Over the years, the emotions of music stay the same but the sounds are always changing. Each decade is defined by a new style and old ones get left behind, but some artists seem immune. No matter what happens they’re always onto the next big thing, putting out music that is as fresh as ever. Artists like Daft Punk.

Everything about their career defies time. They sample 70s music into house classic. After years of being together they’re still as relevant as they’ve ever been, and in a time where we are used to annual album releases, they’ll wait painfully long between releasing records. Homework in 97, Discovery in 2001, Human after all in 2005, and their latest album, Random Access Memories in 2013, shows their ability to use sounds from past eras. It was one of the biggest records of the year and even won a Grammy for being the best album. So let’s look at how Daft Punk uses classic sounds to make modern hits.

From computerized sound to acoustic instruments

When Daft Punk started working on their album, they thought electronic music had lost its adventitious spirt. All of the computer generated sounds didn’t have the life they were looking for in music, and they wanted to bring it back. They started making music like they always had, sampling and using drum machines, but nothing had the life they were looking for. They decided to bring in the best session players in the world. They were going to record this album live. Live sounds aren’t something you’d typically hear in a Daft Punk recording. They’re knowing for sampling classic records, adding a drum machine, and looping it until you’ve been hypnotized. You can hear it in Superheros (Discovery) or One More Time (Discovery).

Random Access Memories was made in a completely opposite way. Every single track except one, Doing it Right, was made recording live instruments. You can hear it in “Give Life Back To Music” (Random Access Memories). Notice the live drums, live guitar.

Even the synthesizers on this album didn’t come out of a computer. They ordered a massive analog synth to make all of the electronic sounds. All of the variations in the temperature and plugs would make every sound a little different, make it sound more alive. They used it on “Contact (Random Access Memories).

Random Access Memories: Going against established standards

Using live instruments and bringing in artists let Daft Punk experiment more. Instead of sampling live records, they could bring in the people that made those records, like Nile Rodgers.

“So it’s that single note thing in the middle of that chuck that makes the melodies and the licks just sort of jump out you because I’m playing a melody in between playing the rhyme, so you hear [Le Freak].”

The groove that Nile used to make hits like Le Freak is the same groove he brought to Random Access Memories. You can hear it in songs like “Get Lucky” or “Lose Yourself To Dance” (Random Access Memories).

Daft punk could recreate the sounds of the records they normally sampled but they also brought in new sounds, like Rock. A rock influence showed up occasionally in Daft punks work like the guitars in “Aerodynamic” (Discovery) or more broadly in “Robot Rock (Human After All).

It becomes more prominent in Random Access Memories, in fact, the album opens up with a grand rock-esque opening, “Give Life Back to Music” (RAM).

They also brought in lead singer of rock band The Strokes, Julian Casablancas. You can hear his influence in “Instant Crush” (RAM).

Exploring all these different styles, Daft Punks traditional house groove isn’t on this album as much. They normally put the kick on all four beats of the song, to make it easy to dance to. You can hear it in “Harder Better Faster Stronger” (Discovery). Only about half of RAM has this groove, and the one completely electronic song, Doing it Right, which you would think would have a pounding house groove, doesn’t. They bring in the four beat kick occasionally, almost to tease you, but most of the song doesn’t have it.

Along with the rock, funk, and electronic influences, Daft Punk also made an orchestral arrangement of every song on the album. Most of them didn’t make it in but you hear it in songs like “Beyond” (RAM).

Random Access Memories: Innovative Recording Techniques

Although all of the sounds on the album were recorded live, that doesn’t mean they completely removed technology from the process. They mixed old-school techniques with modern technology to achieve things that wouldn’t have been possible decades ago. All of the recordings for the album was done onto tape, like what would’ve been done in the 70s, but it was then fed into a computer. Recording on tape gives a more alive feeling to the sounds, adding in extra noise.

They also used intense microphone setups to get the sound that they wanted:

“When I came into the studio, everything was ready. I had three microphones and I said ’are they afraid one microphone would not work? so I asked the technican and he said ‘the one on the left is the old sound of the 60s, one of the 70s, and this is today’” (Giorgio Moroder).

They used 4 different microphones to record the kick drum and a standard of 2 microphones on everything else. That way they could combine the recordings of different microphones to get the sounds they wanted. For example, recording a piano, they’ll use two different microphones. They’ll take one and put it up by the hammers, near the keys. They’ll take the other and put it towards the back where the strings are. When they’re done they’ll take the recording of the hammer, put it in the center, and take the strings and put them on the outside to make a piano that sounds full.

Using computers also let Daft Punk manage an incredibly large number of tracks in one song. For example, the track “Touch” (Random Access Memories) is an absolute behemoth, they said it has 250 tracks in it. Listen to the wide array of sounds they used.

Daft Punks sound has advanced a lot over the years and it’s helped keep them relevant for an incredible amount of time. Their album Random Access Memories brought back a life to music that we hadn’t seen in a while. Their choice to use live instruments and recording brought a lot of character to the sounds. And they brought in some of the best players in the world to make these songs and explore new genres. They managed to make all these recordings with old school quality but bring in modern technology to make a record that sounds retro, but new.

Conclusion
When it comes to making music there’s a lot to learn from the way daft punk put together Random Access Memories. Just because you don’t have access to the best session players in the world doesn’t mean you can’t play live instruments. Any recording of the worst guitar on the worst amp is going to sound more alive than a guitar plug-in on your computer. And it doesn’t matter if you can play or not. Computers let you use as many takes as you need to get the sound that you want. Also, try to look outside the music everyone else is focused on. Look for musicians and styles that time has forgotten, use them as samples. Try to make something that uses the same emotions. Try to make something that sounds good.
Michael Hudachek

Michael Hudachek

Contributor

I’m an electronic music enthusiast and have my own youtube channel, Sound Selection, where I publish videos discussing the ways musicians use sounds to convey emotions. On this channel, all editing, voiceover, writing, and non-discussed music is done by me.

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