Bruce Swedien Interview

June 23, 2010

Bruce Swedien, the legendary music engineer tells its experience working with Michael Jackson for more than 20 years.

Dear Bruce,
our friendship was born of love, love for music, love and respect for each other, and has become a friendship that sustain me in my life and in the music we create now and in the future.
I love you, Bruce...
Michael Jackson

Dear Michael,
I know that a true friendship, like ours, begins with love.
I aslo know that one cannot have long-lasting love without respect.
My respect for you as the ultimate musical artist, Michael, goes without saying.
My regard for you as a kind and loving person makes our friendship everlasting.
Bruce Sweiden
Miami, Florida
June 2001

Interview by Marc Salama

Los Angeles, Sept 25, 1990

“I knew that Jackson permeated pop culture, but academics can be kind of snooty about what they choose to study,” Weiner said. “The fact that someone would take a Michael Jackson song and co-opt it as a means to convey chemistry concepts just shows the pervasiveness of Jackson’s influence.”

Could you describe a typical session with Michael Jackson?

Well, a lot of times on the songs I produced with michael, for instance,'s wonderful, we'll decide on a piece of music to do and then I kind of get to work on it on my own a little bit and then give michael a tape once I get a rhythm track down and he'll say it's great but let's do this.....then i'll go back and work on it some more. so it's kind of an in and out type of thing. Michael is so professional, so wonderful to work with and doing vocals with michael is an absolute joy. he's got ears for days and the pitch and everything. Michael is polite and kind. You know, he'll say: "can I hear a little more piano in the earphones please". And he'll say thank you. this is an industry where you don't hear those words a whole lot. (01: 24: 20 ) So for that reason I totally respect michael and the musical integrity is so...well we usually listen to a composition and a demo and we'll listen and decide whether or not we want to record it. so from then on i'll get musicians in and we'll do an arrangment and record it. Then we'll try michael's voice on it or try the structure to see how it feels and everything and then once we get passed that initial bare bones stage, once we get the overall structure right and it fits michael's voice, then we start sweetening and overdubbing and finishing it. (01: 25: 08 ) So there is a stage in there where we are still experimenting to get the right structure and the right feel so that this music with what Michael will do with it.

Q19 : Can you tell us more about how Michael works and how he relates to the people working with him?

I've never ran into anybody that works with michael and doesn't regard it as a pleasant experience, it's just great. He's really easy to deal with in the studio because
(01: 26: 05 ) When we record vocals, there's seldom more than four takes or five on the lead vocal. then we'll sit there and make a couple of punches but it's nothing. And another thing i've learned with recording michael is i'll set up the vocal mike and i'll have michael perform singing on my drum platform which is an eight foot square plywood unpainted platform about eight inches off the floor, and then michael is on that. He'll sing and one reason is that he dances when he sings and I love to have that as part of the sound because first of all his time and his rhythm is impeccable and even (01: 26: 50 ) when I do backgrounds, michael does little vocal sounds and snaps his fingers and taps his foot. I keep a (?) of that as part of the recording.
One time I even made, for one of my seminars, I made a special mix of the background vocals on "the way you make me feel", took all the band out so that my class could hear all the sounds in there, and how they work in the overall picture because when you put the rhythm section in there, you can barely hear them, but they are really there, they're an important part I think. (01: 27: 38 ) I would hate to record him and take what I call the clinical approach and try to have it antiseptically clean or something. I think it would loose a lot of its charm.
Working with Quincy myself and Michael has really been a wonderful experience because not only do we work together well, but we're really friends and it's a three men team and our votes count equally. That's the way it works, it's easy, it's wonderful and we've had such a good time doing "Off The Wall", "Thriller" and "Bad". Quincy has just formed a Quincy Jones entertainment corporation so he's off doing TV. and movies, and producing and directing. Doing things that he's wanted to do for years. Quincy is not working on michael's new album.
I'm producing three songs and coproducing a couple with Michael.
Quincy is very happy. I just spoke to him yesterday and he sounds great, he's having the time of his lifz and happy as a pig in the mud. so i'm doing a little different too...I'm producing and doing things in areas that i've always wanted to be involved in. Building my beautiful studio here at home just for my projects. (01: 30: 29 ) I won't be doing everything here because my home is a sanctuary and I don't want to bring all my work here, but a certain amount I want to be able to do here, really looking forward to it.


Ocala sound engineer saw Jackson at his best

Published: Saturday, June 27, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 26, 2009 at 11:42 p.m.
By Joe Callahan
Staff writer

OCALA - Mick Jagger didn't hesitate when Michael Jackson told the Rolling Stones singer to warm up his vocal cords before recording their duet "State of Shock" in 1983.
It was a classic recording session a year after "Thriller" had cemented Jackson's reputation as the King of Pop, according to an Ocala resident who worked alongside Jackson for two decades.
"Mick didn't hesitate," said Bruce Swedien, who recorded and mixed many Jackson albums, including "Off the Wall" and "Thriller" - considered among the best all time.
"By then, everyone knew how good Michael was," he continued. "If Michael Jackson says warm up, you warm up - even if you are Mick Jagger."

Swedien, 75, lives quietly at his Ocala horse farm and still records albums for young local talent in his elaborate studio

Swedien, who has worked with many legends, from Paul McCartney to Duke Ellington, talked about the short life of Jackson, who at age 50, died Thursday.

The sound engineer even shares songwriting credit with Jackson on the song "Jam," a No. 3 hit on the R&B charts in 1992.

Swedien said he normally records a singer about a dozen times before getting enough to mix together a perfect vocal track for an album.

With Jackson, it only took two to four takes. And one of those takes would be perfect on its own. But hours of preparation preceded recording

They would change lyrics, tempo and pitch, working for days and hours on getting the song just right before finalizing the track. Swedien said Thriller was recorded and completed in six months.

He credits music producer Quincy Jones for creating the sound of Michael Jackson

"'Off the Wall' and 'Thriller' showed Quincy's kaleidoscopic approach," said Swedien, who described Jones as a musical genius.

However, it was Jackson's talent and drive for perfection that kept the singer practicing all night before a recording.

That's why a typical recording session started late.

"We were up at the crack of noon," Swedien said, adding that Jackson never started singing until after he warmed up his voice thoroughly for a typical 10-hour day.

Swedien called Jackson a perfect gentleman and "consummate professional" throughout all the meetings

"He never drank coffee," Swedien remembered. "He never drank alcohol. He was a fussy eater. I guess he was what you would call a health nut."

While some may remember Michael Jackson for his well-publicized idiosyncrasies, Swedien will remember him as one of the best prepared artists he ever worked with.

And Swedien should know. He's recorded many of the greats, including Jagger, McCartney, Muddy Waters, Barbara Streisand and Lena Horne.

"He never came in half-stepping," Swedien said. "Michael was always prepared. I never recorded Michael when he had the lyrics in front of him."

Swedien said that Jackson's dedication to his craft was unique. During album recordings, which would sometimes last more than six months, Jackson rarely rested.

"He would work on the lyrics all of the time," said Swedien, whose book "In the Studio with Michael Jackson" is expected to be released in September.

Swedien said his respect for Jackson makes him reluctant to talk about a financial dispute he had with the star. In 2007, Swedien claimed Jackson owed him $500,000 in royalties.

"I love Michael Jackson," Swedien said when asked about the controversy. "He made me a ton of money."



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 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.

Back to Michael Jackson´s Mystery