Welcome back to another edition of How It Was Made. where your favorite artists breakdown their latest work, taking us step by step through their process, highlighting the methods and tools they used to do what they do. This time, we are joined by our resident professor Ant LaRock. His latest single, Want You Love, is a prime combination of soulful house and touch of disco.
Words and photos by Ant LaRock
“Want You Love” like a lot of my records is a combo of genres. Originally, I wanted a tough-as-nails beat that would knock people over the head but once I started to flesh out the instrumentation and vocals, the vibe became much more melodic. If you mute the pianos and vocals, it would feel more like a hard-hitting Tech House track. But this combo worked really well in the end, so I ran with the idea. Samples make up the majority of the tracks, so let's dive in to see how I processed the elements and what gear I used.
I’m a huge proponent of an amazing signal path, that is, audio interface and monitors. At this point in my production, I’d trade every synth and drum machine for amazing studio monitors. There are so many great plug-ins, usually included in your DAW, that hearing the track as accurately as possible is the top priority to me. With this track, I was able to work at my Brooklyn studio, Key + Needle, so I produced the track start-to-finish, on our ATC SCM 45A’s and matching subwoofer. I also used a Universal Audio Apollo 8 audio interface, all controlled with the Dangerous Audio Monitor ST. Ableton Live 10 as my DAW. Our “A” Studio is set up so perfectly that I know what I’m hearing, is how it really sounds in a club.
Like I said initially, the drums felt really tough and gritty. In short, the drum elements are; a TR-909 kick with a 4-4 pattern with syncopated ghost notes, a tuned down TR-909 Tom for the sub-bass to hold some weight underneath, a rim/clap sample, a hihat, and a shaker. Simple. Those sounds were out of my sample library, which I’ve collected for the last couple of decades, so I couldn’t tell you if they were from a specific pack or company. Normally I group all the drum tracks together and do some parallel compression however when the drums were arranged, it didn’t sound like they needed to be “glued together”, they mixed perfectly.
The ride cymbal was a different story. When the record was almost completed, I wanted another layer of cymbals to pick up the energy. I didn’t want the typical TR-909 ride, I wanted something more organic and “dusty”. I have been collecting obscure tracks for as long as I can remember and I recalled a track by a failed family band from the early 1960’s called the Shaggs and the track was called, “My Pal Foot Foot”…haha. They couldn’t play their way out of a paper bag but there is a section of the track where there is a clean sample of a ride, so I knicked that and threw it into Ableton’s Simpler device and cut it up MPC style, with a heavy swing. I treated it with side-chain compression, an EQ and some stereo imaging to get it to sit wide in the mix, all so it wouldn’t compete with the existing drums. It’s just a small detail but that is where the devil lives. I feel like a well-placed ride cymbal, even if buried in the mix, is a great sub-conscious energy booster.
The main piano riff, I made with my MPC-2000XL. I Sampled the intro from an Alicia Myers record and chopped up the piano chords in typical MPC fashion. I could have done this right in Ableton but the MPC can be so grainy and dirty, I went right to it and wrote the riff. Then I recorded the audio into Ableton, added some moderate side-chain compression to get it pumping and that’s it. Again, as the vibe of the track evolved, I didn’t want to over-treat my samples and leave them kind of raw.
The underlying piano layer was some chopped up samples from the intro of Jerry Butler- (Strange) I Still Love You. For this, I chopped the actual audio file, as opposed to placing the song into a sampler. I was able to manipulate the sample on the beat and bump it into the correct key for the song. It was just a nice, loopy, dreamy texture that filled out the instrumentation. This time I EQ’d the low end out of the sample and more moderate side-chain compression to keep room for the kick to punch through.
The vocal sample is a pretty basic cut and paste technique of a well known acapella, Petria – I Miss Your Love. I don’t mind using a known acapella if I can chop it up in a totally different way and create a new song out of it. One interesting technique I used was creating reverse vocal sweeps to smooth out the transitions where the vocals come in and out. I love this technique to segue into upcoming vocals. I start by taking the very first word of the vocal into a separate track, then add a long tail reverb at 100%, which will ring out over a span of 20 seconds or so. Then I render that track with the effects applied so you get this very wet, smoothly fading reverb tail. After that, simply reverse that audio clip and butt it right up against the first word in the vocal. The outcome is really organic and smooth. Again, it’s all about the vibe so I didn’t feel that a bunch of electronic sounding LFO sweeps and white noises would fit and this was a great alternative.
The mastering chain was the really fun part for me since I master nearly all of my tracks. I place my mastering plug-ins directly on the project, where I can really color and accentuate the track in the way I want it, right in production the session. First I used a sick little bit crusher plug-in from Native Instruments called “Bite” I reduced the bit quality down to 12-Bit because it added a layer of harmonics that sounds pleasing to me (thanks to Daft Punk’s “Homework”). That gave the mix a bit of digital edge, considering it was mostly older sounding samples. But the real reason I reached for that plug-in was the saturation knob! When you turn it up, even a little, it adds a fat, warm gain boost that really fills out the harmonics of the mix, without compressing it harshly. Ace plug-in for sure. During one of the breakdowns, I momentarily added Soundtoys Filter Freak, for a spacey, filtered feel that brings down the energy before it all came crashing back in again. I’m always trying to reinvent the overused and banal tricks of production that we hear on every track. I wasn’t about to reach for a pre-programmed drum roll or something that we’ve all heard a million times. To finish it off, I did some basic stereo-imaging, EQ, multiband-compression and maximization in iZotope’s Ozone 8.
Honestly, this was a pretty simple track that I banged out in around 3 hours. I had all the outboard gear that a studio-nerd could want, sitting in front of me, but it sounded clean and full with samples and plug-ins, so why mess with the vibe if it’s already there?
Ant LaRock – Want You Love (Original Mix) out now on Simma Black, November 15 2019. Grab it here.