.
The studio manager/owner supervisors all aspects of operations; from purchasing, maintenance of equipment, accounts, staff, advertising and pricing packages for studio hire. The studio manager/owner is not always an industry professional who has hung up his headphones to run a studio, it is quite often the case where a studio manager/owner be a business man with the necessary qualifications to run a studio successfully.
A recording engineers primary concern is getting music onto a medium (Hard Drive, DAT, ADAT, CD etc). This involves getting levels to multi-track, working under the producer and communicating with the musicians as to when they are needed and what they are required to do. Though at the same time leaving as much room as possible for creativity at the Mixdown stage as this is when the recording becomes ‘alive’. Mixdown is very rarely done in the same control room as recording, reason for this is because the recording studio is a very expensive acoustically treated room which needs to make money and it can’t do this when in Mixdown stage as there are no musicians. What makes a great recording engineer is the ability to be quick and efficient whilst at the same time provide a relaxed environment for the musicians to get creative.
The mixing engineer is responsible for ‘creating’ the finished piece of work before it is mastered by the mastering engineer. The mixing engineer will usually receive session tapes/files from the recording engineer untouched and as original as possible. Mixing engineers perform what is referred to as ‘Mixdown’, this includes using all the tools in the control room to enhance and add character to the recording as to realise the producer/or musicians vision of what the finished product should sound like.
The engineer’s assistant is what has been traditionally referred to as the apprentice engineer. The role of the engineers assistant is so diverse that it may vary from microphone placement, rolling of cables, moving baffles, programming effects units to even making cups of coffee. Being an engineer’s assistant give you the opportunity to gain a wealth of knowledge from the recording/mixing engineers in the audio recording industry.
The producer combines his engineering experience and musical knowledge to provide an overall direction for a project to follow. The producer’s role can vary from simply re-arranging a piece of work to composing work from start to finish.
The mastering engineer performs the final touches to a finished piece of work from the mixing engineer and producer. This may include noise reduction, normalisation and equalisation before the ‘Master’ is sent off for mass CD production.
Session musicians are professional musicians who are hired to play a particular song. The session musicians role varies depending on what they are employed to do. They may play a specialist instrument, program drums/or keyboards etc. Musicians and engineers seem to be merging as one with modern day musicians capable of creating ‘studio quality’ demos from home and engineers being competent sequencer programmers.
The recording chain is broken up into four steps;
The recording stage consists of recordings of instruments/vocals that are to be contained within a song. These recordings will be of instruments/vocals that do not need backing tracks to be recorded, for example – a rhythm guitar. The recording engineer will perform all work under the supervision of the producer.
The overdubbing stage consists of recordings of instruments/vocals that could not be recorded at the recording stage. These recordings are known of as ‘overdubs’. An example of this could be a lead guitar track that could not be recorded at the recording stage, as the lead guitarist required the rhythm guitar as a guide track. Work is again performed by the recording engineer under the supervision of the producer as with the recording stage.
The Mixdown stage allows the mixing engineer to add an extra dimension to the recording. Whether it be adding reverb to the vocals, compressing the drum kit or simply panning instruments. All Mixdown work is performed under the direction of the producer and in some cases also the musicians.
The mastering stage is the final stage of recording, although there is no actual recording as such that takes place. At mastering stage the final touch is added to the recording, this may be tightening the bottom end or even reducing noise in the mix. The main focus of the mastering engineer is to add clarity to the mix and generally clean it up.
The recording stage is divided into at least two (2) rooms usually separated by a wall with two (2) panes of glass to allow communication between the recording engineer and musicians.
The first of the two rooms is the studio, which is where the musicians live. There is usually one main live room or several rooms consisting of live room and isolation booths for things like vocal separation to limit spill from other instruments.
The second of the two rooms is the control room, which is where the recording engineers live. The control room is usually just the one room though often with other smaller rooms which run off the control room. These smaller rooms are called machine rooms and house amplifiers, computer towers and generally anything that doesn’t need to be in the control room and /or makes unnecessary noise. The main control room houses things like the mixing console, outboard effects units, multi-tracks, and digital audio workstations and generally anything needed to record efficiently.
A studio is made up of two main areas: the control room is the main room of the studio, with the console, the tape and where the engineer functions.
The second main area is: the live room, where the artist performs, the sound source is captured by microphones, and the signal is sent to the control room via microphone cables and a junction box.
The sound source is the device/instrument/vocalist that is creating the sound you want to record.
These are transducers used to pick-up sound waves generated by the sound source and convert them from acoustic energy into electrical energy, which can then be transmitted through the microphone lead to the junction box in the studio. Almost every application of recording sound will require a microphone.
Referred to as a DI, known as direct input, direct injection, direct induction or direct interface. Used to convert unbalanced and/or high impedance signals into low impedance signals to eliminate hum, interference and impedance problems. An example of an application using this device is connecting a non-powered (passive pick-up) electric guitar (requiring an active DI), or a powered keyboard (requiring a passive DI) to a mixing desk input.
Headphone Splitter Box
Very important to have in a studio as it allows musicians to 1. Hear what they are playing 2. Use a backing or click track to synchronise what they are playing with previously recorded material and 3. Listen to an instrument using a Direct Injection input into the mixing console in the control room. A headphone splitter box normally runs into at least four (4) sets of headphones. The headphone splitter box receives signal from the junction box in the studio. Splitter box’s are also used for talkback, communication between recording engineer and musicians.
Perform a similar function to headphones in the studio. They allow musicians to hear what they have just recorded and/or may be used for talkback from recording engineer. Normally only one or the other (Headphones/Studio Monitors) will be used at a time. The studio monitors also receive their signals from the junction box in the studio.
The junction box is used to transmit information in and out of the studio. This is very handy as it limits the amount of cables lying around on the floor etc. The junction box links directly to the control room via a multi-core cable. It houses all microphone inputs from the studio to the mixing console and line inputs from the studio to the mixing console. It may also handle D.I. inputs into the mixing console if they are present on the mixer, eliminating the use of independent D.I. box’s in the studio.
All connections on the junction box are hard-wired to the multi-core, which runs through to the Control Room. The microphone inputs on a junction box are flush-mount female XLR connectors, whilst the line/D.I. inputs are flush-mount female 1/4 inch jack connectors.
The control room is the main room of the studio, with the console, the tape and where the engineer functions.
The multi-core cable is composed of numerous cores (hence the name) within the one coating and is used to transmit information in and out of the control room to and from the studio. The multi-core houses all microphone inputs from the studio to the mixing console and line inputs from the studio to the mixing console. It also handles headphone sends from the mixing console through the amplifier (Headphone) to the headphone splitter box, signal for the studio monitors from the mixing console through the amplifier (Studio Monitors) and D.I. inputs from the studio junction box to the mixing console if present on the mixer. This eliminates the need for numerous expensive individual cables to and from the studio, whilst at the same time keeping the studio and control room neat and tidy.
On the control room side of the multi-core connectors need to be placed on the end of the multi-core. The type of the connection depends on its purpose and on the device you are connecting to. Microphone outputs from the multi-core are standard; they are male XLR connectors, which in turn connect to female XLR connectors on the rear on the mixing console. Again line outputs from the multi-core are standard; they are male 1/4 inch jack connectors.
However the connections to the two (2) amplifiers (Headphone and Studio Monitors) outputs will vary, some amplifiers have female XLR’s, others have female 1/4 inch jacks whilst some also have bare wire connections (this will require stripped cable either soldered or screwed to the connection). For those amplifiers which have female connections for the outputs this will require male connections for the inputs from the control room end of the multi-core.
The mixing console is the most important item in the control room. It performs almost all tasks required by the recording engineer from organising tracks (Microphone inputs), assigning tracks to multi-track or digital audio workstation (DAW), and amplifying microphone signals through pre-amps to get appropriate level to multi-track. The mixing console can also send to and receive from external effects units to add to the dry (unmodified) signal coming from the studio.
Multi-track is the name given to a recording medium. This usually consists of more than two (2) tracks (channels). The multi-track device can vary from Analogue reel to reel, DAT, ADAT, and Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Once audio/data is stored on a multi-track it can then be randomly accessed for the purposes of overdubbing and editing. Some digital audio workstations are capable of storing 200+ tracks of audio.
Patchbays are arguably the best device in the control room. They act very similar to the junction box in the studio. A patchbay in a control room will house almost all inputs within the control room, allowing easy patching between devices. The most obvious advantage to this is that it saves time and effort. For example – if signal has to be sent from the mixing console to the outboard compressor, you don’t need to run the leads from your mixer to the compressor, you simply just patch it in on the patchbay.
The headphone amplifier is used to amplify the signal coming from the mixing console going to the headphones in the studio via the headphone splitter box and the multi-core.
Amplifier (Studio Monitors)
The studio monitors amplifier is used to amplify the signal coming from the mixing console going to the monitors in the studio via multi-core.
The primary amplifier is used to amplify the signal coming from the mixing console going to the primary monitors.
The secondary amplifier is used to amplify the signal coming from the mixing console going to the secondary monitors.
Note: Ideally all of the above amplifiers should be kept in a machine room off of the main control room as this reduces the amount of present noise in the control room.
The primary monitors are what we use to monitor what we are recording/mixing through. They are usually larger monitors than the secondary monitors and sit further back from the engineer in Westlake positioning. (More on this in LOUDSPEAKERS)
The secondary monitors are used as alternate monitors to the primary monitors. They are usually smaller monitors than the primary monitors and sit much closer to the engineer in Nearfield positioning. (More on this in LOUDSPEAKERS)
Outboard Effects and Signal Processing Units (SPU)
The outboard effects/SPU’s in a control room receive signal from the mixing console. Usually all outboard effects/SPU’s inputs and outputs will be located on the patchbay within the control room to allow easy routing between devices simultaneously.
The audio signals sent to these devices will be altered in a certain way depending on what type of effect/SPU they were sent to before returning to the mixing console for further mixing. For example; if an audio signal was sent to a delay unit, then upon return of this signal to the mixer it have a delay, giving an echo effect
With over 20 years experience in the arts & post-compulsory education, David has lived, studied and worked Internationally including Japan, India, Fiji, the US and NZ.
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Additionally, David has published in both lay texts and academic (peer-review) publications.