Behind the Beat with Swan Beatz
By Edysmar Diaz-Cruz
Every Starbucks barista in Gainesville knows Thomas Swanson’s favorite order, for only a mocha frappuccino with a shot of espresso can help him power through a day of creating and mixing beats in his downtown music studio.
First, he creates a melody, then the rest follows.
You’ll likely find Swanson cooped up in his studio sitting in front of his monitors, crafting a song that commands listeners to bop their heads involuntarily.
Artists come and go from the highly-equipped space, many of them local hip-hop personalities seeking out Swanson’s services: from selling beats to recording and engineering in the studio, Swanson is the musical whiz to trust with your vision.
He’s known in the Gainesville hip-hop scene as Swan Beatz, a self-made music producer who has accomplished a following that many players in the industry have yet to attain — let alone figure out where to begin.
The 27-year-old producer sits with Narrow Magazine and talks about when his career began, how music has changed his life, and what it means to work behind the scenes.
Becoming Swan Beatz
When Swanson was 10 years old, his grandmother purchased him a toy keyboard, in which he taught himself to play top 40 songs before graduating to a larger piano from Radio Shack where he began experimenting with layering tracks and creating beats.
“I would hear songs on the radio and go home and recreate them,” he said. “Whatever the vocal melody was, I would play on the saxophone.”
At 15 years old, Swanson yearned to define his passion. “What am I?” he asked himself as he looked in the mirror one day.
“I’m not a pianist,” he said. “I’m a producer.”
And it felt right.
Since then, Swanson has dedicated his life to the craft of music production. He applied and got accepted to the highly selective Berklee College of Music, invested in state-of-the-art studio equipment and began to navigate the music industry by networking with like-minded people.
“I didn’t have to move to Los Angeles,” said Swanson. “I would say Gainesville’s hip hop scene is one of the most robust in Florida. It’s where my career started.”
Swanson is a big believer in hard work paying off. There’s space on the internet for everyone, he says, and there is no such thing as an ‘oversaturation’ of rappers in today’s music industry.
Prior to producing music full time, Swanson worked in fast food, only ever accumulating $500 in wealth, which he later used to kick start his business. Today, it’s his main source of income.
“The height of your success is the depth of your struggle,” said Swanson, who strives to be a testament for producers that aspire to excel in the music industry.
Becoming a mastermind of ‘meme music’ has helped Swanson distinguish himself as a producer — and a talented one at that.
He was called upon to produce multiple songs for two unique individuals, now known to millions as Daddy Longneck and Wideneck. The duo sought to take the internet by storm with their Worldstar release of “Neckst Up,” which was produced by Swanson.
“The internet just soaked it up,” he said. “We knew it would go viral.”
The music video accumulated 9.7 million views on Youtube and set a series of releases through Worldstar, a hip-hop news outlet with a significant following.
Hungry for his next challenge, Swanson continued to work hard, creating content with eccentric internet personalities, and in doing so, redefining what it takes to be a successful music producer.
“Producers don't get taken seriously on a national level unless their internet presence looks fantastic,” he said.
Among his defining career moments is the release of “Just Woke Up,” performed by Supreme Patty and featuring YNW Melly. The music video achieved 6.8 million views, bringing Swanson further recognition for his work.
Although he prefers to be out of the limelight, Swanson wishes to have a healthy reputation and the ability to reach a large number of people.
Producers are the silent powerhouses behind everybody’s favorite music. While most choose to stay in the studio, Swanson hopes to put Gainesville on the map for being a go-to college town that fosters creativity and community for hip-hop aficionados like himself.
“People come here all the time and leave. It makes [Gainesville] flourish with inspiration,” he said. “There’s a lot to keep up with here.”