It’s always fascinating to hear two audio professionals sitting down and chewing the technical fat, and sure enough, the pearls of wisdom came thick and fast when mixing engineers Bob Clearmountain (Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Chic) and Jesse Ray Ernster (Doja Cat, Burna Boy and Kanye West) got down to some in-depth chat for Tape Op recently.
The two pros take very different approaches - Clearmountain favours an SSL G Series console, while Ernster likes to work in the box - and this was something that the pair immediately picked up on during their discussion.
Of his hardware-focused method, Clearmountain said: “Most of the time, it’s easier because of the way everything’s laid out in front of me, and I just have to grab knobs. I don’t have to think. I hardly have to think at all, because it becomes instinctive. It’s like playing a guitar. If you’re a good guitar player, you don’t think about what your finger’s going to go to next, what fret. I don’t have to think about clicks, plugins, and what plugin is going to work.”
In fact, despite having put his name to several Apogee plugins, it seems that Clearmountain isn’t really a fan of software-based mixing: “When I sit down and try to do a mix in the box, I just get pissed off,” he says. “I want to take the thing and fucking throw it in a pool. [laughter] It pisses me off.”
Asked by Clearmountain how he deals with the endless options that in-the-box mixing gives him, Ernster replied: “You have to automate. I use keyboard macros, customised shortcuts, and different commands and scripts, along with a template that my assistant preps out. That way I’ll have the same EQ on everything, at least for a starting point.”
The pair also offer their thoughts on the industry’s fascination with ‘loudness’ (“It’s stupid,” says Ernster, succinctly), with both men agreeing that it can be heartbreaking to hear a well-tuned mix being destroyed at the mastering stage.
And then there’s Dolby Atmos: while Clearmountain says that he loves mixing in the format, he’s yet to be convinced that it’ll stick around at the consumer level.
“I shouldn’t say this, probably, but I think in a couple of years it’s going to go away. I really do,” he confides. “I think people will say, ‘OK, the headphone thing doesn’t really do anything, I can’t afford to put an Atmos system in my home, and stereo’s fine’. It’ll fade away. But I dunno. Maybe not. I hope that the opposite happens. I’m hoping that these home audio companies, whoever it is - Sonos, Pioneer, or Sony - will come up with inexpensive Atmos systems that people can put in their living room."
You can read the full discussion on the Tape Op website.