The Importance of Understanding Music Production as a Filmmaker
The role of a producer in the music industry is very different than the role we’re familiar with in the film industry. A music producer, “oversees and manages the sound recording and production of a band or performer's music… He or she may gather musical ideas for the project, propose changes to the song arrangements; coach the singers and musicians in the studio to encourage them to do their best; the producer helps the band to polish their performances and get the desired sound and tone that a specific genre or style of music requires.” (Wikipedia).
Oftentimes the role of the producer will include engineering and mixing a musical project, and as a video producer, having the skills required to engineer and mix a music project can give you a leg up on your competition! Arranging music and coaching musicians and bands are skills that come with a background of musical experience or with honing your skills over time, but engineering and mixing are skills that can be learned even by those with limited experience in music. So let’s break down these two skill-sets and see what is required to master each one:
“Engineering is the technical aspect of recording - the placing of microphones, the turning of pre-amp knobs, the setting of levels. The physical recording of any project is done by an engineer.” – Phil Ek,
Producer for The Shins, Modest Mouse, Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses. (Full interview and article available here)
Think of the audio engineer as equivalent to the director of photography: working to marry the creative and technical and making the vision tangible. Many of these audio engineering skills can be very important to video producers, for example when recording a live session without the presence of a dedicated audio professional. Here’s a great video from producer and engineer Warren Huart (The Fray, Aerosmith) that covers microphone placement for a variety of common instruments:
Mixing is an essential part of the audio production process - think of it as how color grading is essential to rendering a useable imagine from a raw LOG video clip. Mixing is where the raw audio is equalized, compressed, panned and manipulated to ensure that all of the instruments fit together and create a coherent mix that is pleasant to listen to. A lack of properly mixed audio will lead to muddy and confusing tracks that simply aren't pleasant to the listener's ears. Mixing is a difficult art, and understanding how instruments and sound should fit together or stand apart takes years of experience. Here's another video from Warren that shows his process for mixing a pop song by the band The Gallery:
For full tips of the specific elements of mixing, check out Warren's phenomenal series on how to record music which is available here. I'd especially recommend lessons 7 - 14 for specifically learning about sound mixing!
You can see how I've applied Warren's tips and tricks on some of my projects including this live session for Nashville based singer/songwriter Hayley Reardon which is available here and the two productions I've done recently with musician Craig VanRemoortel which are available here and here.