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Updated by Frontrunner Magazine on Nov 21, 2018
Headline for How to Produce Music Like: Kaytranada
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How to Produce Music Like: Kaytranada

Despite his young age (25) and having only one full-length record to his name, Kaytranada has successfully crafted his own sound and reserved a place for himself as one of today's most popular artists. His unmistakable synth lines, pounding drums, and groovy vocal samples mean you know a Kaytranada beat when you hear it. And yet, if you were to ask the man himself, he'd probably say his best work is still ahead of him.

That's because, although Kaytranada launched onto the scene with captivating remixes (like his upbeat take on Janet Jackson's "If"), he prefers to see himself as a soulful, experimental hip-hop producer in the tradition of his own favorite artists, like Madlib and J Dilla. To produce like Kaytranada is to walk the line between hip-hop and electronic music, bringing out the best of both worlds while crafting something truly unique along the way.

Here are a few tips to get that Kaytranada vibe in your own beats.

1

Pick Your Favorite Synth and Master It

Pick Your Favorite Synth and Master It

Kaytranada has mentioned in interviews that his productions often feature a software synthesizer called FM8, a powerful yet intuitive FM synthesizer from Native Instruments. That's how he gets his thumping bass lines, lush chords, punchy stabs, and more of his signature sounds. But the point is not simply to recreate Kaytranada's work on the FM8 — for your own music, choose the synth that appeals to you most, and practice on it again and again. By sticking with one synth across many songs, you'll give yourself a chance to develop patterns and preferences that will contribute to your overall sound. Plus, you'll get deep insight into your favorite instrument, and it's far more useful to be an expert at one synth than a novice at many.

2

Don't Be Shy With Your Kick and Snare

Don't Be Shy With Your Kick and Snare

Kaytranada holds nothing back when it comes to producing drums. His kicks punch through the mix, his snares are always snappy and textured, and his hi-hat patterns range from dusty and shuffley to piercing and driving. If you're drawn to making music like Kaytranada, it must be at least in part to recreate the impact of his drum beats. Take time choosing the right samples to use for your kicks and snares, experiment with compression and EQ until they knock the way you like, then line them up just right to get your head nodding.

3

Make Your Beats Breathe With Sidechain Compression

Make Your Beats Breathe With Sidechain Compression

This is a common technique in dance and other forms of electronic music, but it's worth repeating since Kaytranada makes such frequent use of it. Use your song's kick drum beat to create a breathing dynamic feel throughout the rest of the track by adding a compressor sidechained to the kick bus. When your kick drum hits, the compressor will lower the volume of the channel it's controlling, making the rest of your track responsive to the underlying pulse of the kick. Tweak your compressor's attack and release to match the timing of your song, and adjust the threshold to your desired level of effect.

4

Build Around Vocal Acapellas

Build Around Vocal Acapellas

Kaytranada has had a ton of success creating remixes of popular hip-hop and R&B tracks, typically crafting entirely new instrumentals underneath a recognizable vocal acapella. It's not hard to get your hands on acapella tracks — try a quick Google search or scan your favorite message board for music producers. Acapella tracks can be a powerful catalyst for learning how to arrange tracks, forcing you to break out of simply making loops and actually define sections for the verse, chorus, and so on. In most cases, you won't need to affect the acapella track to make it work, though you can experiment pitching it up and down to see how that changes the vibe.

5

Consider Starting with Your Commercial Stuff

Consider Starting with Your Commercial Stuff

Kaytranada's career was already a success before his first record was in stores. That's because he'd already toured for years playing mesmerizing DJ sets, showing off his best remixes and keeping dance floors moving all night. But Kaytranada's dream was never to be a popular DJ; the producers he admired were left-of-center, experimental, boundary-pushers whose catalogue displayed a diverse range of memorable music, unconfined to what works in a club. When Kaytranada's debut record 99.9% finally dropped in 2016, fans got a taste of the real artist behind all of those catchy remixes. His record features all kinds of sounds: wobbly hip-hop with live instrumentation, hard-hitting electronic dance hits, rap anthems taking traditional trap elements to the next level, and much more. Kaytranada built his career with the tunes he knew would get people's attention, then steered back toward his true sound once he had a solid platform. If your goal is to achieve commercial success while still honoring your inner artistic vision, consider Kaytranada's long-term strategy for doing both at a high level.