Producing Hip Hop with Abbey Road Plugins

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Watch 3X Grammy-winning producer Focus… (Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak) as he shows you how to add saturation, vintage feel and more using plugins of the Abbey Road Collection, modeled from Abbey Road Studios' legendary mixing consoles, mastering gear, tape machines, rare hardware & signature production effects.

Digital recordings can often sound almost too perfect. Here’s how to give your mixes that analog character, color, and old-school retro vibe:

Saturation and Warmth for Drums & Bass (1:22)

The use of saturation is a technique mixing engineers take advantage of when tracking into analog tape machines in order to get warmth, natural compression and crunchiness into a recording.

If you want to put the same vibe and character into your tracks, tape emulation plugins are an easy and relatively inexpensive way to apply a close simulation of the sound of tape to your mixes, either on a track-by-track basis or on the master buss or a sub-buss.

The J37 Tape plugin perfectly emulates this technique and more. You can use it to saturate in two different ways:

  • Try overloading the signal input. The plugin has a button called Level Link, which is on by default. When you turn up the Input level, it reduces the Output level by an equal amount. This allows you to “hit” the input hard to create saturation without the plugin's output level changing. The more you overload the input, the more saturation you get.
  • Use the SAT, or Saturation knob to dial in a creamy, mild distortion.

Add Vintage Feel & Color to Instruments (2:20)

In the late 1960’s, with the expansion of multitrack recording and the need for more mic inputs, Abbey Road commissioned EMI to design and build a console to meet these growing needs. The result was the TG12345.

With the EMI TG12345 Channel Strip plugin, you get the same tonal colorations, presence and warmth as the classic solid-state console used on the Beatles Abbey Road, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and many other classic recordings.

If you’re hearing reverb on just about any song recorded at Abbey Road Studios during the ‘60s—chances are you’re hearing the Abbey Road Studio Two echo chamber—now modeled as the Abbey Road Chambers reverb plugin.

Here’s how to give your guitar loops a vintage and ghostly feel:

  • Select the CHAMBER2 Reverb Type.
  • Under the Mix Section, increase the REVERB amount 100%. Bring up the DRY/WET control a touch to about 25%.
  • For an additional tape saturation effect, Dial in a touch of DRIVE to increase the input level to the tape S.T.E.E.D section.
  • Set the FEEDBACK amount to 75%.

The “Abbey Road Reverb Trick” is a famous technique you can use to give your tracks that sheen and shine without loss of clarity or drowning in reverb. This involves filtering out any low-end mud and distracting brightness before the signal hits the reverb. You can use the FILTERS TO CHAMBER section of the Chambers plugin to apply this same trick and adjust the signal entering the echo chamber.

  • Remove some of the brightness with a TOP CUT at about 10kHz.
  • Start with a BASS CUT at about 50Hz to remove unwanted low-end mud.
  • Add a slight touch of GAIN, (+1-2db) using the RS-127 Equalizer’s gentle bell shape for a nice overall coloring.
  • Adjust to taste.

For a super-retro effect, you can use The King’s Microphones plugin on the virtual instruments… or virtually anything in your tracks to give them a vintage mid range boost and transform anything clean into gritty and sample-sounding.

Modeled after three priceless microphones dating back to the 1920s and 30s, these mics were tailored and tuned for King George V, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The plugin offers stunningly accurate recreations of the originals’ unique frequency responses, with three proximity settings for each.

Add Width and Character to Vocals and Instruments (4:43)

To give your lead vocals additional texture and width, you can use “automatic double tracking,” or ADT, a technique originally invented at Abbey Road to double the Beatles’ vocals, and now modeled as the Reel ADT plugin.

But you can also use Reel ADT to add texture and depth to instruments.

What made the original Abbey Road ADT process so special is that it used an LFO to alter both the pitch and the timing of a performance.

The Reel ADT plugin does the same thing:

  • Setting Reel ADT’s LFO to “random” changes the timing of a vocal performance by randomly speeding it up and slowing it down, and these speed changes in turn raise and lower the pitch of the performance.
  • The VARISPEED function can be used to add that wow, flutter and slightly-warpped effect to any vocal or instrument.

Get Old-School Vinyl Texture on Your Overall Track (6:20)

You can give your master bus an overall vintage vinyl warmth and the nostalgic feel of a record played on a turntable with the Abbey Road Vinyl plugin.

It precisely models Abbey Road Studios’ vinyl cutting and playback gear, including the acetate & vinyl pressing machines, turntables and cartridges. Just dial in some noise, crackle and clicks to comfort your mixes with authentic vinyl warmth and goodness.

Music: “Laughlin” by Focus… & Thurz.

Want to get your hip hop mix ready for mastering? Watch how to with multi-platinum producer Lu Diaz (Jay Z, DJ Khaled, Kodak Black).

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