bruce swedien

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“There’s this story, actually, that Quincy told me years ago. And what said is that Michael had the ability to come in, he could lay down the lead vocal of a track. And then he could sit there, listen, just put the time in and figure out where all the harmonies should go. And then do that, not leave until he had the harmonies right.”~Nelson George

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On August 31, 1987, Michael Jackson released his seventh solo album, Bad, the result of one of Jackson’s most prolific periods of his career. Michael spent most of 1984-1987 working on the album and the projects that coincided with it (the short films, Moonwalker, etc)

pre-production began in late 1984 at Michael’s home studio at Hayvenhurst

songs that made the album:
Bad
The Way You Make Me Feel
Speed Demon
Liberian Girl
Just Good Friends
Another Part Of Me
Man In The Mirror
I Just Can’t Stop Loving You
Dirty Diana
Smooth Criminal
Leave Me Alone

and songs that did not
Streetwalker
Fly Away
Don’t Be Messin’ Around
I’m So Blue
Abortion Papers
Free
The Price Of Fame
Lovin’ You
Tomboy
Apocalypse Now
What You Do To Me
Crack Kills
Saturday Woman
Get Around
Someone Out Your Hand Out (later reworked during the Dangerous sessions)
Michael McKeller
Throwing Your Life Away
Turning Me Off
Make Or Break

Cheater

other songs recorded this period:
Come Together
We Are Here To Change The World
Scared Of The Moon
Make A Wish
Buffalo Bill

early versions of songs:
Hot Fever (became The Way You Make Me Feel)

Chicago 1945, Al Capone (both evolved into Smooth Criminal)

“Mick (Jagger) didn’t hesitate when Michael told him 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 Michael’s reputation as the King of Pop. By then, everyone knew how good Michael was. If Michael Jackson says, ‘Warm up’, you warm up - even if you are Mick Jagger. […]

I normally record a singer about a dozen times before getting enough to mix together a perfect vocal track for an album. With Michael, it only took two to four takes. And one of those takes would be perfect on its own. But hours of preparation preceded recording. We would change lyrics, tempo and pitch, working for days and hours on getting the song just right before finalizing the track. Thriller was recorded and completed in six months.

[…] “Off the Wall’ and 'Thriller’ showed Quincy Jones kaleidoscopic approach. […] But it was Michael’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.] Michael never started singing until after he warmed up his voice thoroughly for a typical 10-hour day.

He was a perfect gentleman and a consummate professional throughout all meetings. He never drank coffee. He never drank alcohol. He was a fussy eater. I guess he was what you would call a health nut. [I will remember him as one of the best prepared artists he ever worked with.] He never came in half-stepping. Michael was always prepared. I never recorded Michael when he had the lyrics in front of him. His dedication to his craft was unique. During album recordings, which would sometimes last more than six months, he rarely rested. He would work on the lyrics all of the time.”

- Bruce Swedien, American audio engineer and music producer, author of 2009 book, “In The Studio With Michael Jackson”

“Michael hates doing playback session for a record company.A playback session is a big meeting where we play back the new album mixes for the record company bigwigs.Therefore in the past years when these things were suggested,he just simply would not attend.However,Michael’s managers,SandyGallin and Jim Morey talked Michael into attending the one held for Sony executives to hear The HiSTory album for the first time at Larrabee North Studios in Hollywood.

I remember Michael was very reluctant.We were about 30 people,all seated in the main control room at Larrabee North Studios.Michael was there along with Macaulay Culkin.I was sitting with Michael,Mac,Sandy and Jim near the rear of the control room.The entire album was played - Michael’s incredible music.The last note sounded.All these geniuses from the record label simply got up and left the studio without saying a word! No applause,no comment,no reaction - I was absolutely mortified! How can people that are supposed to be in the record business be so dumb? Sandy Gallin was jumping up and down,and waving his arms and screaming at them, ‘Are you all brain dead?’ there were tears in Michael’s eyes! Bea,Michael and I went to the parking lot and got in my Big Bronco.Michael said to me 'I’ll never do this again!’Bruce Swedien

When I begin reminiscing about recording the song “Thriller”, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Vincent Price “Rap”. Quincy’s wife, Peggy Lipton, knew Vincent Price. So Quincy and Peggy got it together and called him. Vincent said he would love to do it. I remember Rod’s idea, at first was that Vincent would just talk some horror talk from the type of lines he would deliver in some of his famous roles.

Well, the night before the session with Vincent Price, I remember Quincy and Rod on the phone, talking excitedly about something to do with Vincent’s part in “Thriller”. I was getting the track ready for Vincent to overdub on for “Thriller”, so I only overheard bits and pieces of Quincy and Rod’s conversation…..

The next day at about 12:00 noon, Quincy shows up at the studio, looking like the ‘Cat That Swallowed The Canary’! Q looked at me and said, “‘Svensk’, (Quincy’s nickname for me… It means, “Swedish Man”, in Swedish.) Vincent Price is going to be here at 2:00 pm! Rod is writing Vincent’s ”Rap” lyrics in the taxicab on the way here to the studio!”

Quincy told me, “I don’t think that Vincent has ever been on a pop record before. This should be interesting…” I get chills just thinking about it!

The next thing I knew, Rod came roaring into the control room with several sheets of paper in one hand, and a Marlboro cigarette with a two-inch ash ready to fall over the floor, in his mouth… Out-of -breath Roddy said to me, “Bruce, quick… He’s here! I saw a car pull up, and it was Vincent Price! He’s on his way in!” He thrust the papers in my hand and said, “Give these to the secretary -Have her photo-copy these quick!”… This was done, we put the ‘Rap” lyrics on the music stand… Vincent walked in, sat down on his chair, off he went, and it was all done in about two hours.

Vincent Price had never used earphones in his work before. He reluctantly put them on, and when the music track for “Thriller” started, he jumped up from his stool with a very startled look on his face. I know he had never heard anything like that before. He asked Rod Temperton to come out in the studio with him and help him by cuing him where to come in and speak his verses.

Rod actually wrote three verses for “Thriller”, for Vincent to do. We recorded all three but only used two. I have that unused verse in my tapes somewhere.

Vincent experienced a huge resurgence in his career commensurate with the incredible success of “Thriller”.

About six months after the release of “Thriller”, Vincent appeared on the “Johnny Carson, Tonight” show. He told about being in Paris and walking down the street and having a group of young people recognize him and chase him down the street to get his autograph.

All of Michael’s recordings were done with a sense of joy that I have never experienced with another artist. Not just fun and laughing stuff, I mean real musical joy…. His passion for what we were doing was boundless.
—  Bruce Swedien - MJ  sound engineer

Bruce Swedien:

I was Googling some images of Michael’s Neverland Valley Ranch, and I saw this photo, which I had not seen before. I started thinking about Neverland, and how the amusement park got so much attention, but there were so many other amazing things to discover. The big red barn was partially converted into something called the snake barn. (Some of the maps seem to call it a Serpentorium, but it was always the snake barn to me.) There were many cool “surprises” in the snake barn, but one of my favorites was a sound effect originally created in my front yard. Let me explain. Once you were inside the snake barn, there were about a dozen very large displays on either side of the guest, housing the various snakes. The lights were fairly dim, so your focus was on the snakes. We had narratives describing the snakes, and a soft layer of cricket sounds to give heighten the experience. Every eight minutes or so a pre-recorded sound of rustling grass would zip across the room through a series of speakers along the floor, from back to front. It was very fast and the guests had no idea it was coming. (I recorded a large ice chest being dragged through the ivy in my front yard). The result was often very funny, with guests thinking they were hearing a huge snake rustling past their feet! Michael loved the idea, and he would laugh his head off when he saw someone startled by our illusion. We used hidden (and not so hidden) sounds on various parts of the ranch, but the snake barn was a lot of fun to build.

I was really impressed at how prepared Michael was. I have never recorded Michael Jackson where he needed the lyric in front of him, it was always from memory. And another little funny thing about Michael – we always recorded in the dark…


Michael was the greatest, I don’t think we’ll ever see anyone like him.

—  Bruce Swedien
gearslutz.com
Bruce Swedien: Gearslut

For those of you unfamiliar with Gearslutz.com it is essentially the hub for music super-nerds, specifically the guys behind all the music we know and love.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bruce Swedien he is the genius engineer behind some of the finest music of the last century, and engineered every single Michael Jackson album during his lifetime (in a way, he is responsible for the Michael Jackson sound).

This is a collection of posts Mr. Swedien has made at the Gearslutz forum and is an absolutely incredible resource. Especially if you’re a music nerd, or in my case, a Jackson nerd.

It’s also nice to know that the Michael Jackson Special Edition albums are considered by Mr. Swedien to be the definitive releases of the albums (to which I would agree - avoid that Thriller 25 re-release like the plauge). 

The Way You Make Me Feel (Extended Dance Mix)
  • The Way You Make Me Feel (Extended Dance Mix)
  • Michael Jackson
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Michael Jackson- The Way You Make Me Feel (extended dance mix)

“I was in the studio one day, making a special mix of TWYMMF for one of my seminars. I took all the band tracks out of the mix, and left in only MJ’s lead vocal track, plus his finger snaps track, and a track of MJ’s mouth percussion (Michael is a master at beat-box mouth percussion. He can be an entire rhythm section all by himself!) I thought that way my class could hear all of MJ’s beautiful lead vocal, with his dancing sounds effect the overall sonic picture. I would hate to record Michael with what I would call the clinical approach. If I were to try to have MJ’s sound antiseptically clean, I think it would lose a lot of its earthy charm.
When I was doing the mix, Michael came into central room and asked me what I was doing. I told him, and he said to me ‘It sounds incredible! You should work on that mix just a bit more, and let me hear it!’ I wondered what he was thinking about. I thought to myself, ’What small rhythmic sound would work to enhance this already slammin’ track?’ I tried the high-hat in the mix with Michael’s lead vocal. The danceability of Michael’s lead vocal with only the high-hat added was astounding! Wow! What a sound!
Then I had a brainstorm! After a verse and a B section, I put in the vocal background chorus with Michael’s big block vocal harmony chorus. That chorus, with all the finger snaps and dancing knocks you right against the wall when it comes in!! I called Michael into control room and played for him.
His face lit up, and he started dancing all over the control room! When the music stopped, he said, ’Wow!! call Epic Records, and tell them to put your mix out, exactly like this, as a dance record, a club record!’
What happened was that Epic Records put out my dance mix of TWYMMF, it went to number one on The Dance Charts in Billboard, and stayed there for three weeks!”- Bruce Swedien