Producer Crosstalk: Bob Clearmountain

Producer and mix engineer Bob Clearmountain has worked with some of the biggest artists in the industry—Bon Jovi, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen are among the names that sparkle on his inch-thick resume. Like many in the business, he got his start in a band. When things didn’t work out group-wise, he asked if he could hang at N.Y.C. studio Mediasound. As a relative newbie, he came with hat in hand but also with some engineering experience in pocket. He was hired as a runner and expected to serve for at least a year in that lowly position. But on his first day, he was tapped to assist on a Duke Ellington session. He now works almost exclusively from Mix This!, his Los Angeles home studio, which is powered primarily by 72 solar panels.

Earlier in his career, he produced as regularly as he’d mix. On those occasions, he’d often bring in a separate engineer so that he could concentrate on his primary task. An outsider would also bring fresh ears to a record. “I did the Pretenders’ Get Close with Jimmy Iovine,” he recollects. “It seemed like he was on the phone all the time. That was good, though, because he’d come in with all these good ideas and keep out of my hair.”

Despite his enormous number of credits, Clearmountain often found large projects to be a challenge, but for less than obvious reasons. “When I worked on the Bon Jovi record, there were so many people involved,” he recalls. “There was someone from the label, a manager, maybe two or three different writers and they all had their opinions. I felt like I was pulled in five different directions. The Bryan Adams song ‘Everything I Do’ was another case where there were a lot of people involved. It felt like the phone was ringing constantly. I knew it was destined to be a huge hit and it took us a week to mix it because they were making a video at the same time. What you learn from all of that is patience. You can’t get upset about anything. Whatever happens, you just deal with it.”

The range of gear he’s used over the years approaches incalculable. But there are a few pieces that stand out for him. “The Apogee converters make everything sound as good as possible,” the engineer says. “It’s a great baseline to start from. There’s also the SSL G series. I’ve worked on that same basic console since about 1980. I can mix on just about anything but it won’t be as easy or sound as good [as with the SSL].”

Recently Clearmountain completed work on a mix for Joe Bonamassa and a remix of The Band’s 1971 record Cahoots. In addition to his bulging production and mix portfolio, he collaborates with Apogee Electronics—he’s married to Betty Bennett, the company’s founder––on his Clearmountain plugins. Chief among them is Clearmountain’s Domain, which features a customizable suite of delays, reverbs, harmonizers and EQs. His latest offering is Clearmountain Phases, which is a phaser based on a device that he used at the Power Station in the ’80s. Although he’s worked with countless prominent artists, he’d still love to log some studio time with U2 or Wilco.

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