Dissecting Dilla: Techniques for the Mix (Part 2)
What I’m gonna do is I’m gonna break down how I’m going to make it more Dilla-esque. Now, it’s not a record that was produced with the intent of it sounding like a Dilla kind of production. But there are a lot of similarities, I think in terms of how the sample is chopped and thing like that. And the soul of it and things. And so we’re going to be able to move it in that direction and by breaking down that process it’s going to give you a little bit more insight into how you might approach the sonics if you’re trying to emulate this particular style.
So the first thing I’m gonna do is I’m gonna mute all the stuff except for the kick and the sample.
[kick + sample]
So as we discussed in part 1, the kick normally in Dilla records tends to be a round kick with a lot of sub energy, very focused lower darker kind of kick sound that’s really poofy. And what we have here is sort of a harder kick, it’s very punchy. So first of all it needs to be darker. There’s too much top end going on. So I’m just doing a high shelf, knocking down a little bit of the high end here.
[kick with EQ cut]
And then I’ve grabbed another EQ where I’m gonna pull up a little bit of that 200 Hz, that’s sort of the poof tone that you hear when it sort of steps over the speakers as bass. It’s hard to describe, I’ll before and after it real quick.
[kick with EQ boost]
Exaggerate it real quick. And now probably the most important equalization of the whole process is going to be this Pultec emulation. If you don’t have a plugin specifically like this, it’s a very wide curved bell EQ or shelf EQ in the low end. So before. After. Adding a lot of that low tone. Lastly I’m just adding a little little touch — and you can see it’s like barely anything — of saturation. That’s super subtle. You almost don’t even really need that. if it was a cleaner sound then I would be using more of that distortion. Alright, and then lastly I’m using a compressor to round the shape of the kick. And the way you do that is you use a very fast attack time, you use a very fast release time, and a light ratio generally speaking, and you use that to sort of soften the sound.
[kick + Sonnox Oxford Dynamics compressor]
One more time. And the faster the attack time goes, the softer the kick gets. Actually I kind of like it where it’s at right now. Alrihgt, so that’s how I shaped the kick. So the kick is going from — to after.
Now, our sample. With the sample, the EQ is fairly basic. I didn’t like — some of this is not even necessarily to emulate Dilla’s style or anything like that, it’s just because I felt that the sample needed a little cleaning up. There’s a tone in the bass that sort of annoys me around 200 Hz. And there was a little too much of that upper mid pretense as well. And because I have a bass that’s already in here I’m filtering out a lot of the low end. So, here’s the before and after with the EQ.
[sample with and without EQ]
So I’m opening up the overall sound and I’m taking out a lot of the low end. Alright, the other important thing that’s going on is this compressor. This compressor is set to trigger from the kick, so I have the kick actually begin sent to an aux track called kick trigger, and that’s what’s feeding this compressor. I have the key input mode activated and so what’s gonna happen is when the kick hits, the sample is going to get compressed. Check it out.
Notice how no compression is happening right now with the kick muted. Now check this out.
[sample + sidechain compression with kick drum]
So that allows the kick to jump forward while the sample is playing. And then I can adjust the sample accordingly if I want it to be louder or softer or whatever I want it to be. And it looks like I did a little bit of EQ over here. I think this is, again, just something that wasn’t specific to like Dilla sound, it was just something that I felt improved the overall sound.
Alright, so now the bass. So the bass here is probably the least Dilla-ish thing going on in the overall mix.
You would never here a bass like that in a Dilla record. It’s not a bad bass, you just wouldn’t here it in a Dilla record. The basses are always more sub-specific. So I’m using this lowender plugin to generate sub harmonics. Sort of brute forcing this bass into a Dilla bass if that works. And then I’m doing some pretty aggressive filtering here. And there’s two reasons why this works. One is that Dilla bass lines tend to be very focused in the low end. They’re like sort of sinusoidal with little bit of harmonic overtone happening, but they’re not like bass guitars in the more traditional sense unless it’s part of the sample. The other thing is the overtones of the bass in the sample is already there. And so I really only need the fundamental tones from this bass, which is why I’ve got all of this filtering going on here. And then again, just another little touch of the lo-fi effect, that same saturation. And it just seems to work. It just tightens up the sound a little bit in the right way.
And then lastly this same sort of compression set up again being triggered by the kick. And going back over this again. So this is a very fast attack, a pretty low threshold, a light ratio, and a slower release. And the reason why the release is slower is because for this particular style of sound, I want the entirety of the kick to cut through the mix and then everything comes back. I don’t want to hear just the attack of the kick, I want the whole kick to cut through.
So now I think we’ve got a good foundation or our Dilla sound. Alright, let’s bring in a snare.
[beat + snare]
So a Dilla snare would be a sharper sound. It would be more upper midrange focused for the most part. And it would have a little bit more tone to it. This sort of sounds like it was coming straight from a drum machine directly to the line input of an interface in a way. So, little bit of EQ. Just taking out a bit of the low end, giving a bit of a bump to the upper mid — close to 3k. And then a transient designer here. And lastly this Twin Tube Saturator which has a way of sort of brightening things in a nice way. Also adds a little bit of level but you know, it’s okay, we got it right.
And then I’m adding just a touch of reverb. I used — instead of using an aux track I duplicated the snare. It works the same way though. It’s basically I’m just adding a touch of reverb and…
[beat + snare reverb]
And you hear the reverb tail a little bit in this mix right now, when other stuff starts showing up you’re gonna stop hearing it quite so clearly. Other things are gonna start masking it a little bit more.
Alright, the pianos I think — this main synth here — I think is an important part of the whole equation. You’ll notice that I have it pretty far up in the mix. If you go to records from Donuts or The Shining and listen to some of the ones that have these weird synth leads in them, you’ll notice that they’re all turned pretty darn loud, and they tend to be pretty wide. This one was already wide to begin with — tonally speaking I think it sounds good — so all I’m doing is once again doing that same triggered compression from the kick.
Alright, let’s see the hat. So the hat, we’re getting rid of all the low gunk, we’re boosting up the top because we really want it to sit right in the tweeter. The hat is also getting the same triggering that — from the kick. So that same exact — I’m really just copying and pasting this same compressor settings right onto each channel for everything that I want to duck when the kick hits. And so you notice that when I’m doing this, even though I’m bringing more instruments in, because they all have this ducking thing going on, the kick stays very clear and present and forward in the mix. I’m adding a whole bunch of top end to the hat. That was a lot, it was like 10 decibels at around like 16k. And then a little bit of that Twin Tube mojo. Alright, so bringing in the lead synth, using a little bit of lo-fi, that same, again that same triggering from the kick. And some basic EQ. I’m sort of giving it a little tiny bump around lower mids and taking out some of the top top end. So it sounds like this.
Now the synth is still a little bit digital sounding. If I was doing this — If I had a little bit more time I would probably go back and I would try and make that a little more “analog-y sounding.” Both in terms of it’s dynamics and it’s tone. it’s a little digital sounding but we’re gonna let that go for now.
Bring in the other synth. And let’s bring in some of these pianos as well. And with these pianos, again I’m boosting this sort of midrange to get this kind of thicker warmer sound. I’m not trying to make everything sparkly and shiny necessarily. I’m trying to get everything to sound full and rich. Alright so I just want to point out a couple other little things. In a lot of these synths I’m using this lo-fi plugin and I’m moving it down to 12 bits. 12 bits would be the resolution of an old MPC 60. And I’m also adding a little bit of saturation and distortion. And it’s just to give it a little bit of that “analog feel.” And I’m doing that on a number of these digital synths. And then there’s this hi-hat, this interesting hi-hat here. And that’s sequenced to hit with the snare. It’s sequenced a little bit too tight so I actually added just a slight little delay here about 6 ms to sort of seat it further back from the snare so that the punch of the snare really cuts through. So here’s without. And then with. I’m gonna do that one more time. listen very specifically to the attack, that punch of the snare drum. Listen to it without the delay. And then with the delay. Notice that the punch of the snare is pretty significantly clearer. It’s because that hat is taking a lot of the frequency content and so it’s masking the punch of the snare. So when I move it back in time it gets it out of the way of the attack. That’s not specifically a Dilla thing, but it’s keeping in mind that one of the important things about Dilla records is that the snare really punches through very clearly.
Alright, so a little touch of saturation on the mix buss. This is the Slate Digital Virtual Mixbuss. It adds a nice saturation, I’ll before and after real quick.
[Beat with and without Slate Digital Virtual Mixbuss]
It adds just a subtle touch of that warmth that helps everything kind of feel bonded and together. And it helps to round out the kick as well. Alright, and then the EQ I’m adding a little bit of top end and a little bit of that 3k.
Beat + Manny Marroquin EQ]
Sort of livens things up. And lastly adding a limiter on the end. Let’s quickly A/B what we got with some of the other records.
So is it totally the same? No, it’s not totally the same. Is it somewhat in a similar vein? Yes. What’s different from the mix that I put together here? Well, the bass is not as deep and as round as most Dilla records. Ultimately if this record was designed to be like a Dilla record, it would need a different bass and a different kick. The mix that I did it’s a little bit brighter, it’s not as thick. I would probably go back make a couple more EQ tweaks. But, it’s the same vibe. So, the recap is that round kick, very sub-focused. Bass it very sub-focused as well. Snare is jumping very forward in the mix. It’s an attack kind of snare, not necessarily a thick sort of snare. And contrasting in tone it’s very upper-mid based. The hat, very tall in the mix. Meaning it’s up in the tweeter. And the sample is constant but it’s behind everything and it’s thick sound.
I think that’s actually part of what this really needs. This needs something to like thicken up the sample, to make it feel like it’s richer, if that makes sense. Maybe let’s try this EQ real quick. Cool. Alright guys, hope that you learned something. Take care.