Welcome to Audio Engineering and the world of studios. A studio represents different things to different people. Some see it as a technical place to track and mix artists’ expression (Burgess 2014; Burgess 2013; Burgess 1997). Others see a studio as an instrument, in which to develop an artist’s ideas into something more, possibly fusing several musical styles into a new genre (Eno 2004; Eno 1982). Irrespective of your perspective and motivation, one needs to start at the beginning – the fundamentals.
(Hans Zimmer home studio)
Knowledge and Skill base required
The practical knowledge and skillset required of an Audio Engineer/ Producer is both vast and very complex. In addition to the knowledge and skillset of mixing and recording, both in themselves very involved and potentially taking years to master, there are a range of other knowledge and skills required. There is a range of equipment to know about, and theories required to know the studio environment, and to be able to succeed in this position on a professional basis.
Whilst there is a common industry view that perhaps there is less onus on being an engineer in the original sense of the word in terms of analogue gear and being able to fix that gear in this era, I would argue that the extent of knowledge and skills required is no less vast and complex. In fact, I would argue that with the development of audio gear in this digital era, there is a broader knowledge and skillset base required than was previously required. Some of the aspects a budding Audio Engineer/Producer must become quite conversant with are:
Firstly, one must understand a generic Studio Setup
Then one must learn the specifics of the particular Studio Setup. For example: the console, patchbay, interface, computer system, and assorted outboard peripherals
Secondly, one must understand a generic Signal Flow of a console
Then one must learn the specifics of the particular console in the studio you are going to use. For example: MIDAS Heritage 1000 , Neve VXS, SSL AWS 948, API Legacy, Amek Media 51, Euphonix System 5, Audio ASP8024, Behringer Eurodesk SX4882 or Behringer X32
Thirdly, one must understand a generic audio interface, and what role it plays in the signal path of a modern studio (AD/DA)
Then one must learn the specifics of the particular audio interface (AD/DA). For example: Avid HD 16×16, Apogee Symphony, Antelope Audio Orian 32+, Universal Audio Apollo, Apogee Ensemble, Focusrite Saffire, Focusrite Scarlett, Fireface 800 or PreSonus Studio 192
Fourthly, one must understand a generic Tape Device
Then one must learn the specifics of the particular tape device, whether magnetic or virtual tape. For example: Avid Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Reason, Ableton Live, FL Studio, or Reaper.
Fifthly, one must understand generic principles behind peripherals for audio processing (outboard gear, etc), why we should use them, when we should use them, and how we should use them
Then one must learn the specifics of the particular peripherals for audio processing in the particular studio. For example: Teletronix LA-2A, Urei 1176, Fairchild 670, Tube-tech CL1B, Manley ELOP+, Neve 2254, DBX 160, Empirical Labs Distressor, SSL-G Series Bus Compressor, Manley Variable MU limiter, Chandler EMI TG1, Alesis 3630, API 3124+, Eventide Reverb 2016, Focusrite Octopre MkII Dynamic, or Behringer MDX2600 Composer
In addition to this studio environment knowledge base and skillset required as outline above, more than likely one will have to contend with the various one-off technical issues that will happen from day to day with either electrical or mechanical equipment limitations and/or malfunctions. As we each experience on a daily basis, these can be very prevalent and disrupt even the best laid plans for a mixing or recording session. There are a range of issues that can happen at any point in time in a studio, and therefore the modern day Audio Engineer/Producer must have a broad knowledge and skillset base in order to problem solve through these issues in order to move on with the object of the session; either to record, or to mix.
I have deliberately overlooked mentioning the additional soft skills knowledge and skillset required of an Audio Engineer/Producer in terms of daily interacting with people related to the studio environment. These soft skills include communication, negotiation, patience and social skills. Whilst extremely important knowledge and skillset to have, they could be considered to be beyond the realms of an industry-based subject matter expert (SME) in this discussion.
Additionally, if you are recording and mixing, then most assume that the modern Audio Engineer/Producer/producer must have a degree of understanding and skills in the creative arts processes of: songwriting, music, arrangement, and/or instrumentation to draw on as may be required for the client.
Therefore, in conclusion in this brief discussion, the practical knowledge and skillset required of a modern day Audio Engineer/Producer is still to this day very vast and complex.
A budding Audio Engineer/Producer must develop a very broad knowledge and skillset base across the disciplines of the industry subject matter, the broader relevant Creative Arts and the soft skills; in order to operate within and around the studio environment, and to be able to maximise their chance of developing a successful professional career as a Audio Engineer/Producer.
Burgess, Richard James. 2014. The history of music production. New York: Oxford University Press.
Burgess, Richard James. 2013. The art of music production: the theory and practice. New York: Oxford University Press.
Burgess, Richard James. 1997. The art of record production. London: Omnibus Press.
Eno, Brian. 2004. “The studio as compositional tool.” In Audio culture: readings in modern music, edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, 127-130. New York: Continuum.