How to Sound Like Daft Punk
Emulate the style of the great electronic duo through every iteration, and learn how to incorporate it into your own music
Daft Punk is sadly no longer together, but we can still carry on their musical tradition. Let’s dive into how to create music like theirs, using only your laptop and your own beautiful vocals!
When in doubt, start with the beat! 4-to-the-floor is a safe bet when writing in Daft Punk’s style, so go ahead and lay down the kick on every beat and the snare on beats 2 and 4. That will give you the right motion immediately, then it’s just a matter of filling in the rest. The kick should be deep with a sharp attack, and you’ll want to layer acoustic and electronic snare samples together to achieve a nice blended, futuristic sound.
The next key is to include some sort of cymbals or tambourine. Straight eighths work fine for the most part, but switch it up the moment it feels right. A pattern that works well: 8th – 16th -16th, repeat as long as it feels appropriate. The added sixteenth notes offer a bit more motion, but constant 16th notes would be too much. Daft Punk does an excellent job of putting “just enough” into every beat — high energy but controlled. Beatmaker VICE gives you an excellent starting point for this style of beat, and you can create a full drum groove in minutes. Listen to the beat in One More Time to get a feel for this:
Of course, vocals are one of the defining sounds of Daft Punk! They’re not the only ones to use a vocoder to add a synthy quality to their vocals, but they use vocoding in a uniquely mechanical-sounding way. Many DAWs have a vocoder in their roster of stock plugins, but if you want to get a nice 3rd party one with some extra tricks, iZotope’s VocalSynth 2 (more expensive, but has tons of cool features) and Waves’ Morphoder (excellent classic sound) are both excellent. If you’re not super familiar with vocoding, here are the basics:
The vocals are what’s called the modulator signal — they pass through the vocoder and are directly output by the plugin. You then feed in what’s called a modulator signal — the audio you want to shape the sound of the vocals. Some vocoders come with a built-in synth modulator, which will get you very close to the right sound off the bat. Other times you’ll need to patch in another synth, which is tricky at first (and every DAW handles signal routing a little differently) but relatively easy to get the hang of.
One of the most fun effects to try is creating a funky synth solo using that as the modulator for your vocals — Daft Punk did this at 2:25 in their hit song Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. Since you can edit the MIDI of the synth solo, you can create crazy rhythmic effects that would never be possible with the human voice alone!
To nail Daft Punk’s style, you need to get comfortable writing snappy, funky basslines. If you dissect the sound carefully, you’ll notice their basses tend to blend the qualities of an electric bass guitar and Moog-like synth in a very subtle combination. Don’t worry about getting this perfect at first, because layering basses can get messy very quickly; once you feel comfortable though, go for it! But for now, just focus on getting that thick, nimble, plucky sound — Virtual Bassist ROYAL will get you very close if you emulate Daft Punk’s performance style if you choose to go electric, and you can also go all-in on synths if you like.
Alternate short and long notes, playing along with the drum groove. Ultra short notes add a nice snap, and a quick note release is the most critical part of creating a funky pattern. That way, sustained bass notes also have more impact since you’re constantly creating more variety. While the bass is an important part of Daft Punk’s music, you usually don’t want to do anything super drastic like octave jumps and rapid basslines; instead, keep it tight and in time with the drum groove. In general, don’t feature the bass heavily — just make sure it’s there providing a punchy, supportive and fun role!
Strummed electric guitar is a key part of Daft Punk’s sound — and if you save it until after your beat and bass are already in play, this is the moment where you’ll probably feel it all come together in an instant. It’s the icing on top of an excellent beat. But if you’re going to add in electric guitar, be warned: it had better be funky, or the song falls apart! If you’re not a guitarist or you simply want to drop in funky guitar chords instantly, Virtual Guitarist SPARKLE will get you there much faster.
As for what chords to choose, Daft Punk loves to hold a single chord for long stretches of time and milk it for all it has — just listen to the opening of One More Time, also referenced above (it’s just that good!). While their chord progressions aren’t completely unique, they’re simple and tight in a very different way. Listen to some of their chord progressions, and feel free to copy them exactly in the beginning. Once all the elements of your song are finally locking into place, then go back and change the chords to be your own. As long as you play with them enough, no one will ever know that you started off by copying from another song! Sometimes this is all it takes to get over writer’s block (editing is easier for most people than creating something from scratch).
One of the great things about Daft Punk is that despite having very simple simple instrumentation, their chords are often pieced together from a bunch of different layers — electric piano, low pass filtered supersaws, horns, and tons of different synthesizer patches. Get the right balance isn’t easy — the blending is very subtle, and while heavy layering is the bread and butter of modern EDM, it’s extremely easy to overdo it when you’re emulating Daft Punk. Their choruses never get “huge,” and they don’t have heavy drops with 5,000 different synths layered together. Pick 3 instruments or so and build up the chords until they feel like they’re “enough,” then focus on mixing them until they’re perfect.
Let’s start off with a great story from Mick Guzauski on mixing Daft Punk’s famous album Random Access Memories:
Time to bring everything together! The first rule of mixing in any genre is that while you must give priority to the most important elements at any given time, you want to be able to hear basically everything in the mix. Here’s a test that never fails: try muting an instrument or audio track. If you don’t notice a difference, unmute it and raise the volume level. Mute it again; if the song sounds better than it did before, cut the track completely. If instead it sounds like something’s missing, then you know it’s serving a purpose!
Once you have a rough mix, start with the drum groove. The kick and snare must have a good snap, which largely comes down to getting your compression settings right. For a brief overview of exactly how compressors work, check out our article How to Mix a Beat and scroll down to the section titled “How much compression to add.” Transient shaping is also very useful here: Native Instruments’ Transient Master and Waves’ TransX are both great additions to your arsenal and will help make the attack of the drums much punchier when you need it. EQ the kick for a sharp attack and nice low end thump, and the snare for splash while removing most of the fundamental tone.
Get the bass sound nice and round with EQ, and compress it to make it tight and consistent. Sidechain compress the bass and chord instruments off the kick to provide a nice pulsing effect and make everything extra funky. If you want to go heavy into processing, group all your chord instruments together and compress them lightly to make them sound more like a single instrument. Adjust the volume of each track until you’re happy with how they all sound together.
Last but not least, the vocals — there are no specific guidelines here, other than that you want them to sound light and nimble. Trim the bass frequencies and cut out any harshness. Since you’re probably working with vocoded vocals, don’t be afraid to apply heavy compression; this can actually make it sound even better since it contributes to this mechanical, futuristic sound!
Daft Punk may no longer be together, but we can all continue to enjoy their music and emulate their incredible music. No one could ever replace them, but you can practice their style and incorporate it into your music — and their unique style will live on through your music and everyone else who does the same. Have fun, get into the spirit of their music, and keep growing your production chops along the way!