This Halloween, we’re looking into the production of Michael Jackson’s Thriller to find out more about the gear that helped create this monstrosity of a hit record.
Known for its incredibly elaborate music video, Thriller was unleashed in 1983 and featured a dream team consisting of producer and orchestrator Quincy Jones, engineer Bruce Swedien, songwriter Rod Temperton, and spoken word from Vincent Price.
The famous graveyard choreography sequence has had about as much impact on popular culture as a music video can, with a record $1 million budget that director John Landis used to transform the 24 year old pop icon’s teddybear-like image into something far more sinister.
The Sound of Michael Jackson – Thriller
Sonically, the song is still cutting-edge, even today. Quincy Jones’ orchestration is intricate and layered, but still minimalistic enough to stand out as THE definitive pop single of our time.
Another key aspect was the stereophonic vocal recording and mixing techniques pioneered by Bruce Swedien. When combined with Quincy Jones’ production, they created a masterpiece that continues to thrill audiences to this day.
Roland Jupiter 8
Along with the Prophet 5 and several other instruments, the Jupiter 8 was used to create the famous brass intro sequence, and you can also hear these legendary analogue polysynths on the pads during the verse.
Although these sounds are very distinctive in the context of Thriller, they are not hard sounds to create with any polyphonic subtractive-style synthesizer, be it in hardware or software plug-in format.
- The History of Roland
From the descending starfall intro sound to the devilish bassline that drives the song, the ARP 2600 is an essential part of the production of Thriller.
Anthony Marinelli’s Tonus Arp 2600 featured a Moog-style ladder filter and the rich, warm sound of the 2600 proved to be the perfect instrument for Rod Temperton’s bassline.
The disco bass features some pulse-width modulation, which adds expression and movement. Luckily thanks to KORG, you can still get hold of an ARP 2600 today at a reasonable price.
- The History of ARP
ARP 2600 M
Like many hits of the era and many more that would follow, the track was built around a drum pattern from the famous LinnDrum digital drum machine, a true symbol of 1980s music production.
However, the LinnDrum used on Thriller had some modifications in that the snare and conga EPROM chips were replaced with those of the LM-1, while the clap came from a specially designed TR-808 digital EPROM chip.
There are many ways to recreate the classic sound of the LinnDrum, so please check out this article from our editor if you’d like to know more about the process. The Reel Machines ADPak for Addictive Drums 2 also features the LinnDrum and some great ways to manipulate the sounds.
*Please note that Reel Machines requires XLN Audio Addictive Drums 2
- How to Recreate the LinnDrum
XLN Audio AD 2 Reel Machines Download
New England Digital Synclavier
Introduced back in 1977, the Synclavier was far ahead of its time as a music production tool, providing the capabilities for both extremely precise and expressive sampling and synthesis.
Although you might not hear it most of the time, the Synclavier was used to reinforce the low-end of some of the instruments on Thriller, including the Brass intro sequence, where a pipe organ sound was played in the lower register.
- More about Synclavier
Arturia Synclavier V
The famous frog-like synth bass beltch from the bridge came from the Casiotone MT-60, a simple-looking but unique polysynth with 8 analogue voices.
The MT-60 had a primitive accompaniment chip separate of the D990G main voice chip. This consisted of two mixed multipulse squarewave suboscillators which had different pulse patterns and volume envelopes.
Luckily the MT-60 is not the only Casio that can reproduce the frog sound, and you can download a free CT-101 plug-in instrument for Ableton here.
- More about Musical Toys
Has any artist done a better recreation of Thriller than The Prodigy? Please let us know in the comments below!
More about Michael Jackson – Thriller:
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- Roland Jupiter-8: Roland
- ARP 2600 (1971): Arturia
- The legendary LinnDrum, the throbbing neon heart of the 80s: Amazona
- New England Digital Synclavier II: Synclavier
- Casio MT-60: Anthony Marinelli Music
- Synclavier-Main-PluginBoutique: Plugin Boutique
- pb: Plugin Boutique