Andrew Dawson is one of those figures everyday people may not really know about, but you’ve certainly heard his work before. The mixer, engineer and producer has lent his expertise in some way on albums like Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and 808s & Heartbreak, Common‘s Finding Forever, Drake, Kid Cudi, Lil Wayne and engineered Watch the Throne by Kanye and Jay-Z. Needless to say, the clientele that passes through his studio SoundEQ speaks for itself. Yet now his clients include fun., Kimbra, and P.O.S. Andrew was kind enough to speak with me about his interactions with artists, tips for getting off the ground, and what’s it like being one of the most important people behind the best albums of the past decade plus.
As a producer, you deal with artists during the entire process. What is one of the most valuable things that an artist has taught you?
I would say probably be receptive to everybody’s idea, whether it’s mega-producer guy sitting next to a brand new artist or to an intern who’s taking out the trash or to everybody in between. I’m not saying that they have the right idea [laughs] but at least listening to everyone’s opinion. You might surprise yourself. Somebody might drop a gem on you that you otherwise wouldn’t have perceived. Being open and listen to new ideas. It goes with anything. Just be open to being able to try them and not have a pre-conception of “That’s gonna be terrible.” “No, let’s try it. Let’s see if it will work.” Sometimes it’s not a great idea, sometimes it is. I think that’s something that I’ve picked up and learned from people that I’ve worked with; to be open to new sounds and new techniques.
So what would be an example of one of those new sounds or techniques that has recently surprised you?
Somebody who is working on the session, interjecting in the back of the room like, “Let’s try an arpeggiator on that part.” You would think that-synthesizer and arpeggiator parts are usually generic. Okay, an arpeggiator has a keyboard playing itself kind of vibe. It worked brilliantly on this section of the song. It took a minute to get to it because I put into my reserve thought process because we were in the middle of working on another idea. I remembered to come back to it about an half an hour later when the process I was trying wasn’t quite working right [laughs]. A little interjection did it quite perfectly.
0Note by Andrew on an arpeggiator: It’s where you hit one note on a keyboard but it plays a pre-programmed pattern. It’s actually pretty popular with house or trance music or remix kind of stuff. But it worked really great at this particular point.)
I have a very diverse group of clients lately. That’s actually been really wonderful to be able to work with so many superly talented people. Kanye’s incredibly talented and has a great vision as a producer. He’s a great rapper and artist as well. Kimbra’s super talented, great voice, and we’re working together for her U.S. release. fun. I worked on fun.’s album, which is blowing up the charts now. We recorded the good majority of their record in my studio in Hollywood. Those guys are incredibly talented as well. The Pet Shop Boys…It’s really quite creative being able to work with so many different genres of music.
Pet Shop Boys have yet another sound that’s different from all the previously mentioned ones. It’s definitely challenging as a producer to figure out where each one would best fit and develop it. It’s pushed my boundaries as well and ultimately I’m a better producer for it.
How are they all coming to find you? I know you were in the studio with P.O.S., though working with fun. came out of nowhere and surprised me.
fun.’s record I do a lot of engineering and mixing as well. I didn’t produce the fun. album but I was definitely a part of that as the engineer on the project and recorded at my studio. fun. actually I did, about a year ago, and now I guess it’s coming out of nowhere. It’s, “Oh that record’s been done for a while!” [laughs]
P.O.S., I wanted to work on his last record because we went to the same high school. We were a year apart, I graduated a year ahead of him. I wanted to work on his last album but I was doing one of Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak. I couldn’t do his last album, so he hit me up to do this album and produced his next album. For the most part, it’s looking like it’s pretty close to being done. Now it’s just final touches and waiting on record labels.
We’ve got a lot of readers up in Minneapolis, so they’ll definitely be happy to hear the update.
It’s so funny how half the Doomtree crew I knew back in grade school. Cecil Otter was in my graduating class of high school-super talented producer. And also Lazerbeak, who is a talented producer. I record his band, The Plastic Constellations and their EP when I was a senior and they were sophomores. Sims was actually one of my younger brother’s friends. I remember Andrew Sims in third grade with my brother skateboarding in the driveway. So there’s really kind of a connection with half of Doomtree. I really liked their last album too.
A lot of people aspire to become a producer, engineer or mixer, and you’re one of the successes that have done it in high school, college, and then landing a career in it. What words of wisdom would you share to those who are aspiring to do something you’ve done?
I guess I kinda did it the way I’ve kind of come up-traditionally considered the “old school route” [laughs]
The way it used to be done but it’s still is done nowadays. I started off as an intern and assistant, engineer, freelance engineer, then a mixer, and then a producer, which takes a while to get up there. There’s people nowadays who are just hoping they’ll be a producer, have a beat coming out-there’s nothing wrong with it but try to learn all the little intricacies along the way of each stage.
Two things I think are important. Learn every little intricacy. If you want to be a producer, learn about engineering, learn about mixing, learn about composition, learn about arrangement, learn about everything. If you have a synthesizer, if you have a drum machine, learn every little quirk about that thing. Learn about how to program it, learn how to sync it to other stuff. And once you’ve learned every little thing with it, make it do something weird and different that you haven’t heard. That’ll help get your creativity to the next level and try out new sounds. Stumble across something unique and be able to recognize that is unique. It’s something you get with experience as well.
That’s the first thing. The second thing is to surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to be doing. If you want to be a mastering engineer, go learn at a mastering studio. If you want to be a producer, you can get a job helping with a producer. Surround yourself with people who do what you want to do and that’s the best way to learn and watch and figure out exactly what they’re doing. Bounce ideas off other people. If you’re more in the assistant roles, just take it all in. If you’re quiet for a minute and just take it in, you’ll learn some stuff.
With everyone that you’ve worked with, and all the genres you’ve been exposed to, is there any genre or aspect that you’d like to be exposed to?
I’m open to all genres of music actually. I just like good music. I think there’s good and bad in every genre. I enjoy classical, I enjoy jazz. I enjoy Bach, hip-hop, rock…I’m open to everything whether it’s done well or not. I like good music to put it that way. [laughs]
So the next step after LA is moving to Nashville and working with country?
[laughs] Yeah. But you know, Nashville is kind of a closed circuit. I don’t see myself going to Nashville. I like Los Angeles a little too much! But you know, who knows where the road may twist and what project may approach me to work on.