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Dua Lipa "Houdini" Breakdown

We're diving deep into this tutorial and we are breaking down all the sound design of "Houdini" by Dua Lipa. We'll break down each element, teaching you how to recreate the iconic sounds and intricate production techniques that make "Houdini" so captivating, uncovering the techniques that give the track its unique and captivating funky sound.
This track showcases Dua Lipa's signature blend of pop, disco, and electronic music and it was released on November 9, 2023, serving as the lead single from her highly anticipated third studio album, Radical Optimism, set to be released this year.

- This article was possible because all of the presets from this breakdown came from our Indie Pop Serum pack and it has have 20% off with the code: SP01


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Recreating this bass sound proved to be quite challenging. To achieve the perfect tone, we had to employ a layering technique, combining multiple elements to accurately capture the depth and richness of the original.

With this layer, we enhance the low end and infuse warm tones into the sound. To achieve this, we use an Acid wavetable in oscillator "A" and an Analog_BD_Sin, pitched one octave lower, in oscillator "B" the Acid wavetable is bent at around 65%. We apply a filter with a very tight slope to eliminate the high end, then boost the drive and fat knobs to around 60%. In the FX tab, we use a multiband compressor for added punch. The final touch is adding a filter set to reverb mode.

Here is where the main characteristics of the bass come into play. While layer 1 provides the low end, the rest of the sound is shaped by this patch. In oscillator "A", use the ICanHasKick wavetable with 5 voices, pitched one octave lower. For oscillator "B", use a Sinewave with 5 voices, also one octave lower, incorporating some frequency modulation. Envelope two has a decay of 180 ms and is routed to the filter's cutoff making it sound plucky.

The real magic of this patch happens in the FX tab. We use an EQ to boost everything above 1.5 kHz, adding clarity and presence. Distortion set to Diode 2 mode introduces upper harmonics, enhancing the richness of the sound. The distinctive character comes from the phaser and a filter set to Formant 1, giving the bass its unique tonal quality.

Next up is this incredible synth sound, evoking strong nostalgia for the 80s. To make it, we utilize a SQR_SAW_Wrd wavetable in oscillator "A" and an IHasCanKick in oscillator "B", each with 9 voices to add dimension. Envelope 2  modulates the filter cutoff, creating a sweeping effect that adds movement and interest to the sound. We then apply reverb and Hyperdimension in the FX tab to make the sound wider.

In the first verse, the distinctive clavinet sounds emerge, adding a rhythmic melody to the track. Drawing from techniques explored in our previous tutorials, we employ Serum as a sampler to achieve this effect. First, we record the clavinet sound, preferably in the key of C, and load it into the noise oscillator, enabling one-shot mode and pitch tracking. To enrich the sound further, we utilize the oscillators to introduce some low-end depth. Oscillator "A" features an Analog_BD_sin wavetable, while oscillator "B" employs a Basic Mg, both with 6 voices for added richness. Envelope 2 dynamically modulates the filter with a resonance at around 35% and cutting frequencies above 1kHz, shaping the sound to fit seamlessly into the mix. 

As we transition to the bridge section of the song, fresh elements emerge to elevate the production. We swap out the previous synth sound for one that's brighter and more resonant. In oscillator "A," we employ a Jno wavetable with Sync engaged on the warp knob, while oscillator "B" features an IHasCanKick, both with 6 voices for added width. The key to this patch lies in the clever use of an LFO 1 to modulate various parameters. We apply it to dynamically control the level of both oscillators, adjust the sync window in oscillator "A," manipulate the wavetable position in oscillator "B," and finally, modulate the cutoff of the filter, resulting in a dynamic and evolving sound, all of this will give the sound a huge sweeping effect.

In the bridge section, we introduce a new bass that falls under the category of a Reese bass. This type of bass is renowned for its deep and ominous tone, achieved by layering multiple waveforms with subtle detuning of their fundamental frequencies. For this patch, we utilize a MB_Saw    wavetable in oscillator "A" and a Basic Shape in oscillator "B", both bent at 100% and pitched one octave lower. Next, we apply a filter with a sharp slope, cutting frequencies above 300Hz while setting the fat and drive knobs to 40% for added warmth and drive. Envelope 2, with an attack of 40 ms, modulates the levels of both oscillators and the cutoff.

In the bridge section, the last element to complete the sonic production is this melody. We craft this melody using an FMFM wavetable in oscillator "A" and an IHasCanKick in oscillator "B", each with four voices for added richness. Envelope 1  modulates the filter, shaping the timbre of the sound. To enhance the atmospheric quality, we apply generous amounts of reverb and delay in the FX tab, this will give the melody a dreamy, ethereal texture