PopMark Media/Studio Unknown's 2011 Confessions of a Small Working Studio—An Interview with Grammy Award–Winning Mixer/Engineer/Producer Andrew Dawson

Mar 8, 2011 3:44 PM, By Lisa Horan

Andrew Dawson

Andrew Dawson

With two Grammy Awards, five nominations and credits on dozens of Number One and Platinum albums and singles, mixer/engineer/producer Andrew Dawson has accomplished more at the age of 29 than many accomplish in decades in the profession. While the story of his rise to success is part and parcel of the age-old "being at the right place at the right time" phenomenon, it's also proof that to make it in today's industry, one must possess a perfect fusion of skill, personality and desire. 

Dawson working at Avex (Hawaii)

Dawson working at Avex (Hawaii)


For Dawson, music became a regular and integral part of life at the age of 5, when he began learning to play the piano. From then until the age of 16, he studied the instrument at a private music conservancy. Even though the majority of the music he studied fell into the classical and jazz genres, Dawson's heart was always drawn to rock, hip-hop and modern pop music. Fortunately, his classical training provided him with a solid framework for playing these styles of music, which would play a role later in his career. However, performing wasn't Dawson's true aspiration. During his teenage years, he developed an intense interest in mixing. This interest skyrocketed after he obtained an early version of DAW software, and at that point there was no turning back.

When Dawson was a senior in high school, he managed to earn enough credits to attend classes until just noon each day and spend the second half of his day as an intern at a Minneapolis recording studio. "I was the coffee boy, the sandwich boy and the clean-up boy," Dawson says, "but it was a really cool experience. I loved being in that environment, especially given that I was just 16 years old."

Dawson at the Record Plant (L.A.)

Dawson at the Record Plant (L.A.)

Dawson enjoyed the experience so much that he spent his summer doing live sound for the City of Minneapolis at outdoor concerts. "There would be 400 to 500 people at these concerts, so it was pretty significant," remembers Dawson. "I still don't know why someone would give a 16-year-old this type of responsibility, but I was grateful for the opportunity and I was really able to cut my teeth through the experience." This experience proved significant in his days at Berklee College of Music, where he would majored in piano. While there, the live sound gigs he landed helped pay the bills, and the work he did for a studio record label helped him pay his dues. "I remember having to drive for hours and hours running CDs to different record stores around Minneapolis," says Dawson. Though it was hard work, Dawson was meeting people and demonstrating his drive and determination to his superiors.

Back at Berklee, Dawson's musical horizons were expanding exponentially, as well. His continued exposure to the rock and pop worlds provided him with opportunities to perfect playing different types of music and offered him a platform for dabbling with other instruments. Still, Dawson's focus remained one-directional, and that, coupled with long hours and sheer determination, were beginning to pay off. By the time Dawson was 21, he landed a job at Lexicon, the company that designed the world-renowned 960L reverb. Not long after, Dawson's career would receive a significant boost when he was offered a staff engineer position at Sony Music Studios in New York City. His ambition and acquired skills had gotten him to a crucial point in his career, but would it be enough to sustain him?

An inside look at Dawson's control room inside his StudioEQ

An inside look at Dawson's control room inside his StudioEQ


According to Dawson, talent and connections will only get you so far. In many cases, personality is key to getting to the next level in the music business—and keeps you there. Fortunately, these were traits that fell comfortably in Dawson's wheelhouse, and it was this mixture that allowed him to begin to make a name for himself. Word quickly spread about Dawson's mixing chops and his confident but easy-going, gracious demeanor, and in a short amount of time, a steady stream of serious talent had become regular clients. The success prompted a move to the West Coast, work at major studios in Los Angeles (Glenwood Place Studios, Chalice Studios, ), in New York City (MSR Studios) and Hawaii (Avex Honolulu); projects with such A-listers as Kanye West to T.I. to Destiny's Child; and, ultimately, the launch of his own studio, SoundEq.

Since then, just a few of Dawson's long list of credits has included serving as mixer and engineer on Kanye West's Platinum and Billboard Number One album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; serving as engineer on Rick Ross' album Teflon Don, which went to Number 2 on the Billboard Top 200 chart; and serving as mixer and engineer on Lil Wayne's triple-Platinum, Number One album Tha Carter III. And it doesn't look like things are going to let up any time soon. In addition to still working with his current clients, Dawson will soon produce Rapper P.O.S., among others.

"I think there is a certain amount of luck involved in my success, but the truth is, a lot of people are given lucky breaks," says Dawson. "It's what you do with the lucky breaks that come your way that set you apart. I was fortunate enough to be able to capitalize on mine by doing the best that I could do on every project that I was given, and I think that is what is largely responsible for what I've been able to do."

Dawson's philosophy of doing business is also centered on humility. "I don't care if a client is big or small, a mega-star or just starting out," he says. "I always treat each with the same amount of attention and respect. Some mixers and engineers make it more about them than the client. That's just not my style."

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