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Teddy Riley In the Mix

Mar 13, 2007

Edward Theodore Riley was born October 8, 1967 in Harlem, New York. The R&B/Hip Hop singer/songwriter/producer has been the focal point of two of the most influential prototypes of the new R&B sound: Guy in the 1980s and Blackstreet in the 1990s. His successful blending of R&B and Hip Hop in a resulted in a groundbreaking genre called New Jack Swing.

Teddy Riley began his producing and recording career at age of 12. His debut group, Kids At Work, included his future partner in Guy, Timmy Gatling. They inked with CBS Records and issued a self-titled album which triggered the single "Singin' Hey Yeah". Shortly thereafter, he produced his first smash record, "The Show/La Di Da Di" for Doug E. Fresh and The Get Fresh Crew.

Riley then began delving further into songwriting, and his tune for Johnny Kemp, "Just Got Paid," shot to number #1 on the Billboard charts. His work on Keith Sweat’s 1987 debut, “Make It Last Forever” generated the number ones "I Want Her" and "Something Just Ain't Right". The same year, Riley produced Kool Moe Dee as well as the first album from Heavy D & The Boyz, “Livin’ Large.” In the summer of 1988, he delivered the massive Bobby Brown hit "My Prerogative”.

Teddy then formed Guy, whose debut album sold over 3 million copies. “Teddy’s Jam,” “Groove Me,” and “I Like” were fixtures on the charts and the radio dial. Riley’s vision soon was seen and heard on the big screen. Guy had a slot in the Spike Lee film “Do The Right Thing” in 1989 soundtrack with "My Fantasy.” He also produced rapper Redhead Kingpin’s "Do The Right Thing” and Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power", both of which were smashes in the summer of '89.

Riley was soon in demand for producing and remixing gigs for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Boy George, Blondie, James Ingram, Stephanie Mills, and the Jacksons. His remix of Jane Child’s hit song "Don't Wanna Fall in Love" landed at #2 on the Billboard charts in 1990.

In 1991, Guy contributed a song to the soundtrack of Mario Van Peebles directorial debut movie, “New Jack Swing City” in which he also appeared on screen. Riley followed up with production work on Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous,” including the hits "Remember the Time,” “Jam,”, “She Drives Me Wild,” as well as the title track.

In 1994 Blackstreet scored with their debut self-titled platinum selling album featuring the hits "Bootie Call" and "Before I Let Go". Their 1996 follow-up album, “Another Level,” featured the gigantic hit "No Diggity,” selling 4 million copies and skyrocketing them to national and international renown.

Fast forward to 2006: Teddy Riley relocated to Atlanta with a new studio in full-blown operation, and is currently producing vocalist Melinda Santiago. There are plans in the works for new albums from Guy and Blackstreet, and he is slated to work on Michael Jackson’s 2007 comeback album. For the past 12 years, Teddy Riley has been a dedicated Waves user. In fact, Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” was one of the early international hits to benefit from Waves in the sound equation. Riley talked to music historian and author, Harvey Kubernik, about recording and his ongoing studio relationship with Waves.


Several of the acts you discovered have gone on to become major players and producers in the music business.

I found the Neptunes at a talent show. I heard Rodney Jerkins on my stoop in Virginia at my studio, trying to get in to have a meeting for us and heard this incredible talented dude. This kid came to me at age 15 or 16.

What was your first instrument?

I started as a young kid as a guitar player. I play guitar to get the sound that I want and try and get the great guitar players to play, and sometimes they don’t understand my rhythm. So I use Waves GTR for them to replicate.

Who did you listen to when you were growing up? I hear similarities between Curtis Mayfield‘s “I’m So Proud” and your production of Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative”. Was he a big influence?

Curtis Mayfield was my main man. Curtis was writing and singing for other people until they made him sing all his demos. That’s what he did. All his records that he done were supposed to be for someone but they couldn’t kick it like him. They couldn’t do it like him. He’s a very extraordinary guy that knows what he wants and he can really articulate and is the most incredible writer. I use space in my productions, space in the tracks and not letting the people over sing. I’ve been longing to get back to that to a small studio to actually do my own vocals tight in the room. Anytime I have an idea, I cut music for people. I do my backgrounds myself and pretty much walk in and sing on top of that. I’m a messenger. I feel it.


What is it about Waves tools that make them such an important part of your arsenal?

I have had many hit records using Waves. “No Diggity,” the whole Blackstreet album, first, second, third, the Guy albums 2, 3 and 4, and on all my re-mixes I use Waves. Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” is through Waves. I mixed on the SSL and because we didn’t have enough tracks to mix everything on the SSL on Studers, all of the vocals and all of the smooth keys and Michael’s backgrounds are all Waves and Pro Tools.

What effect would you say Waves technology has on your musical vision?

Well, the technology, if you know how to use it or utilize it, enhances it. A lot of the stuff that enhances it for me with the technology is the editing factor where I don’t have to cut tape no more. I also integrate Waves GTR and the Vocal Bundle. When I do my Talk Box, I actually play through the Waves stuff. And, then, when I do my final mixes, oh my God, just to tame a lot of the stuff that is bleeding in the air, that C4 is the thing. And if I want it to breathe and give that presence, I turn and turn the highs up on that C4. That multiband compressor turns the highs up and it gives me more of the air, but also compresses it so that it’s not bleeding.

How do you approach a vocal recording session?

Like, a new artist, we will stay in a vocal session for six to 8 hours and she has got to get it right. She has vocal trainer who warms her up before she goes in, a vocal coach works her out before she get in the room. I have the greatest microphones. The AKG 414 gold has the greatest sound. The delays, the extra delays, all of that stuff I like to use. I like my vocals through that even if it sometimes it’s really, really low. It’s great for lead vocals. I have singers who just like to hear their voice with the music and no drums. I have singers, like Michael Jackson, who like to produce the vocals and “Let’s write first. Here’s the piano. You play. I sing. Let’s do some ideas.” Like two hand touch football. One on one basketball.

Which Waves processors do you like to use on vocal tracks?

My main thing is that I use the C4 along with the limiter with the DeBreath breath eliminator. That C4 in the compressor system, man, it’s just a whole other ball game for me. Working with it is another story. Like, my new artist, Melinda Santiago, she has a high voice and some of the beautiful stuff needs to be out there for the part that really hits it high. I do want it to where it hits the tape hard. I like when my vocals sound like they are hitting the tape hard. I use a lot of first takes. I use a pop screen for vocals. I do isolation booth for the vocals and I have a small booth.

I use the Renaissance DeEsser as well, but I don’t use it a lot. I’m an old school producer and I like to use what is natural: I like the breathing. I like all the noise. I’m a very old analog guy. I started at a very early age with a TEAC 2 track. I did my very first major album with Guy on a 12 track Akai.


How about after the mix?

The Waves SSL 4000 Collection is the glue that holds everything together. And the MaxxBCL for bass enhancement. When I master in Waves, it’s taking over on the L3, a multiband peak limiting mixer before I finalize. It’s incredible. In post-production, I use Waves with headphones. My room is not totally quiet and I bought some very expensive noise cancellation headphones made by Sony, and I use those for my mixes. I then play the recordings on small speakers, car speakers, upstairs in the bedroom to see if it feels good. I play the mixes in the car especially. I want to hear the sound as if it’s already been to mastering.

So Waves is there throughout the creative process?

Yes. The Waves tools are pre-production factors and a big part in my mixing and broadcast production, for re-mixing and the “afterlife” of the records in soundtracks of movies. I also utilize Waves in post-production. Actually, I had to do some mixes for the last Guy album and during those mixes I had to bring a lot of stuff back up, which is hard. So, Waves enters into that as well, from the ground floor. Some stuff I wanted to do as far as the “Teddy Riley” sound and had to process them through the Waves stuff. I got to go back and hear Michael Jackson on Pro Tools, the old tape. I got to go back to that and it still sounds incredible. Back then, we didn’t have a lot of Waves stuff, though.

Any other advantages to working “in the box?”

You can see your music. That’s the thing. The studio in my house, it looks like a space ship. I’ve got 6 flat screen TV’s in this room and none of them are less than 37 inches.

How do you manage to keep things fresh?

What I enjoy the best is using the process of everything I do with my vocals and trying different things. When I’m in my room, my spaceship, it’s a place away from the marriage life, and really having a great time. So the best part for me these years, before I came into my new studio and being alone, where you don’t have an engineer, yelling “You should use this!” There are some things that I overlooked the past years. And bringing them up today, I think, “Damn, I have got to use this!“ And I had so many things I didn’t use with Waves, so I started trying everything.