DUCKY on her production tools and getting a huge sound

DUCKY is a producer, DJ, and bass-rattling extraordinaire hailing from California.

She’s been producing since she was 13 and her tracks that range from club to hardcore have been heard around the world. She’s been co-signed by the likes of Skrillex, NPR, Trekkie Trax, and more. If you’ve ever wanted an in-depth look at her producing process, now’s your chance. Watch the video to see how she created some of the sounds in her new sample pack, and read below for a glimpse at how she produces her signature bass, gets her mixes sounding super pristine, stays inspired, and more.

Your bass sounds can be described in many ways, but “punishing” is probably one of the most fitting. What is your process of creating your bass sounds from scratch? Are you working primarily in Serum, or do you incorporate several VSTs? How do you get your low end (kicks, bass, sub) to sit together so nicely?

I almost always design basses in Serum, although I do switch back to Massive or Cyclop every now and then. My process is honestly mostly trial and error, but what I do to make it easier is save elements every time I’ve created something I really like – I have a huge user library of wavetables and presets I created from scratch that I can go back to or use as a jumping-off point for my sound design. My favorite trick for making wavetables from scratch is to get a single cycle going that I really like, and then to use the wavetable editor’s processing to create a pulse width modulation out of it. Instant wavetable!

Low end control is all about, well, control – I keep my sub and bass separate (like in completely separate groups in Ableton), and then I EQ everything. Sub gets a lowpass at around 160 Hz, bass gets a high pass at around the same, and I do a hard high pass on my kick around 20 Hz, which is the low range of human hearing. Then, I use TrackSpacer or VolumeShaper for ducking the sub and bass to the kick. Lately, I’ve been using TrackSpacer over VolumeShaper because it responds to the actual audio of your kick and ducks only the frequencies of the audio, but I’ll use VolumeShaper when I want a really hard sidechain effect.

On that note, your tracks are all intricately mixed and retain clarity despite many sounds coming in and out. Can you give us some insight into your mixdown process, perhaps what kinds of EQs / plugins are your favorites, your studio setup, etc? Do you mix as you go, or afterward? Where do you like to test your mixes?

Thank you! My mixdown process is (usually) pretty painless since I like to mix as I go. I do a lot of processing on the groups so my mastering chain doesn’t need to be crazy. I typically start with EQ – every group except for the sub, kick, and low impacts gets a high pass filter starting at around 160 Hz. Higher frequency groups like FX and percussion highs (claps, hi hats, etc) will get cut around 200 Hz, or even a little higher. My drums always have the SSL G Bus Compressor on them, which you can replicate pretty nicely with Cytomics’ The Glue compressor if you don’t have UAD plugins.

I separate my drums into a separate channel for kick, a group of any lower range percussion elements including low impacts and toms, and then a group for highs like claps and hats, but both the lower and higher range percussion groups get compressed. I like to put Invisible Limiter on each group with oversampling at 16, so everything peaks at -0.10 dB. Beyond that, my processing is very specific to the elements I’m working with. I try to think about where they live spatially in the mix and what I can do to carve out their spot. So for example, when I’m doing big chord breakdowns, those are typically quite wide and tend to come forward naturally in the mix because I have so many layers. So I’ll start by high passing the group, then maybe applying some multi-band compression to give them a more glued-together feeling.

Then, I’ll use the Waves S1 Stereo Imager to bump them a bit wider, the Invisible Limiter with no additional gain just to keep them from peaking, and VolumeShaper or TrackSpacer for ducking. My studio setup is simple but nice – a treated room and Barefoot MicroMain26s. I’m about to set up a pair of Adams as reference monitors as well. I like to test my mixes absolutely everywhere I can. The first test is always laptop / computer speakers, then the car, then through my DJ mixer into my Rokits, then my iPhone speakers, then to a couple of friends for feedback.

A signature element to your sound is the tension and catharsis of your huge sounding build ups. What are your tools or go-to methods for creating the build ups and risers of your tracks? For instance, I see you were using Dada Life’s Endless Smile (3:54 in the video).

I love making build ups and risers! My favorite trick is to just go into Serum, keep the default oscillator, make an LFO at 8 or 16 bars length that just rises straight up, and then drag that LFO onto everything – reverb wet / dry, distortion drive, coarse pitch, detune, noise level and pitch, etc. I also really like to use kiloHearts’ Tape Stop plugin to add motion to my risers. After that, it’s just about layering different sounds and creating that tension by increasing reverb, distortion, and pitch. Endless Smile is an awesome plugin for that too!

Your Rave Toolz series is endlessly inventive and fun (and fits snug in any DJ set). In terms of how your sound progressed, how much was informed by DJing and performing live? Did you find the types of tracks you were creating, with these big dynamic changes, were primarily informed by live performance?

Thanks! Beginning to tour has absolutely changed my sound. I started making music as catharsis, and it was very much about a personal expression of emotion for me. When I started to tour I began making edits to play live, and I started to get more and more into the sort of like, curation of people’s experiences. I wanted to make what I wanted to hear when I was out, what I wanted to dance to. Over time I feel I’ve finally come to a place where what I make is what I want to play, and what I play is mostly things I’ve made. It’s rad!

Vocals play a big part in the energy of your tracks, and range from the traditional to the chopped, vocoded, and distorted. How do you process and record vocals?

My vocal processing chain is LONG – here’s a screenshot of a recent one:

Ducky_InPostAsset

I always start by pitch correcting my vocals with iZotope’s Nectar Pitch Corrector – it’s like a lite Melodyne but it has its own tonal quality that I really love, a bit fake but not autotune-sounding. I freeze and flatten, then I’ll do another layer of pitch correction in iZotope’s Nectar 2.

I’ll usually pitch the formant up to around +1 or +2. Then it’s usually EQ, either Fab Filter Pro Q2 or the EQ in Nectar. Then compression, followed by maybe some doubling or stereo imaging. On the screenshot, the vocals are super super processed to give them an almost fake sound, with a ton of delay, passive EQ, multi-band compression, reversed reverb, and filters.

I also usually do a send to Valhalla Shimmer, which is a crazy sounding reverb with an insane decay. For my vocal chops, I’ll usually use Xfer Records’ OTT to give them that really bright, forward sound.

You started producing at a young age and have transformed this into your career. When you were starting out, what types of places did you go to learn about production?

I was actually super stubborn when I started producing at 13. I refused to read the manual for Logic 6. I just sat there until I could make a sound. I wouldn’t recommend it, haha! I did take an Ableton class at a place called Robotspeak in San Francisco, shout out! But I only used Ableton for live performances at the time. It was honestly a lot of trial and error for a long time, and it was a long road. I didn’t care though – I just made shitty low quality music until it started being a little less shitty, a little better quality, a little better sounding, and grew a little more every time. Eventually I did go to NYU for Recorded Music, where I got to learn a lot of engineering concepts. They didn’t have any classes for sound design or electronic music, but engineering concepts apply to any kind of music, and they’ve been instrumental in my production.

Throughout your career, who have you looked up to as mentors in honing your craft and improving as a musician and artist? For producers who struggle creatively or hit roadblocks in their process, what has helped you push through?

I have to shout out my bestie Gammer, Kill the Noise, and Brillz. All three of them have been such good friends and role models to me. I can hit up any of them to talk shop, get feedback, or go sit in the studio. I think those moments have been my biggest moments of growth – there’s really no better way to learn than to get in the studio with someone whose work you admire, and to just sit there and go through a session or try to make something together. I would say if you get stuck, it’s always a balance – sometimes you can’t force creativity, and you need to take a week or a month to procrastinate creatively.

Go expand your horizons, watch movies, take a trip, read books, or just organize your freaking sample collection. Get inspired. If I’m stuck in a more deep-seated way, it’s usually because I’m exerting some pressure on myself to create in a way that isn’t honest to me. That’s when I try to just take it back to the basics and make something for myself and nobody else, not worrying about whether or not I’m gonna release it, or play it out. This is a creative pursuit and at the end of the day it needs to fulfill you, not anyone else.

Check out DUCKY’s Bliss Pack on Splice for a taste of her dance-floor rumbling sounds.

April 27, 2018

Ken Herman Ken Herman is a producer under the name Exitpost and is an editor of the Splice blog.