We shape a funk soul track in the style of Bruno Mars (with a little help from our friends!)
It started with a conversation we had with our friends over at Goldbaby Samples. We were discussing the extensive use of the Linn drum and in particular how great it sounds on Bruno Mars’ modern classic, 24 Karat Magic. It got us to thinking – why not create a
cool groove that had the same funk/pop sensibilities as the defining title track of that album and invite some of our coolest friends to the party! What could be more fun? So, we started calling around our buddy’s and the idea began to pick up momentum.
..:: Creating The Vibe ::..
We started by developing a pack with Goldbaby, showcasing the different types of drums that would be loaded into a sampler during the making of a record like 24 Karat Magic. Thanks to Golbaby’s unique sampling methods everything in the pack has a unique, perfectly saturated feel, driving home the sound that we were looking for with style and taste.
The first stop after Goldbaby was a no-brainer. James Wiltshire, one half of the Grammy nominated production team ‘Freemasons’. UK based James is also the owner of F9 Audio, arguably one of the highest quality, most musician friendly sample and instrument developers of the moment. His extensive sample packs include template projects, wav files and even multi-sampled instruments, built specially from his boner-inducing vintage synth collection. James was kind enough to supply us with five F9 Audio thumb drives, loaded with the pack we decided to use for our track, Electric Disco.
Next we talked with our friends over at Primeloops who have been at the top of the sample game for years. We were thinking of using their extensive knowledge and back catalog to fill in any of the blanks – which they did, of course. Providing us, as they did, with this ‘Hella Funky’ collection of zingy guitar loops that turned out to be extremely handy for this track – imbuing it with some ‘live’ instrumental swag which is exactly what you need in a funk/pop groove. The loops are all dry which is great for serious producing, allowing you to pick the effects you need to seat the instrument in the mix and create a cohesive binding with the rest of the (mainly vsti) instruments.
When creating a sample-based track like GoldBrick the goal is to keep everything clean, pristine and tight whilst at the same time your trying to imbue the music with a human feeling vibe. This is why it’s a great idea to use sample loops that feature an actual performance. Here are some other Primeloops sample packs that would sound really great in a pop/funk track.
For GoldBrick, we had a fun time picking the instruments. Initially we had wanted to use some of the beautiful vstis from the Roland Cloud however, because it is still in Beta, we decided to save those gems for a full test later this year.
..:: INTERESTING FACTOIDS ::..
Here is the finished track. Interestingly the 24Karat magic had 4 writers: Bruno Mars, Phillip Lawrence, Christopher Brody Brown and James Fauntleroy whilst production duties were taken care of by Mars’ own team, Shampoo Press & Curl. During the Burbank (CA) sessions recording engineer Charles Moniz handled tracking and engineering duties
with assistant engineer Jacob Dennis Mixing. The actual mixing of the record was handled by the multiple Grammy winning Serban Ghenea from his private, three room facility in Virgina Beach (CA) with Mixing Engineer John Hanes. Mastering duties went to Tom Coyne from Sterling Sound who sadly passed away during April of this year.
The Finished Track
..:: Producing The Groove ::..
We’ll start by looking at all the incredible tools that are available to anyone trying to make their own Nu-Retro funk groove and how we used them in the making of GoldBrick.
You have to love the D16 PunchBox. For GoldBrick we picked a nice base-sample from the generator section of the plugin. After that we went to the effects modules on the right where we EQ’d the sample to lock in better. There’s also a Bitcrusher, a filter and some distortion to add harmonics if you need them. Next we focused our attention to the left side of the generator module and dialed in the ‘Tops’ and ‘Click’ module. This is what provides the extra information needed to give the attack phase of the kick character.
The incredibly tight and already beautifully tape saturated Linn Drum kick comes courtesy of APN’s collaboration with NZ sampling legend, Goldbaby. Using Heavyocity’s insane PUNISH plugin we whip the Linn Drum kick into a protein fueled, anabolic frenzy loaded with a triple stack of harmonics – ready to cut through the track.
“The beautifully tape saturated Linn Drum kick comes courtesy of APN’s collaboration with NZ sampling legend, Goldbaby.”
What would any groove like this be without an 808! One of the very best available is the D16 Nepheton. Just like the original hardware you can ‘run’ Nepheton and program it via the step sequencer. For GoldBrick we just wrote the drum pattern in midi and here we are adjusting the Level, Tone and Decay knobs using Nepheton‘s on-board mixer to help it sit more comfortably in the mix. We ended up not using the kick drum channel as we already had a nice Linn kick so we just used the ‘mute’ button.
Getting a fat-ass bass is a lot easier when you have something like Arturia’s Mini V at your fingertips. Gloriously and unashamedly retro the Arturia Mini V started as the main flavor but after a while we decided to use it to thicken the bass stack and add that unmistakable Moog filter resonance at the top end. Mini V is great because you literally work from the left where the oscillators are to the right. One layer, one dimension, one big, fat sound.
“Getting a fat-ass bass is a lot easier when you have something like Arturia’s Mini V at your fingertips. One layer, one dimension, one big, fat sound.”
The Prophet V3, again from the Arturia V Collection 5 is just a joy to use. We quickly realized that the sound we were looking for was a stock preset called 80’s Bass. We then opened the ‘5VS’ tab (VS stands for Vector Synthesis) in the top right of the GUI. To the left of the extra module that animates into view there is a joystick which allows you to blend between the four oscillators. All we had to do was move the joystick to change the focus between oscillators slightly (something not possible with the original Prophet). Perfect.
Interestingly, all we really needed from the gorgeous u-he Repro~1 was some bottom end and a little girth. It also imbued it’s own character on the nicely evolved bass stack and that was simply a bonus. All that was really necessary was to roll of the ‘attack’ of the EH Fat Gut Sweep Bass patch. Repro~1 has a ton of great presets and it should be understood that this is a mono only synth – based as it is, on the notorious Pro 1 made famous by Sigue Sigue Sputnik in 1986.
“Repro~1 imbued it’s own character on the nicely evolved bass stack…”
Jazzing Up The Samples
It was time to dip back into F9 Audio’s Electric Disco pack for a couple of accoutrements to spice up the track. The first we found was something called, ‘5th Mod Lead’. This is an Ableton Sampler instrument from the construction kit, Cigale. Luckily for us this was the perfect turnaround phrase and, thanks to the amazing sound design of James Wiltshire it just sat in the mix as though it had always been there.
The OB6 samples were perfect for building on the verse and we used them together, overlaying them and using the excellent Vengeance-Sound Talkbox to distinguish the two sounds. The Talkbox is like a bitcrushed twist on the classic Analog Talkbox sound, using a pair of Bandpass filters in the ‘human vocal’ range.
“The VPS Talkbox is like a bitcrushed twist on the classic Analog Talkbox sound.”
Synth Response Riff
We’d been dying to use the ridiculously good D16 Group LuSH-101 for a while. Based on the classic Roland SH-101 which is a mono synth the LuSH-101, in comparison, is a science fiction missile pointed squarely at the 23rd century. With full polyphony, eight separate layers to stack sounds, an incredible armory of D16’s insert effects that can be instantiated in the fully appointed mixer and 1,600 presets it was easy to create a classic sounding response line for the track.
“Based on the classic Roland SH-101, the LuSH-101, in comparison, is a science fiction missile pointed squarely at the 23rd century.”
The next building block in the groove was a subtle string wash. For this we decided to split the duties – with the electronic part coming courtesy of the quaint, but extremely useful Arturia Solina V. Based on the classic Eminent String Machine it was perfect for the vibey, high octave, single-note string line.
Spitfire’s London Contemporary Orchestra Strings were the perfect choice to be laid in the mix alongside the Solina. LCO Strings for Native Instrument’s Kontakt is a unique sounding, modern film scoring orchestra in it’s own right, but the sounds have also been created (according to Spitfire founder, Paul Thompson) to use as a blending tool for other string libraries or sounds. We added some Heavyocity Punish for extra grit and sonic pocket.
“Spitfire’s London Contemporary Orchestra Strings were the perfect choice to be laid in the mix…”
For added flavor we wanted to lay in the remarkable TAL-U-NO-LX which is a replica of the famed, midi-less Roland Juno 60. It’s a very easy synth to sound design with, primarily because everything is right there on one page. We decided to keep it simple and built a characterful sound that we put some performance style vibrato on courtesy of the accessible LFO which we kept unsynced for a more ‘human’ feel.
“The TAL-U-NO-LX is a very easy synth to sound design with, primarily because everything is right there on one page.”
..:: Shaping The Mix ::..
In this section we go through some of the more creative mix elements and look at the most important plugins that went into the mixing of the GoldBrick groove.
As usual, when using any kind of loop it always serves best to tweak it to the vibe and feel of the song. So, even though these were great sounding claps, the song told us that they needed to be a little higher in pitch and cut through our dense mix a shade more than they were doing in their natural form. This is Eventide’s Fission™ being used to brighten the F9 Audio claps and bring them into focus (for this track) by pitching up the tonal material and gating the transients slightly. Fission™ has two modules. One for the transient material and one for the musical component. There are many things you can do with this component such as reverb, delay, chorus and even tremolo. In this case we needed to raise the first of the three available voices six notches. You can read our full review of Fission™ here.
“We used Eventide’s Fission™ to brighten the claps and bring them into focus.”
Here we use Cableguys’ ShaperBox to modulate the stereo field of F9 Audio‘s shaker loop. ShaperBox is the container for five different and extremely useful modules. TIME, FILTER, PAN, VOLUME and WIDTH. In this case we brought the PAN module into play by simply clicking and adding it to the workspace and then picking and adjusting one of the panning waveforms, beat-syncing it from the left of the two drop down menus and then choosing a loop length (in our case 1/8d or 3/16. The idea was to keep the shakers moving rhythmically from left to right in the stereo field.
“ShaperBox is the container for five different and extremely useful modules.”
Brainworx bx_Subsynth was brought in to tune the differing sub-frequencies in the bass stack to sound super powerful on big speakers. bx_Subsynth is directly based on the dbx 120XP Subharmonic Synthesizer. It synthesizes its own low frequencies an octave below whatever is input but it also has three tune-able knobs so that you can dial in all kinds of other material. We mono’d the bass completely and juiced it up with some ‘SQUEEZE’ and a little ‘DRIVE’. This plugin needs a lot of focus from the user as low end frequencies are notoriously difficult to dial in. It’s well worth reading bx_Subsynth‘s PDF manual as there is a definitive process to get the best from this plugin.
“…there is a definitive process to get the best from this plugin.”
With the bass synths all in one group we decided to use the Metric Halo Channel Strip 3 from Metric Halo’s Production Bundle as that’s what Grammy Award-Winning Mix Engineer Serban Ghenea used when mixing the actual 24Karat Magic track. “To me,” he says, “ChannelStrip together with Pro Tools is the console.” We simply dialed in the basses beginning by using the ‘Bass 2’ preset as a starting point. The bass group sounds so much more polished and sexy with Channel Strip 3. It’s no surprise that Bruno Mars’ Mix engineer Serban Ghenea is so invested in this plugin – it really is that good…
“It’s no surprise that Bruno Mars’ Mix engineer Serban Ghenea is so invested in this plugin – it really is that good…”
“You can use the sweet VPS Autofilter to give movement and vintage phaser feel…”
The UVI Thorus sits perfectly on the funky guitar riff, it helps widen the sound and give it just a little extra funkyness. You have to be careful with Chorusing because it can sound well-cheesy on guitars. After using the stupendously intuitive and attractive GUI to high pass the signal we had to be sure to dial back the parallel mix control on Thorus.
“After using the stupendously intuitive and attractive GUI to high pass the signal we had to be sure to dial back the parallel mix control on Thorus.”
We’ve always loved the SPL De-Verb, and this second iteration is even better than the first, with a new limiter and parallel mix function. There are three micro plugs in the series Attacker Plus, De-Verb Plus, and Mo-Verb Plus, but we only needed the De-Verb Plus (pre-fx) to tighten up the tail end of the sound, which it did with zero fuss. As usual. All Brainworx and SPL plugins can be purchased from the PA website www.plugin-alliance.com.
“We only needed the De-Verb (pre-fx) to tighten up the tail end of the sound, which it did with zero fuss. As usual.”
What a very handsome piece the D16 Group Repeater is. We had it set up on a quarter note even with none of the fancy stuff. What we love about this delay is that it’s very quick and easy to set up with some very useful options – the ones that you want, immediately accessible from the front panel. Mainly, it was used to send the LuSH-101 synth to. Repeater is also available to Slate Everything Bundle subscribers.
“What we love about this delay is that it’s very quick and easy to set up with some very useful options.”
Now here is a very special processor. The Relab LX-480 Complete. All snares and claps were sent through this stunning recreation of the world famous Lexicon 480 L. RTM (or Reverb Time Mid) was set at 791ms and, after a lot of messing around with different preset starters we ended up using the ‘480L Snare Plate’ setting. RTM is continuous on the Relab version, unlike the original unit. This makes fine tuning a much more organic affair. The legitimacy of the Relab’s sound should not be underplayed at any point. We wanted to fool the ears into not just thinking, but actually believing and feeling that they were listening to red-hot drums, straight from the 1980’s. We loved tweaking this reverb a lot but again, you can’t hope to get the best out of a beast as complicated as this without doing your homework. We would suggest that before you begin to form an opinion about this verb that you read the damn manual here. That’s not to say that you can’t appreciate the lustrous tails and detailed early reflections showcased in every, beautiful preset but if you really want this classic plugin to be at its best, you have to put the work in too. If you are one of those types who just wants the best sounding reverb for any particular job, there are a lot of working producers for whom 1:1 emulation are at the top of their shopping list. This can be useful for a great many, varied tasks. For those guys, the Relab 480 Complete is their Steamboat Annie. Just like the LARC controller GUI, the sound of this well crafted replica is as close an experience as you will ever get with software.
“Just like the LARC controller GUI, the sound of this well crafted replica is as close an experience as you will ever get with software.”
LiquidSonics Seventh Heaven Pro is a pristine Bricasti M7 replica. As a return reverb it served an invaluable purpose, giving the 808 drum kit a post modern sheen that helped it stand out from the slightly darker sound on the other returns. For GoldBrick we used the ‘01 Bright Plate setting’.
“As a return reverb it served an invaluable purpose, giving the 808 drum kit a post modern sheen.”
We set the VPS V-Verb mainly for the funky guitar riff. It’s such a great ‘quick and dirty’ verb with its own, unique sound and we love the adjustability present on the quintessentially VPS GUI. We began by activating send mode which automatically gives the plugin 100% a wet mix – exactly what you need for this purpose. We also loved the sliding filter controller across the bottom of the plugin – this control has a very instinctual feel to it and saves the need for further EQ’ing or filtering on the returns. With 1/8 of synced pre-delay and 0.89 seconds of decay, the V-Verb did a perfect job of giving the guitar an urgent feel that wasn’t too cosseted allowing the riff to shine from the ideal vantage point in the mix.
“V-Verb did a perfect job… allowing the riff to shine from the ideal vantage point in the mix.”
Relab‘s newest endeavor, the VSR | S24 is a shockingly good reverb. It’s so creamy smooth and light yet it has perfect focus and mass. We used it to send the claps and snares through to help define and separate them from the other percussive elements in order that they could drive the track properly. Adding these extra, darker and more complex reverberations allows the drum track to breath in well defined layers. The VSR | S24 is quite possibly the hottest new contender for pop and EDM reverbs at this moment in time. It’s a dark horse and you’ll be hearing a lot more about this plugin in the coming year.
“It’s so creamy smooth and light yet it has perfect focus and mass.”
..:: The Master Bus ::..
With so much computing power available a little light mastering can be accomplished, not only on your computer, but on the Master Bus of your actual document. This is a great time saver and allows you to adjust your track live whilst hearing the effect that mastering is having on it. Here are a few of our favorite plugins to give you live Mastering Lite.
The Brainworx bx_digital V3 is the only place to start when you are sweetening your masters. We used the eminently transparent 11-band equalizer in mid-side mode and were delighted to see that the legendary de-esser has been upgraded to a full dynamic EQ – which works beautifully. Always a joy to use the V3 spoils you with such luxuries as band soloing when adjusting a frequency. Boost the volume first and then sweep in glorious solo with the frequency knob. The bx_digital V3 is the very definition of a world class plugin.
“The bx_digital V3 is the very definition of a world class plugin.”
One of the biggest surprises of the year has been the miraculous Black Box Analog Design HG-2 tube processor. This thing sounds so good you’ll want to use it on everything. We used it to create a a sizzling top end spread.
“This thing sounds so good you’ll want to use it on everything.”
When it comes to ITB mastering, Acustica Audio’s Coral is in a class of one. It’s the only genuine, plugin mastering console available and it has been laced by the Lodi boys from top to bottom. With a phase free Baxandall EQ, a genuine Elliptical filter for mono/stereo manipulation and mastering to vinyl and a hauntingly familiar looking, mastering grade, mid/side compressor that is dedicated to transient preservation. Remarkable.
“When it comes to ITB mastering, Acustica Audio’s Coral
is in a class of one.”
The Acustica Audio Emerald has been with us since 2015, yet it is still APN’s ‘go to’ master bus EQ and consistently finds itself in our mastering projects. Based on the Klein & Hummel UE 1000. Each set of push buttons allows the user to adjust EQ curves in frequency and amplitude simultaneously in eight different bands.
“The Acustica Audio Emerald has been with us since 2015, yet it’s still APN’s ‘go to’ master bus EQ.”
“…you’ll bear witness to a mixing proposition that has been perfectly expressed in their Production Bundle.”