How to Get the Nile Rodgers Chic Funk Sound

From Chic to Daft Punk, the sound of Nile Rodgers’ funk guitar playing is unmistakable. We break down all the steps of creating a Chic-sounding production and give you free presets to get you that funk sound.

By Neal Gustafson, Waves Audio

How to Get the Nile Rodgers Chic Funk Sound

 

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Arising from Greenwich Village on the island of Manhattan, one of pop music’s most celebrated producers emerged. Armed only with his signature Stratocaster and a creative desire for limitless exploration, he would produce countless hit records for any artist that came into his orbit.

The Rodgers Story

Nile Rodgers was born on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1952 and was raised by his Black American mother, Beverly Goodman, and her Jewish American husband, Bobby Glanzrock. Growing up surrounded by artists and musicians, his Beatnik parents' mixed-race upbringing in 1950s NYC laid the groundwork for Rodgers’ constant creative exploration. At the center of his infectious grooves is a combination of extraordinary songwriting mastery built with a distinctive guitar technique and supercharged by magnetic musical arrangements with the dance floor in mind. This award-winning formula has seen his efforts contribute to the sales of well over 500 million albums, including 75 million singles worldwide.

Rodgers ultimately met his long-term musical partner-in-crime—bassist Bernard Edwards—while on tour. As backing musicians for major artists, they formed The Big Apple Band, and after a name change in 1977 to Chic, they released their first single "Dance, Dance, Dance," with Luther Vandross on vocals.

 

The Chic Organization was crafted as a way to “Let The Music Be The Star.” They began to develop a style of writing described as “Sophisto-Funk”—using contagious grooves to hide extended harmonic ideas not commonplace in pop music, and an arrangement style known as “Breakdown”—dropping out beat-driven aspects of groove-based music to allow for extended moments of instrumental vamping to build anticipation. After some commercial success and many failures, Chic split and Rodgers went on to produce multi-platinum records for Sister Sledge, David Bowie, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, INXS, Grace Jones, Madonna, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The B-52s, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, the list goes on.

Rodgers continued to work with major artists, and in 2013 he released the single "Get Lucky" with Daft Punk—which took home Grammy Awards for “Record of The Year” and “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance”—selling almost 10 million copies worldwide. This record, Random Access Memories, is a clinical example of The Chic Org school of production and aural engineering aesthetics, and it features the sound and style of Rogers' early guitar arrangement style, front and center.

 

Recording with Daft Punk

For the Daft Punk record, they brought in the highly decorated mix engineer, Mick Guzauski, and together with Daft Punk, they instilled the vibe of the era Rodgers propelled. Emulating this vintage sound, Nile Rodgers tracked the guitar parts at Electric Lady Studios—the legendary studio in his old Greenwich Village neighborhood—recalling a similar guitar tone blend of direct/mic’d amp summing.

Much like how Rodgers recorded “Le Freak” at New York’s Power Station Studios back in the ’70s—with engineer Bob Clearmountain, the Neve 8068 console and its 31102 mic preamp/EQ channel strips—Guzauski used the Neve 88R console to mix “Get Lucky” with Rodgers’ Electric Lady tracks.

The Neve 88R is the newer version of the classic 28-input Neve A88, which introduced the recording world to the Neve 1073 channel amplifier/equalizer module. What made the 1073 amp/EQ legendary is the transformer. Adding subtle harmonic distortion to the signal, this Class-A solid-state preamp with transformer-balanced inputs and outputs features a fixed-band EQ section and has since become an iconic sonic standard.

Recreating that Chic Funk Sound

Electric Guitars

Inspired by the vintage studio techniques of “Get Lucky” and classic sounds from the late ‘70s, I wanted to recreate the “Sophisto-Funk" style and “Breakdown” approach pioneered by Chic over a half-century ago. Using a mixture of analog effect emulations, vintage instruments, and the front and center direct/re-amp clean guitar tone of Rodgers’, I recreated this atmosphere with the track, “Le Sound C'est Chic.”

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Le Sound C'est Chic - Logic X Session

Le Sound C'est Chic - Logic X Session

Wanting to get as close as possible to the original sound, I started by tracking both rhythm and lead guitar parts with a late ‘90s Fender Stratocaster, plugged directly into a Solid State Logic SSL2+ audio interface. I then duplicated the resulting audio files onto additional tracks for separate processing—one as the direct tone and the other as the re-amped tone—and ultimately summed them together for this full-sounding clean tone.

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To get the vintage Neve solid-state console sound often found in Rodgers’ productions, I used the Scheps 73 plugin, which models the Neve 1073 channel strip precisely for that classic transistor harmonic color. The preamp was set to -30db with slight additive EQ in the high/mid ranges and a 160Hz roll-off on the low end.

To give this direct-in guitar channel a vintage sheen, the high/midranges get boosted with the very musical PuigTec EQP-1A—modeled after the Pultec EQP 1A3 and MEQ-5 tube equalizers.

Rhythm Guitar – Direct Channel Processing (Scheps 73, PuigTec EQs)

Rhythm Guitar – Direct Channel Processing (Scheps 73, PuigTec EQs)

Finally, to tame the channel dynamics, I inserted some slight 1176 compression with the CLA-76 using the stock guitar (Blacky) preset with a faster attack setting—making this now dynamic guitar tone soar above the other instruments in the mix.

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Rhythm Guitar – Re-Amp Channel Processing (PRS SuperModels Dallas, Kaleidoscopes)

Rhythm Guitar – Re-Amp Channel Processing (PRS SuperModels Dallas, Kaleidoscopes)

PRS SuperModels make it easy to quickly dial in vintage amp sounds of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s—like Rodgers’ Fender Deluxe Reverb—and the Dallas Supermodel is an excellent choice for recreating a clean cabinet tone. Skewing the upper range of this amp channel to match the profile of the direct signal, the mid/high knobs get boosted slightly, and the onboard reverb is removed before this guitar signal gets widened.

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While sounding great, this clean guitar tone is the centerpiece of the production and needs some subtle movement in the mix. I gave it some rhythmic motion via the unique Kaleidoscopes modulation suite. Designed to take any classic modulation sound of the past one step further, this creative processor allows for its two parallel effects to “cascade” into one another and sum together to create additional effects modulations not possible in any other device.

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The rhythmic interplay between Kaleidoscopes’ parallel processors is created using fast-attack threshold settings—the chorus modulation on Effect 1 (3.87ms) re-triggers a shorter flanger modulation on Effect 2 (0.49ms) to widen the stereo image for this static clean guitar tone.

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I used the same vintage chain of Scheps 73, PuigTec EQs and CLA-76 for the lead guitar channels, with some modulation variance from Kaleidoscopes, and an aux send to a classic reverb sound. Heavily featured in this era of music productions, a vintage EMT-style plate reverb from Renaissance Reverb is used on the guitar group.

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Electric Piano

For the electric piano sound's main lush chords, I blended a combination of a warm Rhodes emulation together with an ‘80s style FM synth electric piano to create that full-frequency tone. After rolling off some low end with the F6 Floating-Band Dynamic EQ, I layered the Electric 88 Piano on top of an EP patch created with the Flow Motion FM Synth.

Electric Piano Chain (Electric 88 Piano, Flow Motion FM Synth, Kaleidoscopes)

Electric Piano Chain (Electric 88 Piano, Flow Motion FM Synth, Kaleidoscopes)

Giving this section some additional motion in the mix, a long chorus and shorter flanger get activated in counterpoint with the Kaleidoscopes modulation suite and then sent to another EMT-style plate using Renaissance Reverb.

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I used a tremolo Rhodes patch from the Electric 88 Piano for the syncopated electric piano comps as the basis for the funk fusion aesthetic. I needed more motion for this rhythmic pattern, so I used additional modulation effects from Kaleidoscopes, this time with a slow phaser modulating into a faster flanger effect.

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Synths

Taking this production into a distinctively modern sonic territory, the layers of arpeggios cascade over swirling choirs and pads to create a rich enveloping sound palette. Using patches from the Flow Motion FM Synth for the arp and choir sound, I sent this synthetic section into orbit with a stock patch from Brauer Motion. This plugin adds a 3D auto-panning effect, creating a surreal sense of stereo imaging with the two FM sounds.

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Brauer Motion

Brauer Motion

Keyboards

I used Grand Rhapsody Piano to add a further exclamation to the chordal elements stated by the electric piano parts. Codex Wavetable Synth is used to punctuate the final polyphony to the section, solidifying a synthetic sound design of an all-encompassing nature.

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Grand Rhapsody Piano

Grand Rhapsody Piano

Bass

To get that classic fingered-groove bass sound I used a stock patch—Jazzy 1—from Bass Fingers for the mid/low-mid range. I paired this sound with a square wave low-end tone from Flow Motion FM Synth for complete contemporary sonics. Both of these bass tones were then bussed to the Kramer PIE Compressor for substantial dynamic treatment, allowing them to glue together in the mix more cohesively.

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Bass Production and Processing (Bass Fingers, Flow Motion FM Synth, Kramer PIE Compressor)

Bass Production and Processing (Bass Fingers, Flow Motion FM Synth, Kramer PIE Compressor)

Drum Programming

I created the thirteen-track drum section for this production using a mixture of performance-based drum samples that I sequenced, arranged, and then rendered into single regions for visual clarity.

Using a contemporary approach to space design, I selected a contrasting mixture of reverbs and delays for their unique spatial environments. The claps are sent to a medium concert hall in TrueVerb, with the hi-hats and shakers getting the Abbey Road Chambers treatment. The ensemble of crash cymbals is being sustained by the longer feedback settings of H-Delay Hybrid Delay.

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Drum Processing Chain (TrueVerb, Abbey Road Chambers, H-Delay Hybrid Delay)

Drum Processing Chain (TrueVerb, Abbey Road Chambers, H-Delay Hybrid Delay)

Master Bus

Finally, to glue this whole mix together with a vivid vintage polish, I used the Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain as a seamless way to emulate the distinctive solid-state transistor-based sound of the early ‘70s. Inserted in-line on the stereo bus, this signal chain of mid/side processing creates significantly more depth while also widening the mix's image.

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Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain

Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain

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