Bruce Swedien Recording Michael Jackson
Bruce Swedien, the engineer of choice for Michael Jackson and his producer Quincy Jones
Bruce Swedien has been the engineer of choice for Michael Jackson and his producer Quincy Jones, among many others. In a rare interview, he lays bare the techniques behind some of the superstar’s biggest hits.
Bruce Swedien has been the engineer of choice for Michael Jackson and his producer Quincy Jones, among many others. Five-time Grammy winner also worked with Mick Jagger, Donna Summer, Duke Ellington, Paul McCartney and more… Swedien would win five Grammys over the course of his career, three for his work with Jackson and two for his work with Jones on his albums, Back on the Block and Q’s Jook Joint. Other artists Swedien worked with include B.B. King, Herb Alpert, the Four Seasons, Curtis Mayfield, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and Jennifer Lopez.
Bruce Swedien considers himself a lucky man. As the man at the desk for Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which has defended its best-selling album status in the Guinness Book Of World Records for more than 25 years, there’s no denying that he found himself in the right place at the right time, and there can have been few doors closed to him since, given a CV point like that! But if you look beyond the glare of Thriller’s nine-digit sales figures, it’s clear that there’s a whole lot more to Swedien’s story than good fortune: although the first of his five Grammy awards came with Thriller, his records with Quincy Jones and George Benson had already garnered three nominations for Best Engineered Recording before that.
The only child of classically trained musicians, he not only received a solid musical education, but also unquestioning support when their 10th birthday gift to him, a disc-recording machine, revealed the strength of his true vocation. By the age of 14 he was spending his holidays recording all comers, and even set up his own radio station to broadcast the results to the neighbourhood! At 19 he’d already worked for Tommy Dorsey and was setting up his own commercial studio in an old cinema in his home town of Minneapolis. By 1957, the 21-year-old was recording the Chicago Symphony Orchestra professionally for RCA Victor, before moving on to Universal Studios the following year, joining Bill Putnam in his pioneering experiments with early stereo and multitrack techniques.
“Bill Putnam was the most gracious guy in life, and he took me under his wing,” Swedien recalls. “Universal was a fabulous studio. Studio A was a huge room designed by Bill, and was just gorgeous. The room itself was a musical instrument, it was so great, and I later did many, many big recordings there. Bill had me follow him around for quite a while before I really got started, but being with him was… whoa, what an experience! In particular, I remember him saying ‘Don’t just sit down here in the control room. Go see what it sounds like in the studio and listen to the music.’ And I still love doing that.”