Bruce Swedien was the man behind the mixer on Michael Jackson’s biggest hits. In this interview, he discussed his techniques.
Bruce Swedien was my favourite engineer (you should get his book by the way) and his passing last year was a great loss to music.
In 2009, he did a rare interview with Sound on Sound and told some great stories about his work with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones. Here’s a really cool one:
“Let me give you an example. Quincy and I first worked together with Michael Jackson on the movie The Wiz. We were living together at a hotel in Manhattan, and we would go to Studio A at A&R Studios. We had a big session at noon on Monday to record some of the music with a big 70‑ or 80‑piece orchestra, and we had to leave for the studio at 10am. The night before, Quincy and I had guests at our hotel for dinner, and Quincy still hadn’t even started on the orchestration for the opening titles. I was getting a little nervous, but he said not to worry about it. At about four that morning, I woke up and noticed under my door that all the lights in the apartment were blazing. There’s Quincy at the dining‑room table with a billion sheets of manuscript paper, and he was writing orchestrations. I said ‘Quincy, we’ve got to leave soon!’, but he just said ‘Don’t worry about it’ so I went back to bed.
“At about nine o’clock I got up again, and Quincy said to me ‘I’m all set’. There wasn’t even a piano or a guitar in the apartment; just Quincy and his manuscript paper! Off we go to the studio, and Quincy hands over his score to the copyists. He didn’t even want to conduct — he’d hired a conductor because he wanted to be in the control room with me. The conductor gave the down beat, the orchestra played the entire overture, and there was not a single note out of place. It still gives me the chills to think about it!”
Amongst the anecdotes were more technical discussions about his craft and techniques and any producer reading this should read the interview in full.