Study Hall

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An Interview With Grammy-Award Winning Engineer/Producer Andrew Dawson

"I do what sounds right to me. I guess I've been lucky that my taste seems to work for others."

Do you mix with an intern or assistant now?

I mix completely by myself. I prefer to mix by myself. In my studio, I have the space for a board, but didn’t put one in. It’s a production/mixing room that looks almost like a mastering facility. I’m mixing ITB, then using some analog gear and summing mixers – the hybrid system.

Tell me more about your work with Lexicon.

I worked with Lexicon during my last 2 years at Berklee. I started off as an alpha tester, they brought me in to break their gear. I would try updates, going through every single patch and preset. Then I worked in their marketing department, and also did the delay presets for the 960L. I don’t have a 960L – maybe they’ll give me some kind of retro deal.

I know asking this is like asking to pick your favorite kid, but what’s your favorite mix?

A producer asked me the other day what songs I had mixed. I had to pause and think; I couldn’t remember. I started flipping through my catalog and came across Common’s record “So Far to Go” on Finding Forever. I like that one because that song is out on J Dilla’s album, but I did my own take on it. The other was esoteric, which was cool, and mine was super boom bap. It was cool getting to do my own take on it. Kanye’s “Gone,” a lot on Late Registration – “Crack Music” has a big horn section and strings, it was a big production and I had to mix everything together to make it work.




Ok – now, I’m going to pick my favorite Andrew Dawson mix. My personal favorite is “Be”, not just because it’s a great mix, but because it’s so unpredictable. In a traditional Hip Hop mix, the vocals, drums, and bass will be right upfront – and the synths will sit in the background. Here, you have the bass in the middle of the room, and the synths are super dry and upfront.

Interestingly enough that was how the bass was recorded. I didn’t close mic it at all – I had one mic 8 feet back. It was all in the tracking – no EQ, no compression. that’s just straight in. I liked it so that’s how it stayed. The synths were super dry to contrast the bass.

I also feel that “Be” really captures the sound of the entire album. Did you hear the rest of the album before mixing it?

Manny (Marroquin) mixed everything except the intro, “Be.” Kanye and Common had me mix “Be,” not as a concession, but like “let’s give Drew a shot”. I had never heard any of Manny’s mixes. Which is usually the way it is. I wish I would have!

Any choice plug-ins?

Echoboy, Decapitor to bring out mids for keys and 808s. Just off the top of my head.

Waves stuff?

I use a lot of Waves stuff when I mix.

I’ve gone back and forth on Waves – but I love their noise reduction program Z-Noise.

I don’t really use noise reduction software. I do it manually, with cuts and cross-fades. I’ll sound replace manually by hand, and I’m faster doing it that way than pulling up sound replacer. It’s a little tedious, but the results are better. On the Kanye album, like with “Gorgeous,” a lot of the original tracking was not to a click. Kanye played live out of the ASR. We tried a grid, but had to go by ear and hand. I’m fast at doing it that way.

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What do you feel is your strongest asset as an engineer/producer?

I’ve been really successful in the sense that I just get it. Some people need to be told what to do – with me you can drop off the track and I’ll just take it where it needs to go. Whether that’s swapping drums or replacing parts, changing the arrangement, or leaving it and getting the sound right. I take that perfectionist level – I will work til I’m blue in the face. I think that’s why I’ve been successful, whether it’s Common, Ye, POS, or Destiny’s Child. I help them go where they want to go musically. A lot of mixers make it about them, but I’m an extension of the artist’s hand.

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