What does an Audio Engineer do?
An audio engineer works with the technical aspects of sound during the processes of recording, mixing, and reproduction. Audio engineers often assist record producers and musicians to help give their work the sound they are hoping to achieve. For example, an audio engineer will piece together parts of a song, use auto-tune on a recording, and/or add synthetic sounds to a track. Audio engineers are different from producers.
At CLG Music & Media we’ve had the good fortune of working with thousands of musicians and we often get asked: should I hire a professional mixing engineer? Here are four reasons why the answer to that question is yes.
People hear ‘sound’ before they hear ‘song’
When listeners flip through radio stations or a playlist to find what they like, every song gets a mere few seconds before the dreaded ‘skip.’ The reason is that most of us simply don’t have the patience to wait and see if melody and lyrics speak to us. Melody and lyrics are contextual and take time to build. What doesn’t take much time is ‘sound.’
We can make snap judgments about the sound of a song in seconds. In those seconds we can learn what genre the song is, whether it is mellow or energetic, simple or sophisticated, does it fit our mood, is it interesting, and very importantly when listening to unknown artists – does it sound professional or not.
If the sound grabs us, we often leave it on to give the music and lyrics a chance. And the thing that makes perhaps the most difference in a song’s sound is the mix.
Every song you’ve ever heard on the radio was professionally mixed
All the great bands and artists handed off their treasure to a professional mixing engineer with experience, skill, and objectivity. Even today when many known musicians have studios at home and do much of the production and recording on their own, they hand over the mixing to pros.
The mixing process is deep and requires lots of skill and practice to get right. Just like you might have spent the past 10 years singing or playing guitar to get to your skill level, a professional mixing engineer has been practicing mixing for the past 10 years. Mixing makes a huge difference to the outcome of a song. More so than whether you recorded that layer of that guitar or background vocal, more than which microphone you used or whether you changed strings, more than mastering.
A good mixing engineer can make a song sound like it pops out of the speakers. That’s why today, in the production world, top mixing engineers such as Andrew Scheps or Manny Marroquin have rockstar hit-maker status.
Bring out the best in your performance
Mixing engineers have a lot of tricks in their bag to bring out the best in a recorded performance. A good mixer will know how to make vocals sound powerful and in your face, bring out the breathiness in a vocal performance if needed, make a scream sound awesome and not silly, make drums sound explosive versus tired, make everything sound more on time and tight, transform regular instruments or vocal phrases into sonically interesting ear candy.
A good mix can greatly enhance your performance. A bad mix, on the other hand, can make a good vocal performance sound small and buried, a good drum track sound like nothing but hi hat wash, and a song sound like an unflattering mess.
Spare your song the dreaded ‘demo’ label
Most of us have heard countless songs in our life. Because these songs were professionally produced, our ears and minds are used to hearing a very high level of production, and anything less sounds like a demo. Think of the last time you saw a student film. Did you cringe? If you answered yes, the likely reason is because all the polished Hollywood films you’ve watched made you expect more. This is especially true with music industry professionals such as booking agents, managers, radio editors, music bloggers, A&Rs and music supervisors who knowingly or not use ‘sound quality’ as a proxy to judge an artists’ level. A mediocre mix can make even a great song sound like a demo, and demos don’t cut it anymore.
The cost of producing a song professionally, including recording, mixing and mastering ranges from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars per song. That’s a small fraction of what it used to be just a few years ago.
For many self-producing musicians, mixing is the first time they hand off their song to someone else to work on. If you are like most musicians, you probably invested years rehearsing your singing or playing, weeks or months writing a song, weeks recording it, long days working on artwork and packaging, weeks conceptualizing and then shooting a video.
You’ve invested countless time and love into each song. Since mixing is so important to the final sound of your song, handing it over to a professional mixing engineer is a good idea.