Sound Engineer vs Music Producer vs DJ: What are the Differences?

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There are three technical musical creators in this industry who, on the surface, seem to have similar jobs: DJs, Sound or Audio Engineers, and Music Producers. Once you really research these careers and the roles each play within the industry, you realize just how different they actually are from one another. 

Sound Engineers, Music Producers, and DJs each have separate careers within the music industry. However, some of the skills they learn and use may overlap. 

Although DJs, Sound Engineers, and Producers are seen on television and music videos as all being people that push buttons and manipulate music to get the best sounds for our ears, they each have their own respective niche and duties within the music industry. 

DJs

A DJ is a person who plays recorded music for an audience, usually at live performances, where they are in charge of keeping the crowd happy. DJs spend a lot of time researching music, gathering music, and practicing techniques with their equipment to beat-match or blend the elements of one song into another so that you create seamless, non-stop audio stimulation for the crowd. DJs actually perform in front of crowds, over a medium, and often collaborate with musicians in their genre. To be a successful and talented DJ, you don’t need any certifications or degrees. What you need is practice, practice, practice. Learn both the technical side of DJing and be willing to sample new music that can be used for your show from the genre your audience is in attendance for. Being willing to put in the work required to hone your skill for improvisation of transitions and beat-matching is the hallmark of a superior DJ. 

If you want to know more about the duties of being a DJ, you can see my article here.

Sound Engineers & Audio Engineers

A sound engineer designs and manages sound levels and outputs, along with equalization and the digital sound effects for a performance. If the performance is being recorded for publication and distribution, they then are responsible for going back through the recordings to find the best source material, edit, mix, and master it for the album. These engineers do not necessarily work only in the music industry. One thing that holds any type of engineer apart from producers and DJs is the fact that this career often requires trade or vocational training or even a college degree. Certifications in equipment and software is also important in this industry. Vocational certifications are also more important than formal education. 

If you want to know more about sound engineers and their role, you can see my article here.

Music Producers

Music Producers don’t just produce music from various sources, they are responsible for making all of the decisions about the sound of a song or an album. This includes deciding on the appropriate studios, operating the technical equipment or advising on engineers, choosing instrumentalists, vocalists, and sound engineers for a project within the budget they have. A music producer can often be found in a recording studio working alongside the musicians and the sound engineers to get a perfect result for their project. This can be a demanding job that includes networking contacts in the industry to get the best for the projects they are working on.

Although there’s no standard level of education needed to be a music producer, there are certification programs and even bachelor’s degrees in music production available. However, a degree program even in business can help. Many of the most successful music producers began as artists or audiophiles that truly learned to diversify their musical tastes and dove into the industry they loved to get an education through experience. Some musicians actually wind up becoming producers, because they already have a bit of expertise in the industry – they understand arrangements, sounds, instruments, and the language of music. No matter what, listening to all kinds of music and being willing to study tempos, patterns, rhythms, and characteristics of various genres helps any producer make appropriate suggestions when it comes to a project’s sounds and helps them be able to translate an artistic vision into the technical jargon needed by engineers. 

If you want to know more about the duties of this job, you can see my article here.

Blurring the Roles

As you can see, there are huge differences in what these people do. However, there can be some confusion surrounding titles and duties.  The more modern version of beat-making (especially with electronic music) is called producing music. That’s why these creators are now referred to as music producers – in that sense. This title carries an entirely different set of duties than the career I mentioned above and in my other article about music producers.

Sound engineers and producers are often found working together to get the best sounds from a performance. DJs often learn some engineering along the way. DJs might create remixes of music samples and then hop into the role of music producer when they create music on their laptops to promote and sell. 

And a lot of the time, people who are in the more technical side of the industry – the sound engineers or audio engineers do not necessarily have the networking or social expertise that a standard music producer must have – but most producers have the technical expertise to handle both roles. In other words, there can be some blurred lines. Taking on more than one role here takes a lot of hard work, talent, and skill, not to mention networking within the industry. 

People who have been in multiple roles can be found. Just look up DJ Swivel – he’s a Canadian DJ, audio engineer, and music producer that specializes in EDM, Pop, Hip-Hop, and R&B. Then there’s the very successful combination of musician, DJ, and music producer you find in Zedd, an internationally known Russian/German music professional. He plays piano, drums and with his move into synthesizers also became a DJ. Now he does it all for the genres of EDM, Hip-Hop, Pop, and House. These are just two examples of people who have blurred the roles between DJing, sound engineering, and music production as a whole.

As you can tell, each of these music industry careers are connected and often overlap with one another, but they are not the same.  

If you want more detailed information about these careers or want to find more creators in any of these categories, remember to see our other articles …

Rachel Adams

I would have previously thought of myself as an audiophile. But by gaming and listening to my children and their friends, I've been introduced to an entire realm of artists that are not on the radio.