What Grammy Winners Bob Clearmountain And Dylan Dresdow Disagree On In Mixing

| Interview, Mixing, Rant

If there truly is one “right” way to get killer sounding (and Grammy winning) mixes then why do two of the top guys in the world completely disagree?

A couple of weeks ago I was speaking at the Audio Bloggers Live event in LA and we had a guest panel with Bob Clearmountain (Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen) and Dylan “3D” Dresdow (Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna).

During that session we learned that one mixes on an SSL console while the other mixes completely in the box. Hmmm. Guess the whole ITB vs OTB is not nearly as big of a difference maker as we thought.


Photo by Tony Villaflor

He Kinda Hates Plugins

I have so much respect for Bob Clearmountain. He’s truly one of the legends in our business (he trained Chris Lord Alge for goodness sake). But he’s an analog console guy through and through.

His SSL is still running on software from 1995. That’s how legit he is.

And it’s funny because you could tell during his interview that he kinda hates plugins. To him they seemed like a cheap substitute for the “real thing”.

And that makes sense. Why use an emulation when you have (and enjoy using) the real thing? If the workflow of analog doesn’t bother him, then more power to him for working the way he likes to work.

His results speak for themselves.

He’s All Up In The Box

On the flip side was Dylan Dresdow. He is having chart topping success and he mixes completely in the box.

I think this quote from an interview he did with Sound On Sound a few years back (2009 to be exact!) sums his thoughts up perfectly:

At this point I believe that any mixer out there should competently be able to do a mix in the box or on a desk, and be able to get a great‑sounding record either way. I learned that you need to really focus on getting your digital gain structure right if you want things to sound really good. Plug‑ins also have a sweet spot. But when you know what you’re doing, I don’t think it really matters whether you are mixing in the box or on a console, you simply need to find a way to make it work. If you listened to a bunch of records that I mixed in the last couple of years, I defy you to tell me which ones were done in the box and which ones on a console. – Dylan Dresdow (Usher, Michael Jackson)

Yeah. What he said.

Results Matter. Not Methods.

It’s funny, because even the panel of mastering engineers at the event disagreed with each other.

One mastering engineer said that mixers should always take off all buss processing before sending in their mixes to be mastered. Another on the panel said the opposite – leave all your plugins on the mix buss.

Some engineers throughout the day said you can have mix buss processing, just not a limiter. Then along comes Mick Guzauzki (11 Grammy wins) who casually mentions that he has a limiter on the mix buss all the time.


So everyone basically disagreed with everyone else – on method. Not on results. On method.

The point I’m getting at (and what was reinforced in my mind during the day) is that everyone is going to approach music making differently. Everyone is going to mix differently, master differently, song write and record differently. And that’s OK!

No one cares HOW you get there, just get there.

If the pros can’t seem to agree on the “best way” to mix then why should we worry about it?

Now, please carry on with whatever weird method you have for mixing. Just make sure it sounds good!


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23 Responses to “What Grammy Winners Bob Clearmountain And Dylan Dresdow Disagree On In Mixing”

  1. Peter

    I’ve recently watched your video on mix bus processing and few days later I saw some comments telling it is the worst thing you can do. Funny enough, I used this method couple of time since then and it worked for me. There’s a real point in this article.

  2. Mark Andrews

    And at the end of the day, neither matters to be honest. The method or sonic results really only matter to audio engineers..

    Your average listener hears the song and the song only. Not what you used… not your “cut at 250hz” and your “boost at 6khz”…

    If more effort was put on making great songs these days it’d be much more beneficial. There’s far more worse songs out there than mixes as far as what I’m hearing.

  3. Jorge Silvestrini

    Graham – I hear and understand your point very well. Get to the songwriting and the music making and don’t get caught up in all the details. I’ve been a prisoner of this myself. The saying: wait – I can’t start this project because I’m missing this. It won’t sound good until I get this plugin… Enough with the fear. Charge ahead with the tools at hand today!

  4. simspajt

    I always want to make my song as good as i can-with mix buss processing or without it-Ears tell me-
    If i have more songs to ballance i take Izotope or similar tool too get them as similar as i can.
    Waves in my Nuendo…, to see real SSL console is my dream…………………..
    I’m in the box.

  5. Grayson Peddie

    Methods do not matter to me at all. I do not know how come methods matter to musicians and mixers out there. That’s just beyond me, although I do love to get my hands on a mixing console but I don’t have any space at all in my temporary place and I’m living in my mom’s house. But again, methods don’t matter to me. Only results.

  6. C-Threep

    Very insightful. Really, like, at the end of the day a good mix is a good mix no matter what wacky methods were used to get there. Saying you can only do it one way or the other is like saying that there’s only one way to write a song. Nope.

    • Ronny

      Two things you need to understand.

      1. What ever bit rate you are recording your audio at means that 0dbfs is that bit rate and anything less is not. So for example, when recording at 24 bits it means that to gain the full 24 bits your signal would have to be hitting 0dbfs in your DAW. Anything less the sound recording will not be 24 bits.

      Now keep in mind that if you don’t actually get the full 24 bits your sound will still be great. This is because the noise floor is something like 100 db. And for example a cassette tape is something like 6 bits.

      2. When you are mixing you want the gain of your track to be peaking at around -18 dbfs. This is because -18 dbfs = 0 dBu (the input of the line in signal needed for analog gear).

      Plugins have been simulated from the analog gear. If you let a signal higher than -18 dbfs go into a plugin you stand the chance of overloading the signal causing unwanted distortion.

      So the best way to gain stage is to put a gain plugin in the first spot for plugins. This way you can reduce the signal appropriately. You fader will remain at 0 dbfs on your DAW and you will have a better chance of having everything work out properly.

      I personally use http://sonimus.com/products/britson/ to gain my track properly.

      • Liquid Solids

        Graham also hyperlinked the Dresdow quote above to a couple of Graham’s own articles on the subject. Check ’em out! And try using a gain plugin on your tracks like Ronny says.

        I read an article a few years ago that said something to the effect of “the initial gain setting is a technical value set by the engineer to ensure the equipment functions correctly. The fader setting is the final setting that is set for artistic effect to serve the song.” I think that’s a great way to approach gain staging – technically and artistically sound. Cheers!

    • Martin Brunet

      Yes, Graham, Please make a video or two that clearly show and explains digital gain structuring from the source to the end result… That would be SOOOO useful !!!

  7. Ronny

    This is one thing everyone agrees on. You have to have the best possible recordings to begin with. The the better the recording the better the sounds in the end.

  8. Mitch

    One of the things that everyone that day agreed on was the quote of the day by Graham when interviewing Mick Guzauzki “now a days mixers are making Grammy’s in their Jammy’s” He was talking about mixing the Daft Punk record from home.

  9. Liquid Solids

    Great article, as usual. Very empowering for those of us whose only option is mixing on a computer – and that’s a fantastic option! Thanks, Graham!

  10. PT

    It should be worth mentioning that certain styles or genres also have divergent sonic expectations.

  11. Brett Anderson

    Great Article! Very true, most of the time…

    BUT, if someone is just starting out, it would be best for them to learn the “easiest” and “quickest” methods that gets them the same “great results.”

    Mutt Lange took MONTHS for EACH SONG when he produced Shania Twain and Def Leopards’s mega-hit albums. The results were AMAZING! The methods were ridiculous!

    Would you like to learn the “two-month a song” production method by Mutt Lange? Or, a method from a super producer that takes one week, with the exact same results?

  12. Brett Anderson

    Wow! I always wonder how all the comments here agree with you 100%. And say how great you are. Now I see why. You delete the ones that don’t! Even if they’re great comments! Ha!

    • Graham

      Not really sure what you’re talking about. I don’t ever delete comments. And not everyone agrees with me. Just keep looking around my site 🙂


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