Bruce Swedien is a Grammy Award winning enginner and producer whose known famously for working with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.
Thriller was recorded at Westlake Recording Studio in LA, where Bruce had worked on engineering projects previously. He loved working in that studio and he stated “The room you record in is just as important as the mics.” When he recorded, he liked to have a collection of 105 microphones. Each microphone was brand new and had never been used by anyone. He felt that it protected his sonic integrity.
Throughout the album, the same microphone was used as it was one of the Swedien’s favourites. The microhone was the Shure SM7 serial No.232, he states that “it’s a great mic” because of the dynamic clarity.
Bruce quickly commented “Quincy said that working with me and moving my stuff from studio to studio was like working with the Fifth Army. You need to be that dedicated to the sonics of a project. You need to love what you do.” What he meant is that he has to move a lot of equipment from one studio to another so they had the flexibility to try different sounds using different equipment.
Compare it to today’s modern recordings, you can try out sounds using software technology rather than re-recording more than once.
When Bruce was working on the track Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ , he found it hard to get the resonance from the SR55 drum machine, unlike the live drums. There are times when the digital processing on the drum machine basically loses the quality of its sound when inputting through the amplifier.
Bruce went to Universal Studios in Hollywood to rent two or three sound effects doors and brought them into his studio and spent a whole day finding the right creaking door and miked the hinges real close. He recorded the selected creaking door onto the track and he remembered “come to think of it, that might have been Michael doing those footsteps too actually.”
The strings on Billie Jean have real classical sounds because of his early experience with the symphony orchestra when he was recording with the group in Chicago. He mainly used violin, viola and cellos apart from the basses on the strings as he quoted “it was absolutely classical in approach.”
Bruce said his highlight on the Beat It song was the guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen. He remembered Eddie was in Studio B at Westlake while he, Quincy and Michael were in Studio A. Bruce went in Studio B when Eddie was warming up to be prepared for the recording. After Bruce left the room, the volume of the solo guitar was so loud, he hired his engineer as he didn’t recorded the solo. He commented he “figured his hearing would probably be a little suspect right now anyway. I then did the mix after it was recorded.” He says that he “usually did either XY or occasionally Blumlein pair and I still do it the same.” The amp for Beat It he used was a Neumann U67 amplifier.
To conclude the case study, Bruce Swedien never thought Thriller would go on to be successful. He commented “I think anyone who would have the balls to say that is a liar because you don’t really know until it gets out in public and say ‘wow this is really good’.” Bruce only followed Quincy down the path to “the greatest music” he could possibly make. He complimented Quincy “a remarkable man to work with and Michael too.” Seems they really had an great experience working on Thriller, as Swedien himself said, they “had a ball.”
Music Rader, The Making o Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Available at: http://www.musicradar.com/news/drums/the-making-of-michael-jacksons-thriller-222109 (Accessed on 24/01/2017)
Wikipedia, Bruce Swedien. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Swedien (accessed on 24/01/2017)