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

Dawson working with Kanye West

Dawson working with Kanye West


In fact, for Dawson it's all about the client. "Whenever I work with someone new, I will do my homework and listen to material they've done in the past and find out more about them," says Dawson. "I also ask a lot of questions in my initial meetings with artists and find out what they're listening to, what inspires them and how they hear certain types of music. Essentially, I want to get inside their head and figure out what strikes them so I can get a gauge on where I need to go sonically to capture their vision."

Dawson working at Kanye West's pad

Dawson working at Kanye West's pad

After working with an artist, Dawson also takes note of their likes and dislikes so they are comfortable the next time they record. "If you can remember how an artist liked to record his vocals, he'll remember that and appreciate that you have taken the time to know his preferences," he says. "If you can be seen as an asset to the artists you work with, they are more likely to call on you for the next project." He also stresses the importance remembering that the job of a mixer or engineer is to help the artist shine, not yourself. "The general public is not going to buy a record because it was mixed by so and so; they're buying a record because of the artist. It's not about you as a mixer or engineer, and it's important to keep the big picture in sight."

Dawson working with rapper Common

Dawson working with rapper Common

Of course, it's also important to be ready to bring something new and different to each project. That said, Dawson's willingness to push the sonic boundaries of pop and hip-hop have certainly served him well. "I don't like copying styles; I really push myself as a mixer and producer, and always try to make sure I'm not becoming stagnant in my approach so I can avoid becoming formulaic," says Dawson. "I don't go into the studio, and say, 'I'll just use this preset on his vocal because it worked before.' I approach every song as a unique entity, and I think being willing to try something new and different every time and do whatever it takes—whether it's technically 'correct' or not—has been very beneficial to me as an engineer."

What's also helped is Dawson's aptitude to adapt to the various studio environments in which he's called to work. "My job involves a lot of bouncing around from studio to studio, so I have had to learn to be flexible," he says. "You can get really comfortable working in a particular studio, but then when you have to go to another, you may have to deal with a totally different sound or assistants that may not be the best, and you have to quickly be able to adapt and pick up the slack because the client doesn't care what you have to go through; they just want a great product."

Dawson working with Common

Dawson working with Common

Back at SoundEq, Dawson is able to generate great products partially because of the effective setup he's created. While he says he has the room to put in a board, in light of the fast-paced nature of his production regimen—rom producing to mixing to editing to radio editing—he simply doesn't have the time to deal with a board and relies, instead, on Avid Pro Tools and other resources. "I get great sonic results that parallel an analog setup with the key pieces of equipment I have," says Dawson. These key pieces include Avid Pro Tools HD3 Version 9; Logic Studio 9; Lavery and Apogee converters; Euphonix MC control surfaces; Sound Toys and Massey plug-ins; Neve, custom-built pre's; SSL, Tube-Tech CL-1B and dbx 165 compressors; and Empirical Labs Distressors. "I'm really happy with the setup I have," says Dawson, who admits he hasn't gone to Pro Tools 9 just yet simply because he hasn't had enough downtime to make the switch.


To all those mixers and engineers whose dream it is to follow in Dawson's footsteps, he offers this guidance: "It may seem obvious, but I have to say that it's going to take a lot of hard work. There is no easy way to make it, and it won't get dropped into your lap," says Dawson, who says he was living and breathing equipment and sounds for years and still does to a certain degree. "If you decide to pursue this career path, you've got to give 100,000 percent, be willing to try to make every client's project have its own unique sound, learn how other producers and mixers and artists think, and keep what you do in perspective." 

While Dawson has certainly enjoyed the fruits of his labor, even he has not been above the sharp fluctuations that have defined the industry of today. "I've definitely had to adapt to smaller budgets and all of the changes that are occurring," he admits. That aside, he has no complaints. "Being able to go to work every day and do what I love is the most gratifying part of my career. I work with really talented people who genuinely enjoy what they do. No one I work with is just showing up and punching a clock; they are doing what they love to do, and the great energy that results is one of the coolest parts of my job."

PopMark Media is a creative partnership developed to help music industry professionals, filmmakers, advertising agencies and business professionals make sense of the changing requirements, develop effective strategies and stand out in a sea of competitors. The company offers innovative and personalized services that include a full range of promotional, social media and strategy consulting; original music composition, jingle production and music supervision; and sound polishing services for various projects.

Studio Unknown is full-service audio post-production facility that specializes in helping clients discover creative sound for film, video, Web, gaming and artist projects.

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