A Legend of the Production Game: How to sound like Timbaland
At his peak, Timothy Mosley aka Timbaland was one of the most in-demand and highly prolific producers in Pop, Hip-Hop, and RnB.
Today he remains a stalwart of the culture, pioneering initiatives in the pandemic era like Verzuz TV with fellow producer, Swizz Beatz.
Over the years, his musical versatility and raw, innovative style provided a platform to work with artists like Missy Elliot, Aaliyah, Ginuwine, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Jay-Z, Nas, Björk, Coldplay, and many more,
Although his career began rooted firmly in the RnB genre, working with renowned producer DeVante Swing, it didn’t take too long for Timbaland to build a name for himself.
His seminal work on successful debut albums in the form of Aaliyah’s One In A Million (1996), Ginuwine’s The Batchelor (1996), and Missy Elliot’s Supa Dupa Fly (1997) paved the way for a major career in pop music production.
Getting that Timbaland Sound
The distinctively immersive groove-based sonic signature of Timbaland’s production can be attributed to many factors. We’ll discuss these and look at some of his favourite gear choices over the years.
The ASR-10 keyboard was Timbaland’s go-to production tool for the early stages of his career. Its high-quality 16-bit 44.1 kHz sampling engine combined with extensive synthesis features made it a formidable tool for beat creation.
Meanwhile, the 16-track sequencer allows up to 80 patterns and there are eight MIDI channels with which to control external hardware. The ASR-10 also boasts an impressive effects section, making it one of the most complete production tools at the time.
Over the last 20 years, the advancement of DAW software, virtual instruments, and effects plug-ins meant they can offer so much more than the ASR-10 was capable of, and Timb subsequently moved on to Reason later in his career.
In 1999 Korg introduced the Triton, a 62-voice workstation synth keyboard with stereo sampling capabilities. Timb’s production style favours fluidity. So the Triton’s ability to put multiple ideas down quickly suited his workflow.
As a music production tool, however, it goes far beyond simply laying down ideas. The touchscreen interface, endless effects options, and the 16-track multitimbral sequencer give you the power to sculpt polished sounds and arrangements.
The workstation approach to production is still relevant today, especially in a live music context and the Korg Nautilus continues this legacy.
Yamaha Motif ES7
The Motif ES series was first introduced in 2003, a time when almost every hit record was about being in the club. To reflect the times, patches found on high-end workstation keyboards like the Motif ES7 often captured this nightlife aesthetic.
With its realistic Megavoice sound engine, the Motif quickly became a must-have instrument for top producers. It allowed expressive sequencing of slides, ghost notes, hammer-ons, and fret noises which were triggered according to velocity.
The Motif series was much later succeeded by the Montage, which is infinitely more powerful with stereo 128-note polyphony and powerful DSP effects processing.
The 1176 could be the most desired compressor of its kind, and although useful on other instruments, it is known for bringing vocals to the front of the mix with the nuances preserved in a very transparent and pleasing way.
Artists like Justin Timberlake used the 1176 in their vocal chain when tracking songs like SexyBack, where you can hear its distinctive warmth. The key to this is to be sparing on the preamp gain, as the tone comes from the makeup gain.
As it’s such a classic, the 1176 has many modern recreations, notably the recently released LiN76 from Lindell Audio.
KRK V Series
The V Series was introduced in the late 90s and Timb was an early adopter. They quickly grew in popularity among Hip-Hop and Rock producers and engineers. This was due to their crystal high-frequency response and extended low-end.
They might not be the flattest, most neutral-sounding monitors ever produced, but they still have good translation properties. Moreover, they’re just more fun than NS10s in almost every way.
The current V Series 4 is still a very competitive choice in today’s market, as a budget studio monitor.
More about Timbaland:
- Timbaland official page
- Verzuz TV
- More sound-alikes
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- Ensoniq ASR-10: Vintage Synth Explorer
- Korg Triton: Korg
- Yamaha Motif ES7: Yamaha
- Urei 1176: Soundgas
- KRK V8 Series 1: Sound On Sound