Since their 2013 debut album, Settle, UK dance music duo Disclosure has been going from strength to strength. The siblings’ latest release, Alchemy, is a pinnacle of hands-in-the-air electronic music, packed with a ridiculous amount of dance floor fire. It’s also chock-full of strong melodies, making it a pop opus as well as a club destroyer.
Disclosure are stellar songwriters, but they’re also masters at mixing and sound design. For producers of all genres, there are plenty of chances to learn something new. There’s certainly no shame in finding inspiration from different styles and sources.
Here are five production tricks Disclosure use in Alchemy that are sure to get you inspired.
Synthesize your own 808s
Jungle music is thriving. Modern artists are finding inspiration in the 90s-born genre, with its deep sub-basses and chopped breaks. Disclosure are no exception; they’ve made the genre their own on Higher Than Ever Before, a sunny jungle track with splashes of liquid drum and bass-style melodies.
For the bassline, Disclosure uses 808s, or pitched booms. Old-school producers favoured actual samples of the Roland TR-808 drum machine but modern artists, like Disclosure, prefer to synthesize their own for more precise control.
To make an 808, you’ll need a synth with a pitch envelope, such as TAL’s free TAL-Noisemaker. Along with appropriate oscillator, filter and general amp envelope settings, use the separate AD envelope to add a slight pitch drop to the oscillator to replicate the sound of a beater hitting a kick drum. You’ll need to experiment to find the right ratio between the decay and envelope amount. Audition it against the drums to get the right rhythmic affect.
Tweak out the bass at the end of the song
Here’s an arrangement tip. For the majority of Higher Than Ever Before, the bass serves to underpin the melody and hold down the song. It stays subtle and largely in the background, letting the vocals take centre-stage. However, towards the end of the song, Disclosure gradually open the cutoff filter, giving the bass a chance to jump to the forefront. This creates renewed interest, especially at the end of the song, when listeners’ focus may be waning.
To replicate this, use automation to open the cutoff filter on your bass synthesizer after the main section of the song has passed. Feel free to really go wild here if you like, modulating resonance and other parameters such as pitch – if you dare.
Use synced LFOs to add motion to pads
Disclosure are experts in pad programming. Pads often fulfil the role of adding to the melodic content of a track, ‘padding’ it out and making it sound fuller. But that doesn’t mean pads have to be boring.
Electronic music often relies on repetitive loops, so programming your pads to evolve subtly (or even dramatically) can be an excellent way to keep listeners engaged.
One trick Disclosure like to use with pads is synced LFOs. By binding the frequency of the LFO to your DAW’s tempo, you can inject additional rhythmic change while also keeping things in motion. While a sine or triangle wave will work fine, try using a square wave to modulate the amplitude for a more dramatic, tremolo effect. Finally, use automation to change the speed of the LFO as you would with a dubstep-style wub bass.
Make your vocals bright
Vocals in contemporary pop music are bright and airy. This is true for Disclosure’s vocals as well. While there are a number of different tricks you can use to get this, from scooping out lots of low end with an EQ to using a drastic low cut and little to no high cut for bright vocal reverbs, a major trick that Disclosure are known to use is the Dolby ‘A’ trick.
Dolby noise reduction was a method of reducing the noise floor in tape in the 1970s and 1980s. But by misusing the first part of the process, the high-end boosting stage, mix engineers realized that they could get beautiful, airy vocals this way.
There are a few different plugins that replicate this, including Fresh Air, a freeware effect from Slate Digital. By using dynamics and an exciter stage, Fresh Air can add sparkle to highs without sounding brittle or harsh. It’s a fairly simple plugin. Just pull up the air dials until it sounds good in your track. Be careful not to overdo it though, as you don’t want too much of a good thing.
Treat vocals like a synthesizer
Disclosure love to get wild with vocals. On Alchemy, they use the human voice like another instrument, employing a combination of Auto Tune-style pitch correction and vocoding to turn vocals into synthesizers.
There are a number of different plugins that can do this, including Antares’ Auto-Tune Vocodist, which combines pitch correction with emulations of famous vocoders.
Auto-Tune Vocodist is a flexible plugin with a lot of options. It responds to MIDI if you want to create new melodies, but for a unique feel, set it to track the pitch of the original vocal. Be sure to set the appropriate key and scale that you want it to conform to as well. Finally, experiment with the different vocoder models until you arrive at something that sounds good to your ears. Effects are important as well, so be sure and apply reverb, delay and even chorus.
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