For several years Timbaland has dominated the airwaves and charts with his hard hitting, pounding, club style records. Timbo is a legend in the game, launching the careers of many platinum selling artists.
From his early work with Missy Elliot to his recent collab with Chris Cornell, there is no denying his clout. So whats his secret?
In this article we will take an in depth look at how Timbaland produces his signature sound. We can’t guarantee that you’ll achieve Timbaland’s success, but by using the techniques and tricks in this article, and a bit of practice, you’ll be one step closer to making hits like Timbo.
So lets look at the specifics of the early trademark Timbaland sound.
Timbaland likes to use lots of soft synth’s and very rarely uses much hardware, although it’s rumoured that his latest piece of equipment is the ‘Open Labs NeKo’. His drums or melody lines often involve some organic sounding “human” vocal sounds or FX. For this article we’re going to use Logic Pro Studio for our chosen DAW. So lets get started.
When it comes to the Club Hits that Timbo produces, he usually has his Bass Drum hitting on every single beat. Here is an example:
Now to add emphasis to every 1st and 3rd beat, we have placed an additional, higher timbre kick in the mix. This gives a more hard hitting effect on the important beats!
Lastly, Timbaland generally will use a lower timbre bass drum to carry the rhythm and act as a phantom kick. This technique is simple yet effective. It’s also a technique used by real drummers for decades and adds a more organic, human vibe to the groove. Here is an example:
Notice the velocity editing on the phantom bass drum. This helps carry the rhythm and keep a humanized effect, which Timbo tries to achieve in many of his records.
Timbo likes to use shorter clap/snap sounds that have an interesting mid range timbre. Usually something that sounds multi layered or edited. We simply use the clap as you would have expected and also layer a soft long tail snap over the 2nd and 4th clap.
Generally, Timbaland likes to keep these clap rhythms minimal unless he’s using them as phantom snares or percussion. Keep this in mind when producing Timbo Club Hits, less is more!
Similar to Dr Dre, Timbo will usually move his Hi-Hats slightly off beat, to create a more humanized effect, although this isn’t 100% necessary. A typical Timbo rhythm would involve a closed and open Hi-Hat. Below is an example of what Hi-Hat rhythm would work with our drum pattern so far.
Timbaland will sometimes use the ‘Metronome’ effect as a percussive element, applying a slight reverb to give atmosphere to the sound. You can either find these sounds in drum kits online, or produce them using some clever editing of your DAW metronome. You can hear this technique used in our latest Hip Hop Producer Pack 5 loop pack. Below is another example of the sound:
By applying the rhythm in the image above we achieve a solid, Timbaland style drum rhythm. Notice that the Metronome FX midi notes are shifted slightly right and off beat, this adds to the groove and increases the humanized feel without going over the top. So, what have we got so far?
Melody – Main Synth:
Finding the right sound when producing a club hit is just as important as the melody. You want a clean sounding lead, with a nice reverb and delay setting (for atmosphere). A simple melody which is easily remembered is essential in any type of song writing. Try not to move the melody all over the different pitches and keep it in one frequency band. Here is an example:
Also using ‘legato’ effect and adding a slight glide to the lead synth helps create a more interesting sound that grabs your attention. A glide setting of about 34 ms is good. Lastly, when using Delay try to high cut your delay at about 2900Hz. This helps in the mix spectrum and keeps things less confusing. If you fail to do this you may notice the delay is harder to control and the main melody sounds too wet (over effected).
Now lets take a listen to the main melody with the drums.
Melody – Percussive Synths:
Adding a percussive synth line is simple, yet very important to creating a more complex and interesting melody and drum rhythm. So, how do you create a percussive synth pattern using a melodic instrument? Well, simply select a decent backing synth, Timbaland usually likes to use more strange sounding computerized synth’s. Then find a note that corresponds with the entire track, and then use it as if you were programming a Hi-Hat rhythm.
You may also notice a very subtle delay setting. This gives a nice warm sound to the percussive synth.
Also note that when programming and selecting the sound you are going to use for your backing synth, make sure it’s not fatter sounding than the Lead Synth. If you like a sound but it’s taking over too much, you can always high pass the sound. This will help push it to the background with some added reverb! Lets take a listen to the mix:
Bass – Synthesizer:
Lastly, Timbo would usually fill up the bass end with an interesting filtered bass line. Again, it’s important to try and use the bass synth as a percussive tool, rather than melodic. We also used a high pass reverb setting on the synthesized bass. This stopped any unwanted, low end rumble echoing, but gave a cool sounding effect to the top end of the bass. To hear how the bass fits in with the drums, listen to the example below:
Finally, Timbaland might use a stereo spreader on the entire mix to give a more 3D sound to the production. Running the whole mix through a subtle mastering chain of eq and compression will fatten out the sound and make the whole mix gel together. Here is the mastered version of our boil-in-a-bag Timbaland Style Club Banga!
It’s important to realize that as a producer you really need to find your own sound. By all means draw influences from your favourite artists and producers and use that to shape your own style.
Churning out replica beats of “flavour of the month” artists might even make you a few dollars but it’s doubtful that you’ll be on the path to true greatness until you’ve created a sound that’s all your own. Learning how to emulate Platinum producers is a bit like a guitarists learning to emulate their guitar hero’s. Get your chops up, hone your craft, then carve out your own unique sound.
Good luck with your quest to become a better producer/artist and don’t forget us when your rich and famous like Timbo.