WHO: NEAL POGUE
WHAT: On its 10th anniversary: TLC’s Waterfalls
HOW: I was asked to track and mix TLC’s Waterfalls (La Face Records) after I had just finished working on Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and a TLC Christmas song, which were on La Face as well.
Organized Noize (Rico Wade, Raymond Murray, and Pat “Sleepy” Brown) was asked to produce a hit single for TLC’s second album, so we gathered a group of musicians and went into Bosstown Studios in Atlanta, which was then owned by Bobby Brown (the studio is now called Stankonia and is owned by Outkast), and laid it all down on a Solid State Logic G+ console. Ray Murray came up with what I thought at the time was a very odd sort of drumbeat that he had mixed on an MPC 3000 and an E-mu SP-12. It had this loud snare roll that you can hear about every fourth bar, and it was very unique.
We had Kenny Wright playing a Wurlitzer electric piano, Edward Stroud on guitar, and LaMarquis Jefferson on bass. They were given the basic chord progressions from Organized Noize, and then they just vibed from there.
So we laid all that down and then had Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins come in to lay down the basic guts to the vocal track. Marquez Ethridge had come up with the lyrics and the melody. We used one of my mics, which is an Audio-Technica AT4033, and it came out great. I love that mic: It’s really an all-around type of microphone, but I find that everything I use it for comes out sounding great.
A few days later, we recorded Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas’ ad libs for the end of the song at Doppler Studios, and the rap vocals by the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes at Darp Studios. In addition, we added the background vocals of Cee-Lo Green (from the famed hip-hop group Goodie Mob) and Debra Killings, who was kind of the silent fourth member of TLC. I later added a Focusrite EQ to the stereo pair of their blended background vocals.
At that point, we brought in a horn section called The Atlanta Horns, and it was very rare back then for a hip-hop/R&B band to use live horns. We couldn’t really decide how to incorporate the horns, so I just took over and came up with the horn parts, sampled them, and then moved them around where I wanted them in the song. We had two trumpets and a saxophone. I used Neumann’s U47 and U67 on the trumpets, because that is usually a very bright instrument. For the saxophone, I used a Neumann U87.
When it was time to mix, I went into Darp studios in Atlanta and mixed the song on an SSL G+ console. No one really came in to listen as I was mixing, so I just worked on the song all day by myself and mixed it the way I thought it should be mixed. Lisa didn’t like her original vocals, so I had to recall the mix later at LaCocoa Studios, L.A. Reid’s personal home studio.
The drums I pretty much left alone. The snare and the snare roll were on the same track, which I could have separated, but I thought it was better to keep the vibe that Ray had originally. I liked having that snare roll right in your face. I added some low end to the kick, boosting the 80Hz frequency by about 3dB. I also added an API 550A to the kick to add even more vibe.
For the guitars, I used the EQs on the SSL console. I added some highs, bumping them up at 8k by about 1dB-2dB. I like the sound of the SSL EQs, and I wanted to brighten up the guitars a bit.
The bass was a little different for a couple of reasons. One, he was playing a five-string bass, which has that low B string on it. That made the bass a little lower than usual. Two, he had an effect on his bass that was similar to a Mu-tron, like Bootsy Collins used to use. You can hear that odd, wah-like sound during the intro of the song. It doesn’t really sound like a bass, but it is. Despite the low sound of his bass, I still added more lows to his track. I went in around 75Hz-100Hz and added about 2dB.
For the horns, I wanted them to stick out and be harsher. I was going for a Michael Jackson “Thriller” type sound that Jerry Hey always puts on his tracks. Usually, I don’t like to add more than 2dB to anything, because it just adds too much. But for these horns, which really create the dynamic for the song, I added about 3dB at 8k so they would hit harder. I also went in and tweaked the lows and dropped those a bit too.
On Tionne’s vocals, which are the bulk of the track, I used an AMS DMX harmonizer on her lead vocal. I wanted to make her voice much wider in the song. She has a naturally raspy, original voice, so I wanted that to stick out as well. Another thing I did on her vocals that I usually don’t do, is bump up the 5k frequency by about 0.5dB. I also used the SSL compressors a bit, but not too much. I went about 4:1 and didn’t push the threshold very much.
For Chilli’s adlib vocals at the end, I didn’t do much, they went in pretty flat. I added about 8k-10k at about 0.5dB-2dB. I try not to mess with a track just for the sake of doing so. If it doesn’t need it, don’t do it.
So, I was able to blend all of that together and everyone, including myself, was very happy with the end result. Usually, when I hear a song on the radio that I did, I think, ‘Oh man, I could have changed this or that.’ But with Waterfalls, I’m really very pleased by the end result. I wouldn’t change anything, I’m really proud of it. I think the biggest reward is hearing someone singing along to it in their car!