BadBadNotGood Synth Sounds

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BadBadNotGood are a Canadian instrumental band that combines jazz with electronica, and traditional instrumentation with psychedelic synth sounds. In 2016 they released IV, which BBC Radio 6 picked as their album of the year. The album finds the band using odd rhythms, jazz-influenced harmony, and long, dub-like delays, and they bring on several guest vocalists to accompany them.

For live performances, they use a Roland Juno-60 for synth lines and a Korg SV-1 for the electric piano tones. It’s likely the SV-1 provided most of the Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Clavinet and Organ sounds on IV. They have also used a Dave Smith Prophet 08 in the past for synths, though this seems to have been replaced by the Juno. Additionally, the album credits for IV list a variety of synths used, including the Juno-60, a Yamaha CS-80, a Korg Poly Six, and a Crumar electric organ. The CS-80 (or 60) might have been used more on the album and just not been toured with for being a vintage instrument. Although there are fantastic emulations of the CS-80 and the Poly Six, I’ll stick to TAL U-NO-LX for the recreations, because it's easy to use, sounds great, and will keep the tutorial from being too plugin-heavy.

In live videos, you can see the keyboard player has a laptop as part of his setup, so it’s possible he uses plugin effects to process his synth sounds, particularly for reverb and delay. For all the examples below I’ve used PSP Old Timer for compression, and the Soundtoy plugins Echoboy for delay, Decapitator for saturation, Little Plate for reverb and Devil-Loc for distortion. However, you use any effects you like, and each will have a different flavour.

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Structure No. 3

I’ll start with the song Structure No.3, which displays the band’s blend of smooth electric piano and psychedelic synths. For the electric piano, I used Arturia Stage-73 on the Jazz Time patch, which I found closely resembled the electric piano tone of the original song. The chords are played with a rolling motion that Matthew Tavares' playing style favours in many of BadBadNotGood's songs.

The synth line is a horn-style patch that uses the attack stage of the ADSR envelope to create a brassy sound. I always think of 70s era prog-rock when I hear these type of sounds. To set it up in TAL U-NO-LX, lower the sub oscillator to the 2 mark and switch the VCA mode to ENV. Lower the cutoff frequency fader to 0 and set up the ADSR envelope with an attack of 3, decay of 5, sustain of 0 and release of 5. The attack creates the fade in, the decay and sustain keep the note short and snappy, and the release adds a natural sounding ending to each note. Turn on the onboard Chorus I effect and process the sound with heavy compression, slap-back delay and reverb!

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Speaking Gently

This instrumental piece revolves around a gorgeous sounding Roland Juno patch, that is rich in character and bright in timbre. Use all three oscillators with the sub volume set to 4 and the square wave’s PW mode set to LFO with the fader at 7. Raise the HPF fader to 6 to filter out the lower frequencies, making the sound bright. Change VCA mode to ENV and set attack to 1 for a soft attack portion, then decay to 6 and release to 5 to create long notes that bleed into each other. Add some slow LFO tune-drift to the patch by raising the LFO fader in the oscillator section 2 and lowering the LFO rate to 3. Finally, turn on Chorus I to run everything through the lush chorus effect. This is a fantastic patch that is worth saving to your patch library for use in other pieces. FX-wise I placed the compressor after the delay and reverb, to squash the tail-portion of the sound.

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And That, Too

More electric piano and Juno are found in And That, Too. The electric piano sounds very-processed, and I initially mistook it for a synthesizer. This time I used Arturia Wurli V, and got a similar sound by messing with the under-the-hood tone parameters, especially by setting the harmonic variation to Organ Harmonics. I used Wurli V’s onboard reverb, delay and chorus, and I imagine the keys on And That, Too were done in the Korg SV-1’s onboard effects. If you listen to the electric piano in the original recording carefully, you can hear that the delay effect is slightly out of sync, meaning it was probably an analog delay unit used in the recording. When emulating this in a DAW, don’t use sync functions in the delay effects, and instead use tap tempo or millisecond values instead.

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To recreate the waspy-sounding Juno line, use a single pulse-width waveform with PW set to MAN (manual) and the fader all the way up to 9 to get a thin square sound. Lower the filter cutoff to 6 and crank resonance up to 5 to get a mid-ranged quality. To make the sound more interesting, add some subtle filter modulation that will slowly open and close the filter over time, independent of note-timing, by raising MOD under the VCF section to 3.5, then lowering LFO rate to 2. Lastly set the ADSR envelope with an attack and release of 4 and turn on the chorus effect.

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Lavender

This was my favourite song to work on, and has a heavy-groove, especially for an electronica-jazz group! The Juno isn’t the first synth most people reach to get a deep-bass sound, that territory is usually reserved for the Moog’s, but the Juno synths are surprisingly good at providing bass tones, and the onboard chorus thickens up the low end. From the initial TAL U-NO-LX settings, lower frequency to 0 and raise envelope amount to 7, to create a filter pluck. Raise resonance to 3 to emphasise the filter, then set VCA to gate and raise release to 7. The notes are played quite percussively, which means the release time dictates the length of the notes. Turn KBD under the filter section to 0 to turn off keyboard tracking, this will filter all the notes equally, which is ideal for bass patches. Turn on the chorus and also process the sound with heavy saturation or light overdrive/distortion. I used Soundtoys Devil-Loc Deluxe which nailed the sound of the bass grit. Guitar amp simulations are also a great place to find overdrive and distortion effects.

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The Lavender lead line is reminiscent of the Blade Runner soundtrack, in particular, the track Blush Response, both in the tone of the synth and the 5-tone pattern. It may have even come from the groups Yamaha CS-80, which was used on the Blade Runner soundtrack. To program it in TAL U-NO-LX set the envelope with a long attack and release of 5 and a medium-timed vibrato. Check out the full settings in the screenshot below:

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Conclusion

Thanks for reading and be sure to check out the group’s earlier works, which are more hip-hop inspired. Download the patches below and have fun using them in your own work.