The Art & Science of Audio & Video

Bruce Swedien; the man, the engineer, the legend.

Four days ago I attended the Sweetwater first annual Gear Fest ’08. I was lucky enough to be accompanied by my wife who I convinced to come through a rather impressive sales tactic otherwise known as begging. We arrived about forty-five minutes prior to the doors opening because I was determined to see the first speaker of the day, Bruce Swedien. To say that Gear Fest was a great event would be an understatement and I cover that in greater detail in another story for those that are interested in learning more. But me, I was not going to miss the opportunity to see Bruce Swedien and I knew seats would fill up fast.

Upon entering the event we had about thirty minutes before they opened the doors to the theatre to begin seating. We browsed around casually, careful to not stray too far as we took a quick tour of the Sweetwater recording studios. Making our way around a back hall we saw the side entrance to the theatre open with a hand full of people mingling inside so we entered through the side door without giving it much thought. Immediately inside the door was President of Sweetwater Chuck Surack who greeted us with a big smile on his face and stated, “Sneaking in to get a good seat are you”, I smiled back responding yes sir! Mr. Surack was gracious enough to not ask us to go around to the main entrance as I quickly scanned the room I came to realize they hadn’t begun letting people in yet. We perused the room to pick out a seat and saw Bruce sitting in one of the theatre seats surrounded by family, friends and colleagues as my wife and I took a seat in the row directly in front of him. We listened to them talk casually about everything from life on the road to the family dog and it is immediately evident to us that Bruce and his wife Bea are not only married to one another but best friends as well and have a great time doing what they do. It was very cool to get that little glimpse into their personal lives making the whole experience that much more momentous.

If most people in attendance were like my self we really did know for sure what to expect from the “lecture”. Would it be a technical venture into Bruce’s own techniques and methods? Or would it be a discussion on how to become and remain a successful recording engineer? I don’t think any of us quite knew and as it turns out what we got was far better than anything we could have expected. Bruce spoke very candidly about his life experiences and the relationships he developed in music that shaped his life as well as his philosophy on music as an art form. Stories about artists such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie that Bruce worked with in the earliest years of his career starting in 1957 at Universal Recording Studios in Chicago, as well more contemporary performers such as Michael Jackson and Jennifer Lopez. Bruce spent time stressing the strong connection between people and music as an art form. One quote that really stands out in my mind was that “recording music is not so much about capturing sound as it is about capturing the emotion of the performance”. It’s a rather profound statement that reminds us that every performance of a piece of music is different, has its’ own feel and character and can truly take on a life of its’ own. Also working well with the artist to convey or express that emotion is crucial and will determine the success or failure of your recording. He encouraged us to experiment, be bold and bring the artist within yourself to the table as a tool in the recording process like you would anything else such as your favorite mic or favorite acoustical space.

Bruce did not spend a lot of time talking about how technology has changed or what equipment he prefers etc. Rather he mad one simple statement at the closing of his session that encapsulated a whole generation of recording technology and more importantly the mentality. “Today it is far easier to be finished with your recording than it is to be satisfied with it.” Mr. Swedien’s stories and philosophy was a moving and evocative experience. The proof was all around the room as no one spoke or hardly moved and their eyes were focused on his every move except to take down the occasional note or two. In fact Bruce ran over his allotted time and not a soul was rustling or looking at their watch. I honestly believe he could have spoke for hours and no one would have left their seat. You didn’t have to be a recording professional, audio enthusiast or musician to walk away affected by Mr. Swedien’s words. My wife, who is not associated with the industry in any way except vicariously through me commented as we exited the theatre and I quote “If we don’t do one more thing all day it was worth coming just to hear him speak”.

by Jason Levert


June 4, 2008 - Posted by | A/V News, Pioneers in Audio | , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: