Punchy kicks, phat synths and vintage compression.
WEST PARADE’s sound has always drawn influence from electronic dance music, particularly house and techno. It unmistakably comes through in this track, ‘October’. I had been listening to a lot of Caribou, particularly one of his more recent releases: ‘Never Come Back’. He has always had a knack for crafting big and juicy synth chords and I found myself trying to emulate that here.
Most of the music I write is not premeditated. I rarely sit down and say: “Today I’m writing a Caribou-inspired track“. Usually these days, it starts with messing around with some software synths in Ableton. I might find a particular sound works well with a certain melody or chords, which forms the basis for further ideas to add on top. Before too long, I might have a four bar loop of three or four instruments. It’s simply a matter of fleshing that out into a structure from there, adding and subtracting parts where it feels necessary.
In this case, the foundational elements of ‘October’ came from messing with Ableton’s almighty Analog synth. I recently discovered the stock MIDI ‘Chord’ effect, which automatically turns single notes into chords of your design. After much noodling, I was able to record a tight sounding melody. I then spent a lot of time tweaking various parameters, including the frequency and resonance of the synth’s oscillators to give it a big ‘phat’ sound. But most excitingly, I recently downloaded a free tape emulation plugin from one of my favourite Ableton gurus: ELPHNT. It gives a really nice, slightly wonky tape feel which just adds a vintage, analog note. Top stuff . If you’re into music production, I highly recommend you check it out.
Another element of this track that I’m particularly proud of is the beats and percussion. Ableton’s Drum Rack feature makes it especially easy to customise various samples into groups and sequence them into some interesting patterns. I’ve been particularly drawn to the light and poppy percussion sounds of the Roland CR-78 drum machine mixed with the punchy low kicks of an 808 or 909 (the CR-78 kick, whilst charming, doesn’t have much bite on it’s own). The fact I can easily mix and match to perfection makes a world of difference, which wouldn’t have been so easy with purely analog hardware instruments. Reasons to be grateful for making music in 2020! Drawing MIDI notes into an 16 bar loop provides an excellent visual overview of my drum patterns. It’s therefore easy to spot sections which look quiet or too busy. I never used to work this way, preferring to play everything in by ear. But having a visual aid has encouraged me to create more complex and sophisticated patterns which can completely transform a track. This is especially useful for my more housey tracks, which have greater emphasis on percussion.
Getting the kick sounding right was a particular challenge for this one. The initial sample I used lacked enough bite and depth, so I swapped it for a random Ableton stock sample and cranked the volume. Crucially, I added a dash of sidechain compression. For the non-music producers, this basically just means the volume for all the other instruments will reduce slightly when the kick comes in, thus giving it more presence in the mix. This is a really useful technique for electronic dance music, when you want that ‘oomph’. It’s often subtle at first, but makes a big difference for the final result.
One final aspect of producing this track I want to share with you stays on the theme of compression. I recently got hooked by Goodhertz’ Vulf Compressor: a software emulation of a Roland BOSS SP-303 sampler made in collaboration with Vulfpeck’s enigmatic Jack Stratton. Some purists might call this almost blasphemous, but I quite like whacking it on the master channel and seeing what happens. The result was magical. The compressor added a whole new level of vintage punch to the track, especially when combined with ELPHNT’s TAPE plugin on the synth. It’s super easy to use and comes with some nasty presets to get you started. It’s through experimenting with tools like these, followed by lots tweaking, which usually gives me the results I’m after.
Anyway, I hope this gives you an idea of how I produce music from my bedroom. I’ve got a video coming out in which I talk more about the creative process behind this track, so stay tuned! Remember to pre-save this little baby, and I’ll see you again with more music soon.
Stay safe x