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A Daft Punk Approach to Studio Gear

A Daft Punk Approach to Studio Gear

By late 2001, Daft Punk were considered by everyone in the industry to be Gods of music. Their second album, ‘Discovery’ had just been released, delivering them to mainstream success across the globe. Today, the album is considered by many to be their finest, and a monolith of music, not just within the dance scene,  but for all of music. Full of obscure samples from rock, pop and disco records; Discovery oozed with playful effortlessness, forever altering the course of electronic music. Anyone listening would be forgiven for thinking that these two must have been sent from the future, taking an impressive studio and swathe of equipment back in time with them to create such inspiring music. 

But truth is, they didn’t. 


Like all beginners, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Home-Christo started with a very minimal setup. It’s difficult to decipher from all the rumors, legend and mystery surrounding the pair, but from various interviews and photos, we learn that they started off with a simple computer and a copy of Pro Tools. Later they added Ableton into the mix, when it was released in 2001, just in time for the production of Discovery. 

In my head, the reason why Daft Punk was so amazing was because they had the money to have a big studio, and I didn’t. That’s what I thought. And then I arrived and I’m like ‘where’s the studio?’ And he [Thomas Bangalter] is like, ‘Well — this is it.’ And then, oh my God, I got so depressed because they were making this music with nothing. You know how you always give an excuse when you’re a beginner? You always say, yeah that’s because those guys have more connections, more money, they have more ways to promote but you never want to say, I’m just not as good as them.
— David Guetta on visiting Daft Punk’s studio in 2001. 

Rather than invest money they didn’t have into gear they clearly didn’t need, Daft Punk decided to learn their craft inside out. They learnt Pro Tools and Ableton like the back of their hands; and the results speak for themselves. They didn’t invest money into plugins and VSTs. When asked during an interview what their go-to synthesizer was, they said ‘Operator’ — a stock instrument that comes with every copy of Ableton. Even when the pair introduced hardware synthesizers like the TR-303 or simple compressors like the Alesis 3630, they were inexpensive pieces of hardware that were complimenting the work.

We have a really small compressor, the Alesis 3630, which is $300. That’s the main one we used on ‘Homework’ and ‘Discovery’. The one we used the most is one of the cheapest ones on the market. 
— Thomas Bangalter

Instead of expensive gear, what helped set Daft Punk apart from every other dance act at the time, was their application of the pop song formula. That is to say that the songs went:

Intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus.

This application of pop songwriting was unheard of in the dance music world, and had nothing to do with their equipment, yet was instrumental in making it one of the most popular albums of all time.

⁠“‘One More Time’ being electronic music, but also a pop song - it was definitely one of the first to be that. It follows pop songwriting - there’s a big hook that’s memorable — it follows all of the pop rules, and it’s got a very poppy, fun vocal while being a sampled electronic music piece."
- Baauer

Today, more than twenty years since Discovery was released⁠, producers have every sound and software available; just a few clicks away. Thousands of ‘must have’ VSTs and plugins are going on sale every week, and phsyical hardware keeps improving year on year. For beginners and professionals, these tools are tempting , and when a certain level of technical proficiency is reached, maybe some are worth buying. But if Daft Punk has taught us anything, it’s that they aren’t necessary. In fact, anyone with a DAW worth its salt likely already has everything they need, right out of the box. When you have learnt how to use your software; studied it back to front, then consider introducing hardware. This way, not only will you know exactly how to apply it, but you’ll also know what to shop for. There’s no point buying a synth plugin if you could have been making it with a stock instrument the whole time, had you just had the patience to learn how.

Your point of difference will be in your techniques, your artistry and your individual, unique style. Not in the kind of gear you have. What Daft Punk has taught us is that more than anything, its your songwriting and production that need refining, not your studio.