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In the studio with producer Teddy Riley

Michael Jackson and Blackstreet producer talks gear

Focusrite and Novation catch up with producer Teddy Riley in his studio to talk about his gear and New Jack Swing.

Here's more from Focusrite.

Press Release: Teddy Riley has always had the cutting edge on production. Highlights of his career include forming R&B super groups Guy and Blackstreet, and co-producing and co-engineering Michael Jackson's Dangerous album - it has sold over 32 million copies and saw him win a Grammy for Best Engineering (non-classical). He has produced countless landmark records, such as the LP "Make it Last" by Keith Sweat, Bobby Brown's "My Perogative", Johnny Kemp "Just Got Paid", Blackstreet "No Diggity", The Hip Hop Classic "The Show", "Rugrats" The Movie, and hit after hit for the late Heavy D and a long list of others.

Riley is also credited for creating a genre: New Jack Swing, which has been a noticeable influence in popular music since the late ’80s. Now, more than 25 years after he first started making waves in music, Teddy is still going strong with grand stage performances globally and sellout concerts with his new members of Blackstreet and some featuring Dave Hollister on US tours.

It all started for Teddy in Harlem, New York, where as a teenager he was shown the studio world by his mentor Royal Bayyan. Between the ages of 13 and 17, he attended studio sessions with the likes of Kool & The Gang, Freddie Jackson along with Cheryl Lynn, and unsurprisingly because of his gift in music, became a natural in that environment. Shortly thereafter, he was an in-demand composer/producer working with some of the biggest names in Pop/R&B music carving his own worldwide musical niche that would become known as New Jack Swing.

"I didn't make up the name new jack swing," says Teddy. "It was given to me Barry Michael Cooper." Cooper co-wrote the screenplay for the film New Jack City and was a prominent music journalist in New York in the early ’90s. "He did an interview with me and asked me how I would describe my music. I said 'sophisticated bubblegum R&B'. He said 'that's too long, you should call it new jack swing, because you're the new kid on the block that's swinging it.' So I give credit to him for giving me that name. I ran with it and everybody joined the movement. Bobby Brown, Kool Moe Dee, Guy, Blackstreet, Boyz II Men, Bel Biv Devoe, New Kids On The Block, N Sync, Backstreet Boys - they made my genre big. And that feels great, for so many musicians and artists to be a part of such a strong movement. We all are still doing New Jack Swing." 

Teddy has a purpose-built studio space — Future Recording Studios 2 — in his house about an hour north of Atlanta, Georgia. "It's all about being intimate with an artist, and to be able to get a lot of work done without anybody knowing." 

His gear choices are diverse but refined: a mixture of classic sound modules from the ’80s and ’90s, numerous high-quality outboard processors and some modern synths, all connected to a DAW system running Studio One software. "I like to do a lot of testing with gear. So the things that you see in here are here to stay, because I love the sound of them. I'm still old-school with my outboard instruments and analogue stuff, I even still have my two-inch tape machine, I call it the washing machine. But I have my DAW system, which I love. I try to keep it as close to the sound I used to have, sonically, and it's very close. Some people are saying it sounds stronger, some people say it's very authentic to the Guy and Michael Jackson stuff."  

Key to Teddy's studio rig is the Focusrite Control 2802 analogue console and DAW control surface. Among his favorite things about it are the moving-fader automation features and the built-in stereo compressor: "I do all my automation rides on the 2802. Then, once I get my mix where I need it, I pop the two-bus compression in and tweak the controls. The more I push it, the more punch I get, and it sounds amazing. It's similar to the compression on a Neve or on an SSL, there's really nothing else I can compare it to. I used to have a Euphonix board, and the Focusrite two-bus compression beats it by a long shot. I'm really loving it." 

Teddy also uses lots of VST instruments inside his DAW, which he controls with a Novation 61 SL MkII. "I can control all my instruments from the SL, and I never have to touch the keyboard. The transport control is right here, and I can alter any of the sounds from right in front of me. I can pretty much do anything with it! I also like the configuration of the pitch and mod wheels, because you can be more expressive, and it feels great! This is the ultimate for me: this stays in the stable." 

The MiniNova is the latest addition to Teddy's collection of gear, which he refers to as his 'stable' and 'the family'. "I was searching for vocoder and synthesizer sounds and ran across the MiniNova. My tech brought it in from Guitar Center and I plugged it up and I immediately thought 'wow, this is amazing'. This little instrument has such a big sound and I use the vocoder a lot. It sounds so different from the other vocoders I use, and that's what makes it so unique. The Vocal Tune feature is in one of my new songs. I actually use some of the dubstep sounds and the arpeggiators too, and I sync it to my DAW so it plays back at the same tempo."   

We spent a day with Teddy, where he showed us around Future Recording Studios 2 and played us a brand new version of Guy's 1988 hit 'Teddy's Jam' on the MiniNova. Check it out!

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