Engineer Profile: DJ Swivel on the Making of Beyoncé’s “4”

FINANCIAL DISTRICT, MANHATTAN: If things seem like they’re moving fast for Jordan Young, aka DJ Swivel don’t be sure he feels the same way. Because when you’ve got your shoulder to the wheel like this New York City engineer, you can’t be watching the clock.

Meet DJ Swivel, Beyoncé's go-to engineer for "4".

He’s just 26, but he’s already earned the distinction of being the full-time engineer for Beyoncé, whose highly anticipated new album 4 drops this week. In addition to doing the trench work throughout, Swivel was trusted enough by Ms. Knowles to mix two songs, “I Care” and “Schoolin’ Life.” But he’d tell you he was just one of the outstanding 4 support team – songwriters, producers and mixers — to help bring Beyonce’s most wide-ranging collection yet to her immense fan base.

Swivel’s role with the reigning R&B queen, who with 75 million+ records sold to date stands as one of the best-selling artists ever, comes after a quick start: a violinst/trumpeter/bassist who’s been DJing since his teens in his native Toronto, Young went to Full Sail and got his post-graduation foot in the door interning with the renowned mixer Duro.

Putting in relentless hours, Swivel’s work ethic got noticed. Seven months after arriving in NYC, he recorded Fabolous’ fourth studio album, From Nothing to Something, and from there his client list kept growing. Jay-Z, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, Kanye West, a posthumous record for Michael Jackson – Swivel must be on to something.

Relaxing at Engine Room Audio not long after he finished a globe-spanning, 300-work-day year engineering and mixing for the fiercely-working Beyoncé, Swivel took us inside the making of 4 — providing plenty of career inspiration along the way.

You were a serious DJ in your teens, growing up in Canada. Did that enable you to learn to listen to music in a certain way?

Yes, and DJing really helped broaden my musical spectrum as well, because I wasn’t DJing just one genre: I played just about everything you could hear in a club. This wasn’t stuff I was necessarily listening to in my spare time, so it helped evolve my musical tastes. Listening to different genres helps in engineering and production. That’s helpful because if you’re trying to make a song sound like something, you know the tricks in those different genres.

I personally listened to mostly hip hop and R&B, a little bit of dance and rock, but when I was DJing I was exposed to a lot of dance and reggae — having a lot of those influences was helpful as well.

But doing it in my teens, I wasn’t really thinking about the career aspect of it. I just loved doing it. That makes things a lot easier to pick up, when you just enjoy it, and luckily for me it evolved into a career.

How did you and Beyoncé connect initially? What happened in your early work together to indicate that you had chemistry as artist/engineer?
A friend of mine, Omar Grant was an A&R at Epic, and he used to work with Destiny’s Child on the road. Beyoncé needed an engineer for a fill-in day, they called him, he called me, so I came in and did a session. We recorded the beginning stages of “Party,” which is on the album.

That’s the first thing we ever cut, and she said, “You did a great job today. You’re really fast.” Then she left. I felt like a made a good impression.

Then six weeks later I got another call, and they said, “We need you again.” From that point on — May 2010 — we didn’t take any days off. We probably worked 300+ days this year. But it all started from that one chance session. That comes back to my philosophy of always being around, always being available. I’ll drop anything for a session. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing.

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  • Thejedimaster

    dave… great article

  • sunshyne84

    Awesome and inspiring! I love to see people go after their dreams.