Music production and audio production are very similar things but some of the connotations are a bit different. Like I explained in my article on the differences between producers and beat makers, some of this confusion has to do with the word, producer, which is used everywhere and across many different industries.
There is a lot of overlap between the two vocations, but ultimately they can do different things with their skills because one is more specific than the other.
The difference between music production and audio production is that music production refers primarily to the creation of music, whereas an audio engineer can record and edit audio for any industry or medium, including the music business, broadcasting, TV, or film.
Audio engineers, as I’ll refer to them from now on, can work in pretty much any industry that needs audio, but people mostly think of them as working in the music industry. However, as I noted above, an audio engineer can work almost anywhere in media. Even TV and film productions have their own engineers, many of which can win Academy Awards like Best Sound Mixing and Editing.
What Are the Main Differences Between Music Production and Audio Production?
1) Audio Production Refers to Any Recorded Sounds Whereas Music Production Refers Only to Music
For many consumers, I think that the audio of a TV or a film is hardly even taken into consideration. Most people who watch a movie or a TV show don’t really give the audio production much thought, but there is actually a whole team of people in the background who work specifically on the audio production, that way everything sounds the way it should when people watch it at home.
Like I stated at the beginning of the article, audio engineering is needed in any form of media communication, in fact, a lot of people aren’t even aware of the fact that awards based on audio, like Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, are presented at the Academy Awards. It only makes sense for the Academy and other awards organizations to reward and acknowledge engineers, because their work is extremely important.
It’s not hard to understand why, either. Everyone would notice right away if you turned the TV on mute or if the audio was recorded with a tin can or a potato. I would say that it’s not unreasonable to assume that record producers or music producers tend to get a little more credit when it comes to the recording process, at least in the case of when audio engineers and producers are mixed in together, such as in the creation of an award-winning record, for instance.
Ultimately, audio engineers and music producers are different in the sense that audio engineers can handle more of the technical aspects of the recording of sound, compared to the music producer who might handle the creative flow. There’s no doubt that an audio engineer is also a people-handler in many cases, which is not unlike the music producer.
Audio Engineering in Music
An audio engineer will handle the mic placement, what kind of mics and equipment should be used, the acoustics and treatment of the room, the signal and dynamics processors like EQ, compression, etc, and also the mixing console. You’ll notice that nearly all of these are related to the actual recording of the sounds.
If you wanted to get a more clear understanding of what the audio engineer does in music, I would suggest checking out Timothy Dittmar’s book, Audio Engineering 101 (from Amazon) As I’ve said before, there is no reason why an audio engineer in the music production space couldn’t work in TV or film.
Some of them might even prefer it due to the tendency for there to be more job stability and also higher standards for employees, like not being late for example. The Punk Rock MBA’s Finn McKenty has a great podcast where he talks with Joe Escalante from The Vandals about the music industry and how it’s different from TV. Look it up on Spotify and then pay particular attention to the part at -12:59.
In one part of the interview, they chat about how TV productions tend to have much higher standards for their workers, unlike the music business which tends to be a bit more chaotic. This probably has to do with the business model of TV programming which is based on subscription models and selling advertising space.
Audio Engineering in TV and Film
There isn’t just one person who handles the audio engineering role in film and TV production. Like what is explained in this PDF from TV Sound Academy, there are often entire teams of people who just take care of the sound on its own. They are the audio mixers, the sub-mixers, the effects mixers, the music mixers, the audio assistants, and also the staff who work on the post-production phase.
Additionally – and these guys can be seen all over movies and TV – there is the boom operator, the guy who literally holds the giant arm which hangs the camera, or the mic near the person who is speaking. You might remember the movie Scream, where the newscaster continously torments her audio guy until he winds up getting killed by the Ghostface Killer. For whatever reason, Hollywood loves to feature the guys with the boom arm and the cameras.
If you took the time to read the article from TV Sound and Academy, there is a point in it where the author talks about the differences between sound design and sound reproduction. Sound reproduction is when you reproduce the sounds of a particular activity that everyone expects to hear, whereas sound design is where you get creative and introduce sounds that are unexpected, unobvious, or delicate, to create something new.
An example of sound design would be an audio guy running out into the middle of a field to put a microphone somewhere where a person wouldn’t expect to put it. As the author points out, there are myths and legends around the beginning of the TV phase where everyone was really just trying out new things because hardly anything had been done before.
Pointing all of this out is meant to illustrate that audio engineering can be way more than just music production. Simply by changing the positioning of a microphone on a guitar, you can create an entirely different sound, and the same thing can be said about other forms of audio recording as well, including in TV and film. In other words, the reproduction of audio is a big thing across many mediums.
2) Audio Production Revolves More Around the Knowledge of Equipment and Physics Than Music Production
By “music production,” I mean mostly to the basics of creating music like what is commonly referred to as “bedroom producers.” Audio engineering is a field that obviously relies heavily on equipment and you have to actually know how to work things like mixing consoles if you want to make use of it.
Compare this to music production, where there is also basic gear involved, but it’s not quite as sophisticated. For instance, the average bedroom producer doesn’t need that much gear really, (more on what gear you need to get started in my tutorial).
You only need a MIDI keyboard, some monitors – either via headphones or actual speakers – maybe a guitar like a Fender Telecaster from ZZounds, an audio interface, a microphone, a few cables, and then you’re good to go. A good DAW, like Fl Studio 20 (from Plugin Fox), is essential too.
If you’re more of a serious audio engineer, and/or if you’re working in a different industry like TV and film, there is a lot more equipment needed and much of it is quite different from what the average bedroom producer might need. Much of it will also be different from what is found in a recording studio.
I think it’s worth mentioning that audio engineers, if they go to school for it, will also learn a lot of scientific principles as well like what amplitude is, sine waves, etc. Music producers, specifically bedroom producers, probably have no idea what a sine wave is nor do they care, and why should they? It’s probably good to know what these things are, but understanding the physics of sound isn’t necessary to make music.
If you are interested in learning some of the science around music production but in a way that’s applicable to the creation of music, I suggest checking out the Music Production Certificate program from Mixxin Academy. This is a great course that parallels what you would learn in college, but way, way cheaper and you don’t have to leave home.
3) Audio Engineers Do Different Jobs Than Producers While in the Studio
Music production mostly concerns itself with the fundamentals of the music, for instance, what instruments have been and need to be used, the overall vibe and flow of the song, how the track is arranged, what effects should be used, etc. Obviously, songwriters, artists, and composers focus on these things as well, however, the point is to distinguish between audio engineers and music producers.
I think the best way to explain it simply is that the audio engineer’s job, simply put, is to handle the recording of the sound. This is done through the management of several pieces of equipment, and it isn’t up to the audio engineer to direct the creative flow of the track or to worry about, say, for instance, how many times the chorus is repeated. The audio engineer is only focused on getting the best sound possible.
Ultimately, audio production is a lot broader than “music production,” and it can refer to many different industries, which is kind of similar to what I talked about in my article on the differences between music production and mixing. In the case of music production and mixing, production can refer to the mixing process as well, however, mixing is way more specific in the same way that music production is more specific than audio engineering/production.
Important Things to Note About Audio Engineers and Music Producers
1) Sometimes the Words Are Used Interchangeably
In many cases, the record producer or what people call the producer does also work as an audio engineer. For instance, if you take a look at Sylvia Massy’s YouTube channel, it’s pretty clear that she has a firm understanding of audio engineering, and she knows how to get a good-sounding recording. This can be the case for other producers/engineers as well.
It’s not entirely necessary for a record producer to be an audio engineer, but it’s not uncommon for them to understand the field. Additionally, these are two skill-sets where there are a lot of differences, but ultimately there is a high degree of transferability. Obviously, being a great audio engineer is going to help a music producer or even a bedroom producer a lot.
YouTube Video Tutorial
1) Timothy Dittmar’s Audio Engineering 101 (from Amazon)
2) Fender Telecaster (on ZZounds)
3) FL Studio 20 Signature Bundle (on Plugin Fox)
4) Music Production Certificate Course (from Mixxin Academy)