Jordan Young aka DJ Swivel came into the music biz working turntables but quickly graduated to mixing and producing. His influential internship with Ken “Duro” Ifill not only taught him engineering and the nuances of mixing but also a lot about the music business, which led him to work with today’s finest talents. From being Beyonce’s personal recording engineer (for the album “4”) to collaborating with Rihanna, Jay-Z, Whitney Houston, The Chainsmokers, the name-dropping can go on. He won the Grammy Award in 2017 for The Best Dance Recording for Don’t Let Me Down by The Chainsmokers featuring Daya. In a quick chat with Music Plus he shared his views on the art of mixing.
What according to you is a “good mix”?
A great mix usually doesn’t happen by itself. It requires a great production and a great song. Because at the end of the day, who cares about a mix if the song is not up to the mark? If you have a great song and great production, then the mix can make it or break it. But if everything is balanced well, is dynamic, and maintains my emotional connection to the record, then it’s a good mix. Our job is to be invisible. Fans generally don’t care about the mix, unless it’s really bad and they hear it. You never want the listener to pay attention to anything other than the merits of the song.
How challenging is it to adapt to different genres from a mixing point of view?
To me, it’s not that difficult. So long as I have good source material, mixes usually come together quite easily. There are little tricks to achieve certain sonic effects in various genres, but when you understand the fundamentals of sound manipulation, it doesn’t become all that difficult. Mixes only get difficult when the source material or production isn’t perfect.
With the advancement of technology, mixes and production can be done digitally, in-box fashion. What are your thoughts?
I’ve always been “in the box” and never had an issue. I prefer the flexibility of mixing anywhere in the world. I’m very mobile. Clients appreciate that I can send back an edit in 5 minutes as opposed to waiting a day because I left the studio. I’ve never heard a client say, “Where’s your console?”. Having said that, other engineers who rely on outboard gear, also aren’t wrong. It comes down to comfort. I learned this way and so I’m comfortable. Others are more comfortable in a big studio with lots of outboard gear. Neither is wrong if they’re both making great music.
What are your go-to gears and plugins?
I use pretty much every plugin everyone else uses. Waves, Sound Toys, Antares, iZotope, Plugin Alliance, Fab Filter etc. But they’re just tools to get a job done. I don’t think anything is so spectacular I couldn’t live without and if anyone plugin I used didn’t exist, I’d find an alternative. A great mix is never because of great gear, it’s always because of a great ear.
What do you think studios are looking for in the next generation of engineers?
Generally speaking, at least in my world, studios aren’t looking for engineers. Studio’s look for assistance. Artists look for engineers. But regardless of who’s looking, a good engineer needs to understand the technology, understand the trends and how to achieve certain sounds, be creative, and most important, be cool in the studio. I can teach an engineer how to mix a vocal, but I can’t teach somehow how to be cool, or interesting, or have a good conversation. When you’re in the studio with someone for 12 hours or more a day, you want to be around someone you get along with. So a compatible personality is the single most important thing in an engineer.