The Difference Between Producer, Engineer, Arranger, Songwriter, Mix Engineer, Mastering Engineer, etc
You may have heard a bunch of terms thrown around including producer, engineer, mix engineer, mastering engineer, etc. No worries if you're trying to wrap your head around all the different roles, so let's break them down for you.
What is a Songwriter?
A songwriter is a person (or group of people) that… well… writes the song. But these days I think a lot of people don't quite understand where the lines of “songwriting” and “production” start and end. So let's define what a “song” is real quick:
At its core, a song is lyrics and melody. Everything else can be stripped away or dressed up differently and it's still the song. This is what you can sing acapella with your friends while goofing around. Sure solos and riffs can get stuck in your head, but the chorus lyrics and melody is what REALLY gets stuck in your head.
This is why good songs still work when played on just an acoustic guitar or piano. A strong song can stand on its own independent of whatever arrangement tricks you pull out to keep people engaged.
Because of this, a songWRITER is anyone who helps contribute to the final lyrics and melody. If the lyrics and melody were written on top of a track (a process called toplining), the person who created the track usually gets some songwriting credit because it leads to the crafting of the lyrics and melody.
What is a Producer?
This has a lot of confusion from the rise of the EDM community where “producer” has almost become the same thing as an “artist.” However, in the strictest sense, a producer is the person who is ultimately in charge of creating a production (aka a specific recording of a song). They oversee the process of taking the raw song and hiring the right people to translate it into a final product.
It's very similar to a movie director. A movie director is hired to take a SCRIPT (the song) and turn it into a FILM (the production). A film's director will hire actors, a cinematographer, set designers, an editor, and more in order to create the final film. In the same way, a producer hires the engineer, session players, editors, arrangers, etc to bring the vision of the artist and producer to life.
Some producers mix, some producers engineer, some producers arrange, and some sit in the back of the room and just orchestrate the whole process. It really just depends on the person.
What is an Engineer? (aka Tracking Engineer)
This is the person that's in charge of the technical sides of the production, working to bring the vision of the producer and the artist to life. This could be helping get the best tones, setting up microphones, deciding how to mic something, and sometimes running the computer (if there's not a dedicated operator).
What is an Editor
After/during tracking, things often need to be edited. This could be vocal tuning, comping takes, doing instrument tightening, fixing weird breaths, flying things between sections of the song, etc.
What is a Mix Engineer
This is the person that takes what was tracked in the production phase and creates a mix. This is about presenting the production in its best light by setting levels, adjusting EQ, compression, etc.
By the mix phase, you should have everything edited, tuned, etc. Before the mix, it should sound like a song, but after the mix, it should sound like a RECORD.
What is a Mastering Engineer
The mastering engineer is a distinct phase AFTER mixing. It's not mixing part 2, it's about taking the mix and getting it ready for release. It should sound like a record before, and now it should sound like a record but like 10% better in a way that's hard to explain.
This is when the flow of an album or EP is set. The mastering engineer makes sure that all the songs sound like they're supposed to fit back-to-back tonally and sets the spacing between songs.