The Rise of the Prengineer

A single person to Produce and Engineer your recording

The Rise of the Prengineer - A single person to Produce and Engineer your recording  - by Simon Campbell

The gradual decline in budgets available from self funded Artists and Record Companies are putting record studios, engineers and producers under increasing pressure. This had led to the rise of Prengineer: "A single person to Produce and Engineer your recording". Is it a good thing?

If you have the talent, songs and aptitude, it’s easy to make multi-platinum records in your bedroom. If however, you want to record traditionally, using live instruments, you need a studio and the personnel to make it work.

The first commercial recordings required a large team of people to facilitate the process, but since the 40's and 50's technology has advanced to make recording music much less labour intensive.

This technology has also seen recording studios change dramatically. Some now are extensions of bedrooms with a small recording area and modest selection of microphones, preamps and Analog/Digital - Digital/Analog convertors all the way to the old school studios with big live rooms, large format consoles with lots of microphones and outboard.

Regardless of the studio's complexity, the most important element is the people involved in the process: let's look at what they actually do.

The Engineer

A recording Engineer is a technician who operates the mixing console and other equipment during a recording session, sometimes under the supervision of the Producer. They also set up studio and recording equipment.

Geoff Emerick with Sir George Martin

An Engineer's main job is to use their technical skills to bring the Producer's and Artist's vision to fruition. They are also often responsible for mixing recorded tracks and making sure the final recording is free of any unwanted sounds or noises.

Engineers and Producers often form a long lasting relationship; one of the most successful partnerships being Geoff Emerick and Sir George Martin who worked together on many of the Beatles recordings.

The Studio Assistant

Usually unpaid, on placement or minimum wage, the assistant is usually training to be an Engineer or Producer. Their job is to clean and tidy the studio / control room before and after the session, assist the Engineer, Producer and Artists trying to learn as much as possible in the process. They also make lots of tea.

The Producer

A Producer is the creative leader of a recording session or album. They oversee the vital roles of studio selection and choice of Engineer, recording, mixing and arranging of tracks and songs, advise Musicians on how to approach or play on a track, helps Artists select which songs to record and enhance individual tracks. Often they will play an instrument or add sounds to a recording.

Jimmy Miller and the Rolling Stones

The self producing Artist

Working at home on their laptops, many Artists have developed a broad skillset and it is now common for them to want to ‘Produce’ the session.

Of course if they are funding the recording this is no problem but usually when record companies are involved, especially with inexperience artists, Producers are appointed.

If that is the case, after a few records cutting their teeth with experienced people many start to produce themselves. There are a host of Artists that make the process of Producing the record a part of their art and make a great job of it!

'Prince', being a total genius, made it look easy, but many seem to lose direction and focus and either fade away or go back to having the third party input of Producer...

The Executive Producer

An Executive Producer can/does perform many of the 'Producer' functions, but also oversees the recording budget, hiring of session players and the management non-recording studio personnel. It is not uncommon to have both a Producer and an Executive Producer.

Can an Engineer be a good Producer?

Whilst many music Producers are also usually good sound Engineers, sound Engineers don't necessarily make good music Producers.

The main difference is that while both professionals have a healthy understanding of the technical aspects of music production, Producers also have a hefty dose of artistic and creative vision to make a recording the best it can be.

So in the context of this piece, if Producers have the technical ability, why do we need Engineers?

The rise of the Prengineer

Technology has made it possible for one person to manage both the recording process and also input creatively. Of course, if the Producer wants to actually play in the session, there needs to be someone to operate the console / DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and if used, the tape machine!

Most studios have a unique setup and unless the Artist or Producers have worked there before, an Engineer, even as a 'babysitter' is usually required for the smooth running of the session.

There are many fine 'Prengineers' out there but two shining examples are:

The downside

Sadly, the music business is now packed with individuals who don't want to invest time and effort into learning their craft and just want to be famous. The boom in low cost recording technology, plus the availability to 'teach yourself recording and production' videos, has led to the rise of literally thousands of tiny, owner operated studios opening around the world who take money off unsuspecting clients and produce poor work. A broad statement, but mostly true.

Sadly it appears that even the educational establishments out there are failing to pass on the skills. I have met many music college graduates with Degrees in Sound Engineering and Production who metaphorically don't know one end of a Microphone from the other.

Our company, Supertone Records is based on old school values, believing in long apprenticeships working with experienced professionals: there is no substitute to the learning on the job!

What's the conclusion?

Rigid rules cannot be applied to any artistic endeavour and that's what so great about being a Musician, Engineer, Producer or Artist. If it works, it works!

From my own perspective as a Producer, I have tried every combination coming to the conclusion that the roles of Producer and Engineer are best separated, especially for larger projects and when time is tight. The Producer should be out there working with the Musician and focussing on the performance without the added responsibility of capturing it.

Of course, if you have unlimited time and a large budget as is found with major artists, this is not too much of a problem.

Yes, it costs more, but there are savings to be made in effective use of studio time, proper scheduling, ordering of recording/overdubs, use of session musicians, decision making and mixing.

As an Artist, I tend to self-Produce, but always try and use an good Engineer - it's just too stressful otherwise!

My favourite Producer of all time, Daniel Lanois, who has worked with some of the biggest names in the business, almost always uses Engineers whilst tracking (this is the actual recording of the Artists as opposed to mixing the recorded tracks) as he is so involved in the music. This is a short, but sadly low quality, video of his methodology.

So, there you have it...

I hope you have enjoyed this précis and if you are interested in looking into the work of some of the worlds greatest Producers, Suzy and I have been recording a series of podcasts discussing outstanding individuals and listening to the songs they helped create.

In our research we found that most of the great Artists have created their best work having teamed up with Producers working with great Engineers. It’s a team thing.

The latest podcast features Jimmy Miller who was renowned for becoming involved with the creative side of the process and pictured in the 'Producer' paragraph above with the Rolling Stones.

If you have the time, grab a beer and take a listen...


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