If you’ve ever looked at the back of a CD, read liner notes, or even clicked the credits info on Spotify, you’ve probably seen a list of names and job titles that resemble hieroglyphics. So here is a little bit of a breakdown of the most common jobs in the music industry and what they do. 

To start, you have three categories of roles when it comes to working on a song. Sometimes one person can do all or multiple jobs. Other times, a different person fills each role. (As a generalization, the more professional the song, and the people working on it, the more specialized each person is in their part). 

The three main types of professionals who work on a song or record are writers, producers, and engineers. The writers create the song and often come up with the building blocks—things like lyrics, melodies, and chords. Songwriters almost always play the guitar or piano, and most songwriters also sing. 

There are a few different types of songwriters they are lyricists, composers, singer-songwriters, and producer-writers. 

Lyricists are songwriters who only write lyrics. 

Composers are songwriters who only write music/instrumentation. 

Singer-songwriters are songwriters who are often artists themselves or are also professional singers. 

Producer-writers are songwriters who are also producers (this is one of the most valuable people in a co-write). 

Most of the time, one of the writers in the room is also the song’s producer. The producer is effectively the bridge between the songwriters and the engineers working on the track. A producer’s job is to make sure that the song turns out the way it needs to. This could be anything from working with engineers to record and adding additional instrumentation to “fill out the song” to make sure the guitar tone is the right fit to accompany the singer’s voice. A producer has a combination of creative and technical skills that often involve adding effects, and working with engineers at each stage of the song’s progression from voice memo, to master. 

Engineers are by far the most technical people who work on a song. A few main types of engineers are recording engineers, mixing engineers, and mastering engineers. 

Recording engineers often work in large studios and are there to ensure quality and consistent recordings. They also tend to maintain and operate the studio’s equipment such as the soundboard, so studios don’t have to worry about untrained musicians breaking gear.

A mixing engineer then takes the recorded audio files and balances them so that each part is heard and does its job. In it’s simplest form, this job often means making sure that rhythm guitar parts are listened to but aren’t overtaking the lead guitar or the other instruments. Being a mixing engineer also requires a lot of different specialized knowledge to ensure that a mix is correct and professional. These skills include but are not limited to gain staging, vocal tuning, audio routing and bussing, and effects processing. Mixes are highly subjective, and the important thing is to get a good quality sounding track above all else. 

The last stage in creating a song is mastering it. In its simplest form, mastery is preparing a song for release by making sure that it’s signal and loudness levels meet the guidelines for digital steaming platforms, vinal pressing, or CD burning. Mastering a song can also include making small changes in tone and volume to reduce frequency build-up and improve clarity and dynamics throughout the song. Mastering is often overlooked but can be one of the most crucial steps in making a song sound like a high-grade professional track instead of a demo. 

Hopefully, this was a helpful guide to the most common roles in creating and producing songs and what they include. This list is by no means an extensive list of positions included in making music and records, but they are among the most common (based on my music industry experience).  

Thanks for reading. 

  • Sam