Story Time - How I landed my first major label mix
Words by DJ Swivel

The Amazing Way I Landed My First Mix

I got my first major label mix in 2007 with an artist named Fabolous who we all know and love. Fabolous was my first real paid engineering client. I worked with Fabolous on two complete albums, a number of mixtapes and a number of features, but the first project we worked on was “From Nothing to Something”, his album that came out in 2007. I first met Fabolous in 2006 when I landed an internship with Duro at his studio, and he actually ended up becoming my mentor. Duro started Desert Storm records with DJ Clue and they signed Fabolous, so that’s how the whole connection came about.

While I was interning at Duro’s studio, Fabolous was consistently in the studio working and I was building a friendship with him. I was a general assistant at the time and I was primarily cleaning up, running and fetching food and doing all the little things to keep the studio organized. After about about seven months of being an assistant, and battling with another assistant to get the next engineering gig, I was lucky enough to land my first paid gig with Fabolous. By this point we had become friends and he was starting his new album. He asked me to record it for him, which was a dream come true. I was getting paid to record an artist who I looked up to, and was a fan of. I spent a year working on “From Nothing to Something”.

As we were getting to the end of the album (we were working out of Sony studios – R.I.P) Duro had begun mixing the songs. At this time I’m still learning how to mix. I’m assisting Duro during the day, setting up sessions and supporting him in any way he needed, and I’m recording Fabolous at night. I’m juggling these 20 hour days, and looking for every single opportunity to grow and prove myself, whether I was ready for them or not. As we get to the end of the project, being that I had assisted Duro on so many mixes I felt like I had the chops to mix a record too. I’ve seen Duro mix hundreds of records over the last 2 years, and I felt this was my time to prove I’m ready for the next step.

There were two songs left to mix on the album. Usually Duro would tell me at the end of the day when he was ready to go home (1am or so) to set up this next session and he would be back to the studio in the morning to mix it. When Duro says set up a session, basically what I was doing was organizing all the vocals, organizing all the tracks and making sure everything’s labeled properly and in the order that he wants. I would import his mix templates, adding plugins that he likes to use. Being that we had already mixed a number of Fabolous records I knew what effects Duro liked to use on him, so basically I was getting everything ready so that Duro can just sit down and go straight to work. That night was different though. I was determined to stay up and mix the record myself.

So… Duro leaves, and I set up the mix session. But at that point I said to myself, “You know what, i’m gonna stay here all night and mix this record!”. I stayed until about 7am working hard to get the song right. I was really excited and I think I did a great job, and I told myself I would play for Duro when he came into the studio a few hours later. I thought, he’s going to love it so much he’ll let me keep this mix on the album. He won’t bother mixing it himself. So I went home, got about 4 hours of sleep and head back to the studio when Duro was ready to come and start working. As I arrive, Duro ask’s me to show him the files for “Im The Man”. I show him where the files are, and say, “I set up the mix but I also spent the night and mixed the song for you!”. Duro had a little bit of a perplexed look on his face as if he was saying I didn’t ask for that, but I proceeded to tell him to have a listen and I think he’ll love it. Duro listens to my mix and then responded by asking me to get him a sandwich! He really put me back in my place. When I got back to the studio he was of course mixing the record.

I suppose at this point I could have sat in the studio disappointed, but I was always so ambitious when I started working it didn’t really affect me, I learned to grow a thick skin. Duro eventually finished the mix and asked me to print the final mix passes of the song to send off to mastering, and then he asked me to set up the last session we had on the project which was actually the intro to the album titled “From Nothing to Something”. So Duro leaves, I set it up so he’s prepared to come back in the morning and begin mixing, but being the stubborn kid I am, I decide to stay the night and take a stab at mixing this song too.

I stayed all night, mixed the song and Duro comes in the morning. Like clockwork, I say “Hey I set this up, but by the way I mixed it for you”. I think at that point Duro just thought to himself “Wow, this this kid doesn’t have any quit”. He listened to the mix, nodded along with it and then he started working on it a bit and he did some tweaks. Basically just polishing it up and doing his thing. After that session, we never spoke about that mix session again, until about two months later when the album finally came out.

At that point we were working at a studio in Times Square called KMA studios. It was 2007 and there was a huge record store in the middle of Times Square called the Virgin Megastore. Anybody who was in New York in the 2000s knew about this store. It was open 24 hours a day and it was huge. Three floors! The place was just massive. Right at midnight on the release date of the album, Duro and I are working in Times Square, and we walked down at midnight to the Virgin Megastore to get the first copies sold of the album. We each bought a CD and I was very excited, I had engineered and recorded the whole album so I was going to have credits on every song. A huge deal for me at the time. So I open up the CD, I take the cellophane wrapper off and the first thing I do is I pull the booklet out as we’re walking back to the studio which is a few blocks away. As I open the liner notes, I begin to read the credits. I take a look at the first song and it says recorded by Jordan “DJ Swivel” Young and it says mixed by Jordan “DJ Swivel” Young. I didn’t ever think I would get a mix credit on the album, but Duro gave me my first mix credit! I guess he felt at the time I was showing some ambition and I did a good enough job to deserve the credit. That one meant a lot because Duro is a world famous mix engineer and I really looked up to his sound and what he did, so for him to give me the stamp of approval was really important and meant a lot to me. That was sort of the first thing that got my career started as a mix engineer. 

The lesson here is to stay persistent. I recall a great quote by Ovid, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence”. The point being, if you don’t get the answer or result you’re looking for, just know it’s okay and keep pushing forward. You’re going to miss a lot of shots in life, but with enough time, practice and commitment, you will start making them.

-Swivel

Working on Loso’s Way in Atlanta

 

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