Bruce Swedien – Keeping the Mix Primitive


Audio engineer Bruce Swedien talks about keeping the mix primitive. Years ago I had his video series on microphone usage. The big tip I picked up from that was to use microphones to capture part of the room. Using microphone pairs to combine the source and ambient reflections. Also started to record keyboard parts going through amps rather than direct to the console.

I think it’s a wonderful approach to sound design and engineering. I’ve also always enjoyed Bruce Swedien’s low profile presentation. Most of us producing music these days are guilty at one point or another of getting too involved in the gear. I guess like with most studies the key is to study the details and geeky procedures as much as you can – but then forget all that and do your thing when it comes to your productions. Swedien really emphasizes the important of not losing the root passion of the music.

The importance of any musical sound lies not in any inherent acoustical value but in what it signifies to the soul of the listener

No one ever left the record store humming the control console, or the tape machine or any piece of recording equipment.

I think we have a tendency to get wrapped up in the equipment and in numbers. My advice to you all is to forget all that. It’s bullshit. It’s meaningless. I mean we have to have a working knowledge of the equipment and how to make it do what we want it to do. But it’s not that important. I would go so far as to say I think it’s when the technical covers the primitive, in other words when we get so wrapped up in the numbers and the buttons and the dials that we don’t get the primitive part of the music out, then we lose the passion of the music.

Bruce Swedien is a Grammy Award-winning audio engineer and music producer. He is known for his work with Quincy Jones.

Swedien is a five-time Grammy winner and has been nominated 13 times. He recorded, mixed, and assisted in producing the best-sold album in the world, Thriller by Michael Jackson. He was the primary sound engineer for Jackson’s studio recordings from 1978 to 2001.

He also recorded and mixed for jazz artists such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock and Jeff Oster. His pop work includes Patti Austin, Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack, Mick Jagger, Jennifer Lopez, Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, Rufus, Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer, Sarah Vaughan, and the zouk band Kassav’. He worked on the scores for Night Shift, The Color Purple and Running Scared.

On 10 November 2001, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in philosophy from the Luleå University of Technology, Sweden for his achievements as a sound engineer. Swedien also held “masterclasses” at the Swedish National Radio for practicing sound engineers.

Swedien is notable for pioneering the ‘Acusonic Recording Process’ which involves pairing up microphones together on vocals and instruments when making recordings. This achieved an enhanced roomy ambient sound, some of which is evident on albums produced in collaboration with Quincy Jones on tracks such as “Sounds And Stuff Like That!!”, George Benson’s “Give Me the Night”, and the Michael Jackson albums he worked on.

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