Are your production skills up to date with music trends? This TikTok-fueled microgenre has made noise through artists like Charli XCX, SOPHIE, 100 Gecs and A. G. Cook. Learn 4 tips to get started producing Hyperpop songs!
By Charles Hoffman, Black Ghost Audio
According to Will Pritchard of Independent, “Hyperpop is a self-referential, humorous and excessive brand of pop music that is apparently everywhere at the moment and proliferating lightning-fast in the era of TikTok.”
This microgenre uses squelching synths, pitch-shifted vocals, plenty of distortion and is a mixture of bubblegum pop, Eurohouse, trance, hip-hop, emo and nu-metal. We’re going to take a look at what makes this genre tick, along with 5 tips you can use to produce hyperpop songs yourself.
Hyperpop Song Examples
“Money Machine” by 100 Gecs is what many people think of when they hear the word “Hyperpop.” As one YouTube commenter says, “This song literally feels like spitting lemon juice on a 3rd degree burn.” Indeed, it does, and the result is that you’ll probably either love or hate this group. Paul Spella of The Atlantic describes 100 Gec’s 2019 debut album, 1000 Gecs, as “a prankish, postmodern collage of Skrillex, Mariah Carey, Blink 182, Nelly, Linkin Park, Kenny Loggins, Eurodance, and ska.”
A. G. Cook is known as one of the pioneers of Hyperpop. In the song “Beautiful,” you’ll hear a much more house-inspired production approach than in “Money Machine.” Despite some obvious differences, these songs likely both fall under the umbrella of Hyperpop.
Artists like Charli XCX, Rina Sawayama, Glaive and SOPHIE have had releases characterized as Hyperpop by listeners. Hyperpop visuals tend to be full of cheap-looking 3D renders that are reminiscent of the nostalgic early days of the internet. Pritchard explains that Hyperpop is shaped by the internet and that “The music itself has all the hallmarks of meme culture: endless remixes and reinterpretation of existing sounds and signifiers, with humour and kitsch masking more serious or sincere emotions.”
1. Choose the Right Tempo and Key
Most Hyperpop songs use a tempo between 80-100 BPM. However, 85 BPM seems quite common, so that’s an excellent place to start; this tempo allows you to transition between energetic four-on-the-floor style arrangements and less predictable trap-inspired drum breaks. Hyperpop appears to be less defined by the type of drum arrangement that you use and more by your sound selection choices.
Lots of Hyperpop is written in a major key giving it a happy, energetic and lively feeling. Somewhat ironically, a lot of the lyrical content within this style of music contrasts sharply with the positive emotional effect of writing music in a major key. Depression, dysfunctional relationships, and other personal problems find their way into the lyrics of many Hyperpop songs. “SugarCrash!” by ElyOtto is an excellent example of a Hyperpop track that sounds upbeat and happy but addresses personal struggles within the lyrics:
Victim of the great machine, in love with everything I see
Neon lights surrounding me, I indulge in luxury
Everything I do is wrong ‘cept for when I hit the bong
Hit the bong, hit the bong, feel good
Feeling shitty in my bed, didn’t take my f***in’ meds
Hyperpop up in my ears, everything just disappears
Don’t wanna be someone else, just don’t wanna hate myself
I just don’t wanna hate myself, instead I wanna feel good.
2. Use Distorted Bass and Trap Drums
Hyperpop frequently makes use of highly distorted 808s and basslines. As a result, many people struggle to get gritty bass sounds while maintaining deep and impactful low end. The secret is to use a two-oscillator synthesizer like Codex to layer a buzzy saw wave on top of a deep sine wave. Then, select a low-pass filter and adjust the cutoff frequency to around 1,000 Hz to filter out the excessive top end.
Many Hyperpop songs use trap drum arrangements that leverage distorted 808s, dry snares, strange percussion and hi-hat rolls. However, if you’d rather opt for a kick and sustained bassline arrangement, that’s certainly an option as well. As long as you get the nasty tone of your 808/bass dialed in, you have a lot of freedom when it comes to Hyperpop drum production.
3. Bring Out the Dance Synths
If a synth patch sounds like it belongs in Dance Dance Revolution, it probably fits in a Hyperpop song too. Huge Europlucks, earworm arps and thick pads are the tools of the trade. “Mile High Club” by That Kid contains an assortment of these sounds.
The artist Glaive tends to get lumped in with the Hyperpop crowd due to the communities he’s a part of online, but as you can hear in the following audio example, there’s something a little different about his style. He’s decided to refrain from the over-the-top vocal processing that some Hyperpop artists are drawn to. Although he still uses squelchy synths in his music, there’s also a healthy dose of live-sounding instrumentation. Eli Enis explains that “Hyperpop’s identity is less rooted in musical genetics than it is a shared ethos of transcending genre altogether, while still operating within the context of pop.”
Building upon the kick and bass example from before, I’ve added some plucks and arps to the arrangement using Codex. Multiple plucks have been stacked on top of each other to fill space, and I used Ableton’s MIDI Effect called Arpeggiator to generate the arpeggiated sound. Not every synth has an arpeggiator built into it so take advantage of your DAW’s stock MIDI effects.
4. Shift the Pitch and Formant of Vocals
Pritchard explains that “Many of the genre’s key players are trans; queerness and Hyperpop have been called ‘inseparable.’ This has surfaced in specific ways in the music too, as vocal modulation has allowed artists to explore the fluidity of gender with their voices.” For example, the high-pitched vocal effect that you heard in some of the previous audio examples can easily be achieved using Waves Tune and Vocal Bender in combination with one another.
First, you need to hard-tune the vocals you’ve recorded. The goal is to achieve a robotic sound by aggressively pulling the pitch center of your voice to the notes within the key of your song. Using Waves Tune, click the “Select All” button, input the root note of your song, and select the scale you’re working in.
With these parameters set, click “Apply” to snap all the notes in your song to the correct key. Set the Speed to 0, the Note Transition time to 0, and the Ratio to 100 for the most robotic results. For best results, make sure to adjust unruly notes within the note editor interface manually.
At this point, you need to apply an instance of Vocal Bender to your vocals and increase the Pitch and Formant knobs by a value of 5 semitones. However, the glaring issue with doing this is that it will push your vocals outside the key of your song. The workaround is to render your song as an instrumental and then pull it into a separate recording project. Within that project, reduce the pitch of the instrumental by five semitones, record your vocals, and then export your vocals into your original project. Now, when you increase the pitch of your vocals, they’ll end up in the correct key.
You’re probably wondering why you need to bother with this process at all—when the goal is to fit your vocals within the key of your song. So why not just sing within the original key of your song and forego the five-semitone pitch adjustment? Well, the answer is that the final product will sound different as a result of the pitch adjustment that you apply. In the following audio example, I recorded my vocals in the key of B Major so that when I pitched them up, they ended up in the original key of my song (E Major).
To give your Hyperpop vocals some more width, apply an instance of Waves Doubler and turn up the gain on Voice 1 and 2 a few decibels. Turning up the level of doubles too much can sometimes result in an unnatural sound, but that’s the direction we’re headed in anyways. Plenty of pop artists use this technique to make their vocals fill out mixes.
A little bit of distortion can help sweeten the sound of your vocals even further. Consider applying an amp plugin like one of the PRS SuperModels to an aux track, and then use it to parallel process your vocals. Experiment with light and heavy distortion to figure out which approach suits your song the best.
If you want to add variety to your vocal arrangement, you can duplicate your vocal track and pitch the duplicates down/up an octave using Vocal Bender to create harmonies. It’s also possible to adjust the pitch using other semitone values and then snap the resulting notes into the key of your song using another instance of Waves Tune.
Here’s what the final product sounds like, with some reverb and delay applied to the vocals to help blend them into the mix.
Hyperpop is a label that has been casually applied to a wide variety of pop music, making it difficult to define. Although, you now know how to apply some new sound design and mixing techniques—found within songs that have been commonly categorized as Hyperpop—to your music. Consider this information as another tool part of your production arsenal, and look for creative ways to apply it to the songs that you write.
Charles Hoffman is the owner of Black Ghost Audio—a website that provides free music production tips, tutorials, gear roundups, and premium online video courses. Visit Black Ghost Audio to learn how to produce music online.
Want to learn more about vocal processing? Learn 4 tips to mix pop vocals.
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