Creating The Sounds of James Blake | Part 01


Introducing the latest in our 'Creating The Sounds Of' series.  In this article we're going to explore the techniques used when learning how to make music like James Blake.

Taking inspiration from our Songwriters Electronics sample pack, we'll be covering  the use of Ableton's Wavetable Synth, processing pianos, chord choices, programming organic beats and James Blakes use of sub bass.



Beautiful Keys In Ableton's Wavetable 

When creating beautiful chord progressions the simple tones of a sine wave shouldn't be overlooked.  In the video Stu reaches for Ableton's Wavetable synth.  The default preset provides a solid chord sound by launching with a simple sine wave.

Tweaking the envelope gives the chords a little more attack ensuring they cut through the mix.

In terms of note choice Stu relies heavily on his refined ear.  We're looking for that eery feel so be brave with your choices.  Semi-notes movements are synonymous with James Blake and will break you out of the usual moves you may have fallen into.


How To Make Music Like James Blake_Wavetable


 How Do I Layer Sub Bass

A crucial part of James Blake sound, especially his early work was the use of sub bass.  Tracks like 'Limit To Your Love' famously has one of the most simplistic verses of all time.  We find with sub bass simplicity is key.  It's easy to over process your subs and cause great issues.  A few things to think about:

  1. Start basic - Copy the route notes (usually lowest notes in your chords) and drop them down an octave.
  2. Check your EQ - sometimes high passing chords around 150Hz can prevent them from clashing with your subs.
  3. Side Chain is your friend - Try gently side-chaining the sub against your kick to create yet more space and movement.
  4. Start with a simple sine wave - the purity of the note is perfect for sub bass.


How To Make Music Like James Blake_SubLab




All the sounds featured in this latest video are from our Songwriters Electronics sample pack.  Inspired by James Blake, the pack contains everything you could need when learning how to write music like James Blake.  What more..?! It's only £5 / $7!


 Add Character Using VHS Plugins

When using piano plugins they can often sound a little fake and just 'too' perfect.  In the video Stu reached for baby Audios Super VHS - By increasing the heat (saturation) and drift (pitch flutters) we take the piano out of its usual world and start to make it feel like a sampled performance.  It's moves like this that will help your tracks move away from traditional preset sounds and ITB tones.


How To Make Music Like James Blake_BabyAudioVHS


How Do I Make The Beats Swing?

When figuring out how to make music like James Blake a great place to start are the beats.  A major issue with programming beats is the urge to place everything on the grid but this is completely unnatural and will greatly effect the groove.  The image below shows Stu's placement for his percussion programming.

Tip: Try tapping in your beats using a MIDI controller or on the keyboard.  The human feel will do wonders in getting your beats to swing.


How To Make Music Like James Blake_OffGridBeats


Looking to get those beats moving?  Why not check out our latest article where we show you how to programme realistic drum parts


Smoothing Out Transients Using Soothe2

This isn't by any means crucial but we've been really impressed by the efficiency and effects of Soothe2.  Similar in form to a dynamic EQ, Soothe can help with finding aggressive & harsh frequencies, dipping those out across the whole frequency spectrum.


How To Make Music Like James Blake_Soothe2


Find out why James Blake turns to the incredible Dave Smith Prophet synth when creating his genre defining analog synth loops