Musical engineers get lost in mix


KENNESAW, Ga. — A great song simply has the right sound to our human ear.

It is almost as if a part of the brain is being massaged when the right set of notes resonate our eardrums. Good song quality is determined by a couple of different elements: the right beat, correct vocals, tempo, frequency and so on.

The average fan might not take into consideration who cohesively pieces together these elements into musical art. That is because the general public is not exposed to the reality of what makes a song great.

That person is the engineer.

In the realm of hip-hop and rap, producers have elevated themselves into stardom — almost as popular as the artist. Hearing a producer’s tag or seeing their credit on a song can give the track a greater appeal than the artist itself.

The big dogs in the Atlanta hip-hop scene include Metro Boomin, MikeWillMadeIt, Southside, Zaytoven, London On Tha Track and many others.

It is a phenomenon unlike in any other genre. So if producers are getting noticed like this now, why not engineers?

Atlanta has one of the more relevant music scenes in the country, especially in hip-hop. Atlanta could be the so-called epicenter of the hip-hop or rap genre.

Countless acts claim Atlanta as their throne: Future, Gucci Mane, Young Thug, T.I., 2 Chainz and Young Jeezy.

Around Georgia Tech University, known as Homepark, there are countless studios known nationwide for their contribution to the rap scene: Patchwerk Recording Studios, Hot Beats Studio, Zac’s Recording Studio, Icon Studios and so on.

According to Webster Dictionary, “An engineer is a person who has scientific training and who designs and builds complicated machines, systems, or structures.”

An audio engineer is in charge of shaping and controlling the sound. This includes recording, mixing, reproduction, reinforcement and manipulation of the sound.

Kori Anders (Submitted photo)

“An engineer is like the liaison in the studio between the creatives and getting their work recorded, mixed and mastered,” said Kori Anders, a veteran engineer from Patchwerk Recording Studios. “We are creative, but we are technical, so we bridge that gap between the creators of the music and being able to actually get it into a form that we can distribute to the world.”

It can take days to make sure a song is correctly edited to perfection — or mixed.

Usually, it does take multiple days or multiple sessions to get the sound just perfect, making for very meticulous work.

The unsung heroes of the entire rap scene could be the engineers. They have the ability to take a song from mediocrity and turn it into a chart-topping hit single.

Yet, there seems to be an under appreciation for these musicals inventors. Engineers are considered to be part of the behind-the-scene crowd, the same grouping as a producer or songwriter.

“Well, I think it is by design because most engineers that I know do not crave the limelight,” Anders said. “And, just by the nature of what we do, we do not need to be the center of attention.”

“I honestly do not know why producers have ended up getting so popular and in the spotlight,” said Dillon Lawter, a freelance engineer in Atlanta. “But, you know, engineering I feel like is such a nerdy aspect. I do not even know if people would consider that cool. But production, they were able to create an image for themselves where people became more accepting of it.”

Their work helps them land clients on a day-to-day basis. In regards to royalties in the musical world, the individuals who receive money from music are known as creatives. This includes talents such as, the artist, a songwriter or producer.

Engineers do not fall into the same category. The only money an engineer earns is from the initial base price they charge for mixing the song, and if they happen to be working at a studio full-time, they might also receive hourly pay.

Glenn “GT” Thomas is an engineer from Las Vegas, Nevada, who came to Atlanta to start his music career. He worked out of multiple studios in the city and currently calls Patchwerk Recording Studios his home.

“Once we get paid for whatever fee we give, it is over,” Thomas said. “That song could go 50 times platinum, and we do not get anything. All we get is, ‘Oh, you were the guy that worked on that?’ and a pat on the back. But a pat on the back does not feed your kid and wife. But you’re in there longer than the artist, longer than the producer, your’re in the studio longer than anyone. You know the song better than everyone, but once you get your fee, it is over.”

“I think the people that are compensated well are the top 10, the Tony Maserati’s, the Manny Marroquin’s,” Lawter said. “I feel like we are scraping by just to get people to notice us.”

Engineers are in charge of structuring the entire song and making sure every aspect is in-line with how the artist wants the song to sound. They are able to bring the artist’s vision to fruition and get it ready for the masses.

They put in countless amount of hours to perfect a track. Some engineers can spend marathon stretches etching out every detail to a song.

“Believe it or not, I am one of the quicker engineers,” Anders said. “So it can take anywhere from four to six hours, but, obviously, every song is different.”

Engineers are the backbone to the music industry. They are the cogs who keep the machine going. They are the blue-collar workers of the musical world.

“It is going to be blurred lines here shortly: We are going to be producers, we are going to be the artist,” Thomas said. “I see engineers as becoming one full package. We see artists making hits, we see how producers make hits, and we have the sonic aspect as well. So now it is like we have all three, and we will start seeing more engineers becoming artists and producers and we will be a face now. We will not be in the background.”


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