Deep house has seen a recent surge in popularity in the last 3 years. We are going to put this groovy and soulful genre under the microscope to analyse some of the techniques used.
Assuming that many of you don’t have analog equipment to enhance the richness and warmth of your instruments, then instead opt for very subtle LFO modulation of parameters such as pitch, volume and filter cutoff. This emulates the discrepancies in analog circuitry as it warms up from being turned on. We must re-iterate here that this modulation is to be extremely subtle, right down in the < 3% range
When programming chord progressions and riffs, always try to play in manually on a keyboard before using your mouse or pencil tool in live. The reason for this is that you can get a lot more expression down with the imperfections in timing and velocity which is extremely hard to program manually. If you struggle we suggest just hitting record and keep practicing till you get something you like which you can then chop up and truncate afterwards. If you still struggle with this then try slowing the tempo of the project right down whilst you play something in
Minor 7th and 9th chords are a staple in deep house which can really help to build some emotion into the track and give it some soul. Spend the time to program your chord progressions so that they flow throughout your track. Remember just because we often use 7ths and 9ths In deep house this does not mean that every single chord has to be a 7th or a 9th. Learn about chord inversions to help you effortlessly flow from chord to chord.
Most tracks in this genre are in a minor key due to the more moody vibe that it portrays. When you build your chord progressions you can still use certain major chords that conform to the scale. For example in A-minor the ‘lll’ ‘Vl’ and ‘Vll’ chords are major.
Electric pianos are a very common sound throughout deep house music. Using any random piano will usually lead to the wrong type of vibe so something like this is usually a worthy investment. If your looking for that vibrant acid house piano sound popular in the 90s then try the Korg M1 plugin which has presets that emulate that exact sound as well as plenty of others from that era. If you want to save yourself some money we recommend Mr Ray’s E-Piano which is a free electric piano plugin. Failing this you could always try using a sampler to create that authentic sound
Other common sounds are instruments such as organs. It’s quite simple to make authentic organ sounds using Ableton lives operator and detuned sine waves. We recommend using an LFO set to the volume to emulate the tremolo often heard on organs and Rhodes….
Deep house is renowned for its impeccable grooves. If you take these grooves away and quantise your deep house tracks you’ll instantly find them very flat and boring to listen to for more than a few minutes. In Ableton live we can add groove using the groove pool. The concept of groove is adding a swung feeling between every other note. A perfect Example of this is blues music which has a heavily swung groove. It’s important that your different instruments grooves don’t fight each other.
We can give all of our clips the same groove by placing the chosen groove from the groove pool on all of our clips and adjusting the global groove setting. If we find a groove that we like in a piece of audio, we can also drop this into live and extract the groove from it to give us a midi clip containing the timing and velocity information that we can then place on to another clip. A point to note on groove is that it is not advised to add groove to the kick pattern. In house this is typically a 4×4 kick pattern directly on the beat. Altering this will ruin the continuity and hypnotic element of the deep house track.
Stereo imaging is important in all genres, particularly in deep house. Make sure you utilise all of the stereo field. This can be done in a number of ways with the use of reverb and mid side EQ. As well as spreaders and imagers.
Use image and panning plugins to spread your drums and percussion across the stereo field. A general rule of thumb is to keep the power elements of your rhythm section down the centre, such as your kick and your snare. The clap is generally centre but can be set quite wide. Percussion such as congas, bongos and toms can be panned more extremely and as we move up in the higher frequencies we can pan different instruments such as tambourines, hats, cabasa’s and shakers in opposite directions. Try to remember to keep your mix balanced when your doing this and check mono compatibility.
When panning percussion it can sometimes help to use a utility plugin to monoize the signal before panning it so that it can be placed precisely in the stereo field.
Effects are generally used quite sparsely in deep house compared to other genres such as techno. The main effects being reverb and delay. Use these creatively to your advantage, it’s often wise to set these up as returns so all of your sounds are being affected by the same device to give your mix a sense of cohesion. This is most notable with different types of reverb. If your looking for some good reverb emulations we suggest the Valhalla reverbs.
Deep house bass sounds are often made to sound more authentic with the use of a short amount of reverb. When setting this up as a return track make sure you place a high pass filter before the reverb device so that all the low end below around 1-200 hertz can be removed from the signal to stop busying up the mix unnecessarily. Generally there is little to no spacial information for the human ears to pick up in such a low frequency range anyway.
Side-chain compression is used much more subtly in deep house than it is in its other house counterparts such as main room EDM. It is still a very useful tool to help carve space in your mix for more important parts. Long sustained drones and chords are quite common throughout house so this is where side-chain compression can come in handy to subtly duck the chord to allow the kick to punch through and be heard clearly in the mix.
LESS IS MORE
In deep house often less is more with regards to instrumentation. The sounds we use must be very strong and present. We can do this in Ableton live by doubling our sounds such as chords and melodies with layers of instruments. A typical example of this would be to layer string instruments with pianos. This gives extra tonal definition to the character of the sound and you can also use the volume control to decide which sound should be most dominant in the mix.
We can create ‘dubby fx’ in deep house with the use of auto filters and grain delays. If you want something a bit more diverse then try Soundtoy’s Echo Boy plugin which contains some insane modulation capabilities. Also one of our firm favourites is Native Instruments Replika.
When using vocals in deep house remember that your not constrained to using it in the normal straight manor. Try chopping it up and re-pitching it so the vocal stabs are no longer distinguishable as words. They can then be used to create new melodies and rhythms to sit over the top of your track. This technique has become more popular with the help of artists such as MK who uses it vastly throughout most of his tracks.
Deep house as a genre has a lot of recycled sound in it. As well as this it is also thought of as quite a sparse and stripped back genre. With this in mind instead of using a plethora of different sounds instruments and FX with in your production try to use less sounds but re-synthesise them to use them in different ways. For example loading our kick into a sampler, distorting it slightly and softening the attack can make a very powerful bass sound which we can use as our bass line. Pads and vocals can be re-pitched and time stretched or compressed to be used as swirling background atmospheres or fast zapping effects.
Use choke groups when programming hi-hats to ensure that open hats and closed hats don’t sound at the same time. This is necessary because in real life it is impossible for the drummer to make the open hat sound and closed hat sound at the same time from one hat set operated by the same pedal, so setting your choke groups up in this way will keep your hats sounding authentic.
Jazz and soul has played a large part in the sound of deep house over the years so try to bear this in mind when selecting your samples. Using organic samples also helps to lay down a vibe to build on. We recommend trying out some tribal or exotic percussion sounds to really build a solid picture in the listeners mind when listening to your music.
REPETITION AND FILLS
House music relies on an element of repetition but this is not to be confused with using a straight and lifeless groove. To improve this try making micro changes to the timing and velocities of your notes over a long period of time. Break sections up with drum, snare and clap fills towards the end of every 4,8 or 16 bars. Also try adding kicks in or taking them out for various sections. When a section needs an additional lift such as in a second verse or chorus, then try adding an additional shaker or tambourine for that section only.