How Kaytranada Produced Glowed Up

Kaytranada is the stage name of Canadian producer and DJ Louis Celestin. Accompanying his considerable list of collaborations and remixes are his two solo albums, 2016’s 99.9% and 2019’s Bubba. The former features the song Glowed Up, a collaboration with singer Anderson .Paak, who Kaytranada recently relinked with to release the new song Twin Flame.

Kaytranada’s sound blends hip-hop with electronica, and he has a strongly groove-orientated approach with lopsided beats underpinning dreamy synths. Kaytranada uses a mix of FL Studio and Native Instruments Maschine to craft his beats, using a Moog Sub Phatty alongside software synths such as Native Instruments FM8 and Monark, u-he Diva and Korg Legacy M1.

For this article, I’ll look at the sounds and production of Glowed Up. I’ve recreated most of the synths using Xfer Serum, a versatile modern synth, as well as the Korg M1 plugin. This is the first of two Kaytranada articles, I also have a second one looking at more 99.9% sounds prepared which will be posted in a few months. Make sure to subscribe to the newsletter to be the first to hear about it! 

Before breaking down the sounds, here’s my full remake of Glowed Up:

Sidechain Compression & Stereo Width

Two music production techniques that are a big part of the sound Glowed Up are sidechain compression and stereo width. Sidechain compression listens to a second track to decide when to bring the input track volume down. The most common use is to use the kick drum track as the second trigger track. This means when the kick hits, your sidechained track momentarily comes down in volume. This means the kick has fewer sounds to compete with, which makes it sound clearer in the mix.

Although sidechain compression is heavily associated with the four-to-the-floor pumping sound of electronic acts such as Daft Punk, it’s useful in any genre to help your kick cut through the mix. In Glowed Up, almost all the instrument tracks are sidechained the kick, with the most prominent ones you can hear being the 808 and the wide synth chords.

Stereo width is a big part of the Glowed Up mix, with the 808 and synth chords being ultra-wide in the mix, and other sounds like the outro melody being completely mono. Using a mix of mono and stereoized sounds helps create a rich sounding mix, with every track having a space in the stereo spectrum. Although using a stereoizer plugin like iZotope Ozone Imager 2 is the easiest way to make a track ‘more stereo’, there are also some creative ways to widen your mix, as we’ll see further on.

You can hear both techniques in isolation below. Note that you’ll hear the stereo width better on headphones, and the sidechain compression better by focusing on the kick drum.

  • Mono Synths - No Sidechain 00:00
  • Stereo Synths 00:00
  • Sidechain to Kick 00:00

Sample Theory

In his Reddit /r/electronicmusic AMA, Kaytranada said he finds many of his samples in library music on YouTube. This is exactly where he found the sample for Glowed Up, which comes from Raindrops by Bobby Heath, Eric Peters and Robert Hunter. This was released in 1980 for an album of library / production music. Kaytranada sampled a loop from the very beginning of the song, which sounds like this:

  • Original Sample 00:00
kaytranada glowed up sample

The sample has an interesting chord progression and was likely Kaytranada’s starting point for Glowed Up. The sample is at 127BPM and features an unusual underlying chord progression of F | D♭. It’s an unusual chord sequence because D♭ doesn’t belong in the key of F major, so it’s a non-diatonic chord. In Glowed Up, Kaytranada has sped the Raindrops sample up to 138BPM, which also raises the pitch a semitone, so the chords are F♯ | D.

  • Repitched Sample 00:00

Recreating the Sample

The main arpeggio patch is a noisy triangle wave pluck with a short decay time. To create the patch in Serum, set Oscillator A’s wavetable to Basic Shapes and set the WT Pos control to triangle. Turn the noise oscillator on and add some additional noise by seeing Osc A’s warp mode to FM (noise). Set the filter cutoff to a low 30Hz and add envelope 2 as a filter modulator. Set envelope 1 & 2’s decay to 300ms and 470ms respectively with low sustain to create the short, plucky effect.

The gliding lead is a theremin-style patch, similar to the one covered in my Frank Ocean – Skyline To remake. For the Glowed Up theremin, I used a single saw wave oscillator with the filter set to 430 Hz with keyboard tracking on. Similar to the arp, there’s plenty of white noise to dirty the sound up. For the smooth glide effect, set Serum to mono + legato mode in the bottom-right Voicing section and set Porta time to 130ms.

The whole sample is mono, so I used Ableton’s Utility effect to fully reduce the stereo width. I also ran all three tracks through reverb and delay as well as EQ to cut the high and low frequencies.

  • Arpeggio 00:00
  • Theremin 00:00
  • Drone 00:00
  • Full Loop 00:00
kaytranada glowed arp fixed

808 Bass

The 808 bass is the highlight of Glowed Up, and it stands out as it’s super-wide in the stereo mix. Although a lot of 808 basses are created by dropping a sample pack 808 into a sampler, the Glowed Up 808 is just a square wave, so I used Serum to recreate it. 

I started with the Basic Shapes square wave and set the filter to MG Low 24 with frequency set to 180Hz with keyboard tracking on. One of the signature elements of an 808 patch is a decaying pitch envelope, so I used envelope 2 with a decay time of 800ms to modulate oscillator 1’s fine-tuning.

I ran the Serum track through Soundtoys Decapitator to add saturation and Ableton’s Chorus-Ensemble effect set to 40% wet to add chorus. Finally, I added iZotope Ozone Imager 2 with width set to 95% and stereoize set to 12ms to push the stereo width up and sidechained the track to the kick drum.

  • 808 Dry 00:00
  • 808 Widened 00:00
  • 808 w/Drums 00:00
kaytranada glowed up 808

Stereo Synth Chords

The lush synth chords at 0:41 are interesting because they are created by two separate tracks hard-panned left and right. Both tracks are the same synth patch, but play different notes of the same chord. Kaytranada has essentially taken 5/6-note chords, split them into two separate 3-note chords, and hard-panned them. The result is a super-wide stereo synth sound that is much more interesting than simply stereoizing a mono track or using unison/chorus to create width.

  • Left Channel Chord 00:00
  • Right Channel Chord 00:00
  • Stereo Chords 00:00
kaytranada glowed chords

Drum Swing

An important part of Kaytranada’s sound is his use of shuffling drum grooves. This means that not all the drum hits are ‘on-grid’, and they have a more human sound because of it. In Glowed Up, the kick is on-grid and creates the foundation of the groove. The hi-hats play slightly late, creating a lazy-feel, while the snare plays slightly before the beat. This creates an uneven groove that has much more swing than a quantised beat.

Below you can compare the swung groove in Glowed Up to a quantized, on-grid version of the same beat. Note that the groove is more ‘felt’ than heard.

  • Drums Swung Feel 00:00
  • Drums Quantized Feel 00:00
kaytranada glowed drums

Outro Chords

At 3:04 there is a beat switch, and we’re into the second part of Glowed Up. The tempo drops from 138BPM to 135BPM, and the key has modulated to G# minor. The chords are played with a dusty, retro-sounding synth patch that I recreated in Serum. 

To recreate the patch yourself, use a triangle wave with unison set to 3 and detune set to 0.04 to create some depth and width. Turn on the noise oscillator with the volume level set to 30% and roll off the noisy high-end by setting the filter cutoff to 1270Hz with keyboard tracking on. My recreated patch uses Serum’s chorus effect with mix set to 36% and an EQ to cut the low-end below 230Hz.

There is an interesting pitch slide effect on the chords, with the first two chords sliding in from below and the next two chords sliding in from above. As Kaytranada used FL Studio, this effect was likely created using FL Studio’s piano roll pitch bend function, so I used automated the Serum’s pitch-bend wheel to recreate the effect.

  • Outro Chords 00:00
kaytranada glowed outro chords

M1 Vibes

Kaytranada uses the Korg M1 plugin to add some 90s-synth sounds into his songs, and the outro melody of Glowed Up is the M1 Vibes preset. The sound in Glowed Up has pitch vibrato for a lo-fi effect, which can be added to the Vibes preset by slightly raising the modulation wheel. You also need to reduce the amount of onboard reverb to make it sound less washy. The vibes in Glowed Up are mono in the mix, so I also added a Utility device in Ableton with Width set to 0%.

  • M1 Vibes 00:00
  • Vibes w/Chords 00:00
kaytranada glowed outro melody

Autopan Synth

Another creative stereo width technique used in Glowed Up is an outro synth layer with an autopan effect. The track is quiet in the mix, but if you listen closely you can hear the sound slowly moving between the left and right speakers. This is achieved with an autopan effect, such as Ableton’s aptly named Auto Pan. For my Glowed Up remake, I set the autopan depth to 80% and rate synced to 2 bars.

  • Autopan Arp 00:00
  • Arp w/Mix 00:00
kaytranada glowed autopan

M1 Bass

The Glowed Up outro bass sounds like the Korg M1 Fretless preset, which I tweaked by disabling the onboard reverb, reducing the VDF filter cutoff from 20 to 10 and reducing the Stereo Chorus effects Dry/Wet level to 32. Similar to the drums, the bassline has swing feel to it, with certain notes played late and off-beat.

  • Outro Bass 00:00
  • Bass w/Drums 00:00
kaytranada glowed outro bass

Kaytranada Presets

Thanks for reading! The Xfer Serum presets used in my remake of Glowed Up are available to download below.

The Glowed Up presets are also included in the Synth Sounds Collection, a free preset pack collecting the synth presets from all of my articles in one download.

Header artwork by Makarxart

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