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A new word enters the language of sound engineering and music recording. 'Production' - what on earth does it mean?

When the language of sound engineering and music recording can contain a term such as 'music technology', which means so much to educators and so little to the industry, words like 'production' must be used with care.

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Have you ever found yourself in a conversation where you are fiercely disagreeing with someone, almost coming to blows, and then you realize that you were each talking about different things completely?

That can happen where two people construe the meaning a particular word in different ways.

There is some doubt about the meaning of 'music technology'. To educators, it means lots of fee-bearing students in the lecture theatre. To the sound engineering industry, it means nothing. But let's not go there.

'Production' is another such term. To many, it means working with high-tech equipment, rubbing shoulders with the coolest in the industry. And perhaps even creating and manipulating music and sound somewhere along the way.

So a course entitled 'Music Production' would be all about being in the studio, producing.

Not necessarily...

To many people, 'production' means something else entirely. It means taking a finished and mixed recording, carefully evaluating its prospects of success in the market, and then kicking off the manufacturing process.

So production in this sense is everything that follows completion of the mix.

Therefore, the first stage of production is mastering. If you were a top selling artist then you wouldn't consider anything other than having this done by a full-time mastering engineer.

The mastering engineer will produce a master (naturally) that is ready for sending to a CD factory. That is the last artistic stage of the recording process.

Also at this point, the design of the CD booklet, tray card and on-body print will commence. There is no point in doing this before release has been green lit as it costs money.

Production of suitable artwork (notice how I'm using 'production' in this new sense) is an - er - art in its own right. There are plenty of ways to get it wrong technically and any fault might mean a CD that you can't sell - lack of a barcode will do that - or contains embarrassing mistakes, or gets rejected from the factory for getting the dimensions wrong.

The final stage of production is to quality check samples of the finished CDs. There's no point in distributing thousands of copies only to find out later that a mistake has been made. (Printers often enjoy adding mistakes to perfectly good artwork, and factory operatives have been known to get their Pantone numbers mixed up for the on-body print).

To be honest, it doesn't matter that the word 'production' has two meanings. Everyone will know from the context what it means.

Unless you are signing up for a course of education because of its depth of content on the topic of production.

You could find that it's not quite the kind of production that you expected.

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By David Mellor Thursday December 1, 2005
Learn music production