Schools Training

Recording Techniques for Reggae and Dub

15 APR 2013
Career Path : Arts and Entertainment

Reggae music first developed in Jamaica in the 1960s, building on the foundations of the ska and rocksteady genres. The term first appeared in print with the 1968 hit “Do the Reggay” by Toots and the Maytals, though there are many conflicting theories as to where the word came from, including the creeping sound of the actual rhythm. The music is characterized by rhythmic accents on the off-beat, drum accent on beat three, slower tempos than ska and syncopated, melodic bass lines.

Reggae Recording

Most classic reggae recordings were done as “hot” sessions, with the band recording live in the studio using a minimum of channels. Famous producers Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare would focus primarily on constructing complex grooves before all else, with Dunbar creating a drum part alone without any melody in mind. Robbie would add a bass part the following night but the two would often experiment with interchanging their parts and triggering synthesized sampled drums in the recordings. The reggae bass sound is thick and heavy, equalized so the upper frequencies are removed and lower ones emphasized. They develop in syncopation with the rhythm, often with accents falling away from the main beats and are placed high in the mix.

Reggae guitars are played percussively in short chops, known as skank, with a piano often doubling the guitar to add body to the rhythms. An organ shuffle is also played with a choppy double-time feel, known as the bubble, and horn sections are frequently utilized to warm the sound, played relatively softly. A second horn tends to play the same melodic phrase as the first but one octave higher, with a third horn playing an octave and a fifth higher than the first. The vocals are free flowing in reggae and revolve around the beat with singers often using tremolo rather than vibrato in their oscillation.


The appeal of dub music for producers from DJ school is being in the central creative position, as the mixing board becomes a vital musical instrument. Technically dub uses three main effects in creating woozy, psychedelic versions of the reggae base tracks: tape echo, analog phasing and spring reverb. The art comes from how the effects are played throughout the song. While digital production can somewhat replicate it, the classic dub sound comes from turning the knobs on pre 80s synths to create tape delay feedback. Some feel that real dub must be mixed by hand in real time as a “direct-to-tape mixing performance”. From the original song, switch on and off individual tracks as it plays back, applying different effects in the process. Typical techniques to practice in audio courses include:

– Setting delay times to match song speed

– Connecting effects to auxiliary sends of your mixing desk to apply to a single track

– Add reverb or echo on the snare drum sporadically

– Change the delay time throughout the playback for echoes to bounce up and down in pitch


Tasteful restraint is necessary to ensure the sound stays crisp with the rhythm section dominant. Try repeating the mix several times before selecting the best version.



Visit Trebas Institute for more information about film schools in Canada.