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Leader: Track Stars

Sam Inglis By Sam Inglis
Published February 2024

Track Stars

Starting with Bob Clearmountain in the ’70s, the specialist mix engineer has become a familiar figure in music production. By the mid‑2000s, their role often overshadowed that of the tracking engineer and even the producer. The celebrity mixer was a larger‑than‑life figure who was often expected not merely to balance the recordings that someone else had made, but to add their own special brand of fairy dust.

Our Inside Track series was created in response to this trend, and across 17 years, has featured almost all of the big names in mixing. Clearmountain is there; so too are Chris and Tom Lord‑Alge, Manny Marroquin, Mark ‘Spike’ Stent, Tom Elmhirst, Tony Maserati, Dave Pensado, Al Schmitt, Jacquire King, Humberto Gatica, Manon Grandjean and (a personal favourite) Andy Wallace. Inside Track has also highlighted numerous stars on the way up.

Mixing is still a vital part of record‑making in 2024, but there are signs that its role may be shifting again. It may even be reverting to something more like its pre‑celebrity status. Quite a few of the producers and songwriters we talk to are now mixing their own material; others still like to farm mixing out to a specialist, but see this more as a final polishing stage than as a fundamental part of the creative process. Mixers are no longer expected to have a signature sound, or a secret recipe guaranteeing the label that hires them a hit.

In many ways, this reflects the current state of pop music. There’s no one sound that’s in fashion, gatekept by experts who can generate it on demand. Almost any style of production can break through as long as it’s striking enough to attract attention on streaming services and social media. Authenticity and novelty have become more important than slickness. Production and writing teams are able to produce release‑quality material without help. It’ll never not be interesting to talk to mixers, but increasingly, it feels as though you’re only getting one chapter from a novel.

Pop music has arguably never been more diverse or more interesting than it is right now...

From this month, therefore, we’ve decided to widen the scope of Inside Track. There will still be room for deep dives into mixing, but we want to be able to give the bigger picture too. We’ll be talking not only to mix engineers but also to the songwriters and producers behind today’s biggest hits — and where better to start than with perhaps the hottest producer of the moment. Andrew Wyatt has worked with everyone from Lady Gaga to the Rolling Stones, and his collaboration with Mark Ronson has helped the Barbie movie become a cultural phenomenon. Pop music has arguably never been more diverse or more interesting than it is right now, and it’s people like Andrew who are leading the charge.

Sam Inglis Editor In Chief