The Bruce Swedien Recording Method ReviewNovember 26, 2013
The Bruce Swedien Recording Method (Hal Leonard) sheds light on the legendary audio engineer’s methods, including new insight into his recording and mixing processes. Bruce Swedien has undeniably left an impact on the recording industry, having recorded and mixed Michael Jackson’s albums (Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, Dangerous, Invincible, and HIStory), as well as albums for Quincy Jones, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, the Brothers Johnson, and Natalie Cole.
Bruce definitely likes to use the KISS principle when it comes to recording and mixing, capturing the best possible sounds and getting things right at the source rather than tinker with the sonic properties during the mixing process. As such, there’s really no better guide for those just getting started in the audio recording world, or those wanting to improve their sound with the wisdom of someone with as much experience and acclaim as Bruce Swedien.
Bruce definitely has his own way of doing things, and some of his methods might seem very strange for someone used to modern recording and mixing techniques. A good example is how adamant Bruce is about never using compression on anything unless he absolutely has to. This practically made my head explode – with the amount of compression that’s applied to everything from bass to vocals to drums in modern mixes, I was completely taken aback by this. In the included DVD Bruce almost seems to have a vendetta against compressors, stating that “compression is for kids” or those who don’t really know what they’re doing in the studio. He has a similar outlook about those who go out and buy all the latest gear, thinking it will give them some sort of advantage – as if good records can’t possibly be made without the latest technology.
The book goes into great detail about all of Bruce’s favorite mics, how he positions them for every instrument, and also his mixing and mastering processes. As Bruce alludes to in the book, too many engineers and artists rely on fixing things in the mastering process. Bruce sees mastering as an opportunity to make the tracks as musical and powerful as possible, balance track levels, etc. – not to try and hide mistakes made during mixing. If he encounters a problem during mastering, Bruce is right back in the studio remixing the tracks to get things perfect.
The Bruce Swedien Recording Method also talks a lot about Bruce’s mindset about things, such as trusting your instincts and ears and not relying on meters and plugins. There’s even a whole section dedicated to how he works with new clients in the studio, how he deals with tension when a musician is having trouble with their parts, developing and preserving relationships with the people you work with, and much more. Bruce talks about the importance of eliminating distractions in the studio – especially by removing people who are not needed there – and not pushing yourself too hard when you’re under a lot of stress. As Bruce says, “I have found that if I try to work too fast, I make many mistakes that only cost time and upset my train of thought.”
There are a large amount of Q & A’s with Bruce that really give a lot of insight into his way of doing things, and the included DVD is relatively in-depth. It goes into specifics about what microphones or equipment Bruce used on some of his biggest hits, especially the songs he worked on with Michael Jackson. One of the most valuable portions of the DVD is without doubt a 40-minute session where Bruce mixes a song in real-time, talking about all of the changes he’s making to the sound and what led him to each decision.
The Bruce Swedien Recording Method is a rare glimpse into the mind of a five-time Grammy-winning audio engineer and music producer – priceless information for anyone looking to enhance their craft. The man has over 50 years worth of experience and crafted the best-selling album of all time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Who better to learn from?