For “Studios Sessions,” we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
Before Migos had Quality Control, they had engineer Thomas “Tillie” Mann. It was his dedication for working with the group that gave the multi-platinum engineer an A&R position at the label.
“This was the first time I ever locked in with them and when they asked how many songs they did, I told them we did 20 songs. Coach was like, ‘Nah, y’all didn’t do 20 songs. Play them for me,’” Tillie told REVOLT. “That started the real close relationship between Coach and I. He was like, ‘We’re on to something if we can keep working like this.’”
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Quality Control’s longtime engineer explains working on a new City Girls album, how dedicated Lil Baby is to rapping and more. Read below.
The first song you worked on for Quality Control was Migos’ “Hannah Montana,” right?
That wasn’t the first song I worked on. It was the first song that came out. I had a history with them before they got signed. Rich The Kid actually introduced me to them before P or Coach were in the picture. When they did their first mixtape, I knew Rich The Kid first and he kept telling them, “You have to work with Tillie.” I mixed the whole No Label project, and they didn’t like the mixes because they said they were too clean. Fast forward to when they got signed, I was working with Rich and one day Quavo pulled me to the side and said, “Why you can’t mix my songs to sound as good as you make Rich’s songs sound?” I told him, “All you had to do was communicate with me about what you wanted it to sound and we could’ve found an even medium.” The first record I did for them was actually the “Hannah Montana” remix that came out.
What did Migos get better at in their early days?
They were so used to working tight knit that they were doing everything. Quavo was doing the recording and all of their mixes. They were doing their thing on their own. They were used to working on a smaller studio setting. Even when they came to Quality Control, we had a big A room, they would never use it. I had to inspire them to record in big studios and give up a little control as it pertains to not doing everything on their own.
What’s the most memorable session you’ve had with them?
In the beginning, it was right after YRN and we were working on the No Labels 2 project. Around that time, we used to have PeeWee Longway, Young Thug was at the studio everyday, YSL Duke was there and everything. While we were working on No Labels 2 project, I met Coach K for the first time in terms of a working setting at QC. The first major session we had, we had PeeWay, Thug, and Migos. We stayed up for three days straight and did 20 songs. P and Coach K would come to the studio around 8 or 9 in the morning, and be like, “Play me what you guys have done.” This was the first time I ever locked in with them and when they asked how many songs they did, I told them we did 20 songs. Coach was like, “Nah, y’all didn’t do 20 songs. Play them for me.” That started the real close relationship between Coach and I. He was like, “We’re on to something if we can keep working like this.”
That three-day lockout was before they were rich. So, what did they have in the studio?
To be honest, it was just producers and Popeyes. If you weren’t producing or part of the creative process, we were blocking everything out... There were also friends that were around too. Lil Baby was around then. He was about 17 and would just be at the studio. Actually, it was NBA 2K, Madden, producers, Popeyes, and close friends (laughs).
How do you feel you’ve helped their careers over the last eight years?
A loyal collaborator and help[ed] them take the time to find their sound, whether it’s technically, sonically, or rhythm patterns. I was just one of the people who was part of finding themselves. A lot of credit goes to them because they work hard and go many sleepless nights. But, I’m part of the coaching staff.
I think you’re the only person to work on multiple projects from every artist on Quality Control. What is the difference in recording habits for each?
None of QC artists write. If it’s a song that really, really mean something, they may write a little bit. But, for the most part, I’d say 90-95% of all of the songs come out of QC are not written. They’re vibing to the record and going into the booth. The only artists I would say it’s different for are City Girls because they’re female artists, so what they say sometimes is a little calculated on their behalf. This next album they have now shows how their growth is crazy. They tend to take a little bit more time to make sure they get everything right. They have their own style of recording because they were recording a lot in Miami. They weren’t necessarily recording at QC for a while. So, they had their own way they liked to record. They might want to sit with the record or have their hair stylist and homegirls come to the studio and vibe out. They may want to light some candles and get into a whole vibe before they get into the record. When it comes to Migos, Lil Baby, or Yachty, if a producer play a beat and it’s hard, they’ll start mumbling a few words and then they’ll be like, “Tillie, pull that up.” Within 15 minutes, we’ll either have a hook or half of a verse.
How many songs have been recorded for this new City Girls album?
A lot. I would say definitely over 50 songs. Each project we do, we record anywhere between 100-300 songs.
With that many tracks, do you even know the name of the songs when they come out?
Listen, if I showed you my hard drive, 9 times out of 10, the song had a completely different name. Some of the songs are done so fast, I don’t even have time to think about it, and the song name will be the date and the time. This song called “Lemonhead” on Yachty last project. He said on the song, “She trying to get her whip pimped, I’m not Xzibit,” so the original name of the song was Xzibit (laughs). Some of the dopest songs on every project are recorded the last two weeks before the album is supposed to be turned in. Sometimes the same day.
Lil Baby has had an amazing improvement over the last year. Have you seen a difference in how he’s been recording over the last few years?
In the earlier days, he had to be in the mood to rap. All rappers make songs off their experiences. With Baby, he would have to go out and do certain things that would make him want to go rap. Now, he practiced so much and shot 1,000 shots in the gym, he consistently wants to rap 24/7. It’s all he wants to do. I’m actually meeting up with him today (June 17) because I’m setting up a studio for him at his house, and building one for him and his new label. He hit me up at three in the morning like, “Bro, you’re still coming?” He doesn’t sleep. Baby is one of the few people that can outlast me, as far as staying up. I think I stayed up four days straight working on the Father of 4 album from Offset when we had to turn it in.
So, what did you think about “The Bigger Picture” when you mixed it?
Every record I mix, I have to ride around with and vibe. I didn’t really know what that record was until I pulled it up on the speaker. When I pulled it up the first time, I texted my assistant engineer, “I’ll be honest, this is the first song that made the hair on my arm stand up and gave me goosebumps in a long time.” It came out last Friday, and I got it the Saturday before that.
How has being an engineer been during the quarantine?
At first, it was a little difficult because I actually had to be quarantined for a certain amount of time because I was in a house with my mother and she had [COVID-19]. Luckily, she made it. Once everything started rolling, more work is coming in during quarantine than when it’s not. Every artist is recording 100x more than they were before quarantine.
How many different artists are currently working on albums that you know about?
I would say everyone (laughs). But, I know of a good 20 artists.