MARCH, 2000

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How The Term Is Used
The guy that picks up your garbage (the "garbageperson") may have a sixth grade education or may have a 4 year college degree.  Regardless of his level of education, there's a very good chance that he refers to himself as a "sanitation engineer" both in conversation and even on the "job history" part of applications.
Is he wrong, unethical or even illegal in doing this?  What does this have to do with recording?  These are some questions that we are talking about in this article.
The accepted definition (and the definition we use) of a "recording engineer" in the industry is  "A technician in charge of a recording session."
Use of this term implys a broad-based knowledge and skill and also a professionalism.  We would not refer to a musician or hobbyist recording demos in the basement, having learned skills by trial-and-error, as a "recording engineer" but rather a "recordist."  "Recordist" would be defined as "One who records."  We also would not refer to someone trained or skilled in limited areas of the profession as a "recording engineer" but rather as a "recording technician."  Probably my biggest reason for writing this article is to let readers know exactly how we use these terms.
Besides the almost universal acceptace of using the term like this, there is basis in the dictionary definition of "engineer."  The American Heritage Dictionary we checked gave the fourth definion of "engineer" as "A person who skilfully or shrewdly manages an enterprise."  Checking several dictionaries, we found a similar definition in all of them.
Some Objections
For decades a small minority of individuals in in our industry have objected to the use of "engineer" by persons without a four-year college degree.   Of course, I've only heard this objection raised by by individuals holding a 4 year degree in electrical engineering.  These objections have largely been drowned out by virtually all of the recording studios, record companies, industry publications and text books using the term "recording engineer" in the manner that we do.  A majority of the thousands upon thousands of yearly released recorded product use this term like we do in published credits.
More Objections
This month, I received the following e-mail from E.L.:
Dear Sirs:

It has come to my attention that your site is using the term "engineer" to describe individuals involved in the music industry. Unless these individuals hold a professional engineers license, use of this term is illegitimate and in fact illegal in all U.S. states if the individual advertises himself as an engineer while attempting to sell his services.

Please refer to the following web page for links and guidance on use of the title engineer:



Well, this was the first time I had heard of someone calling it "illegal" to use this term like we do, so I wrote, in addition to sending him data on how tnd why the term was being used in the industry:
Mr L:

We did not write the English dictionaries. We did not cause our industry (the recording and music industry) to use the term "recording engineer" in this manner. Since our publication is for those in the recording and music industry and those who wish to enter the recording and music industry we are obligated to use the terms as they are understood in this industry. To do otherwise would stultify our ability to communicate as part of the American free press (a constitutionally guaranteed right).


Robert Dennis


Part of the futher communication I got from Mr. L, included:
[Referring to my American Heritage reference:]

I appreciate your response to my concern and the research on the definition of engineer. The definition is no longer legally valid, however, as all states have engineering boards with the definition legally defined. (Many people may think of the person who drives a train as being an engineer as  well - the definition is archaic. Another example would be the word gay once meaning happy, etc...). This is a typical example of an engineering boards rules on this subject:

[Referring to my statement of how much the term "recording engineer" is used in our industry:]

The above is a fallacy of relevance. This does not mean that the use of the term is correct, just that many people use the term.

- M.L.

Part of my reply was:
Definitions become valid because of their use in society. An example of this is in the word "can." When I went to grade school, I was taught that it was improper to use this word in asking a question (the proper word was "may"). Today virtually every dictionary lists the interrogative definition of "can" as valid. As far as I know, no government agency can make a definition invalid, that's absurd.

- R.D.

First, my disclaimer: I am not an attorney and what I'm saying here is, in no way, legal advice.  If you want or need legal advice, get a lawyer.  I am not even going to tell you what to do, but I'll tell you what I'm going to do.
I'm not sufficiently convinced of anything to change what I am doing.   My lay understanding on how this works is that regulating bodys issue rules, that have the force of law.  These government agencies, however, get their authority to make the rules from a law passed by the legislature and officially "enacted."   When an agency goes beyond their authorization given by the enacted law, the rule is made invalid by courts (when the issue is brought up).  Even if it is upheld in State courts, no State can make laws that tromp on our constitutional rights.  So I feel safe in my use of these terms.
Do you have a right to use the terms...?  I don't know; if it concerns you, ask a lawyer.  I do know that failing to use a term (or title) as it is understood and accepted in your profession can cause problems with people understanding your qualifications & experience when they are tring to hire you.
We felt, however, a responsibility as a member of the free press to present the possible conflicts to you, the reader.
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