How to Produce “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush


Thales Matos


Do you want to learn how to recreate the sounds and produce the song "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush? Then keep reading or watch the video above!

This amazing song was brought back to Billboard's top charts by Stranger Things and I simply had to remake it.

There are some really cool sounds, a very interesting vibe, and I'm about to show you how to produce it from scratch.

The Synth used by Kate Bush

Fairlight CMI used by Kate Bush

Now that's a cool synth, sampler and DAW

Kate Bush actually used a Fairlight CMI, which is a synthesizer, sampler and DAW. That must have been so much fun, back in the day.

So if you want to create these sounds and get them as close as possible to the original, you could look for Fairlight CMI samples on the internet or use the VST version by Arturia.

Arturia cmi V - fairlight cmi vst

VST version of the Fairlight CMI

I think it's the Cello 2 sample, which she probably processed with reverbs and other effects.

However, I did not use that sample.

Synthesizing every sound from Running Up That Hill

I wanted to synthesize every sound using the stock synth that comes with Ableton Live so everyone could follow along.

This works for pretty much any synth, okay?

Let's start with the lead synth, which is probably what draws attention to this song the most.

The Lead Synth

Wavetable Synth Ableton Live

I used Wavetable, Ableton Live's stock synthesizer.

I'm only using one oscillator, it's something between a saw wave and a square wave.

With a bit of Pulse Width modulation, 30%.

Ableton Live's Wavetable - Oscillator

The amp envelope looks like this: 11.9 milliseconds attack, 600 milliseconds decay, -6 db sustain and almost 400 milliseconds release.

Running up that hill lead synth amp envelope

The cutoff frequency is 650 Hertz, to darken it, with a bit of resonance.

running up that hill lead synth cutoff frequency

There's some Unison effect, the mode is Noise, which creates a noisy texture and makes the sound fuller. Eight voices at 20% effect.

running up that hill lead synth unison and glide

But what's really cool about this synth sound is the Glide effect, which is used to create this pitch slide at the beginning of every note.

Now, that's nothing new. Every synth nowadays has that feature.

But in order to make "Running Up That Hill", Kate Bush did that in the 80's with a lot less technology.

I think that's pretty creative and amazing, actually.

Lead Synth's Effect Chain

In the effect chain, this synth runs through an equalizer, a compressor, a Utility effect to narrow the stereo width, and two different tape delays.

lead synths equalizer
running up that hill lead synths compressor
running up that hill lead synth stereo image and delays

I'm using Valhalla delay, and the most important one to achieve that characteristic sound is the second, at 208 milliseconds, which is like a dotted 16th note at this song's BPM.

lead synth delays - running up that hill

I have 2 tracks just for this lead sound. Some notes are played by the first track and some notes are played by the second track.

midi notes - lead synth - running up that hill

Different tracks, different color

And I did this because some notes sound darker. So, on the second track, even though it's the same synthesizer settings and pretty much the same effects, the equalization is a bit different.

The cutoff frequency is above 1 kiloHertz and I got rid of the second delay.

Then these two tracks go through a reverb. Valhalla Vintage Verb, on a Plate preset that resembles the reverbs from the 80s and it's just perfect for this.

valhalla vintage verb

The Background Pad

Next there's this background pad that plays from the beginning and seems to hold the same notes for most of the song's duration.

Super simple synthesis.

Running Up That Hill Background Pad

It's saw wave on two different oscillators. The second oscillator is a bit detuned.

Unison mode again is Noise, four voices at 50% effect. Makes it super blurry and spacious.

The Amp envelope has 500 milliseconds attack so it fades in smoothly.

LFO One modulates the pitch very slightly, creating sort of a slow vibrato effect.

And the filters band-pass this pad, they're pretty steep, 24 dB per octave, keeping it only in the mid-range. From 120 hertz to 940 hertz, with some resonance on both low-pass and high-pass filter.

An extreme equalizer tilts the spectrum towards the high frequencies side, to further shape the sound, make it more breathy.

The original song sounds very warm, so that EQ isn't needed. It's a matter of taste.

Then there's this autopan device being used as a tremolo effect, on a very slow rate, to create movement because this pad holds the same notes for a long time, so there's a high risk of becoming boring.

Autopan for movement

Then last in the chain is this Valhalla Vintage Reverb with a very long decay time, almost ten seconds, so the whole thing becomes this lush soundscape.

Valhalla Vintage Verb lush soundscape

Running Up That Hill: The Chords

This synth plays the main harmony. And when you hear it against the pad, there's always a lot of dissonance.

The notes played by the Pad are not the same as the chords, most times. This is what makes the feelings in this song feel more complex.

This adds a lot of depth, and takes those ideas in the lyrics to another dimension.

Everything sounds much deeper when you layer it with a dissonant background harmony, right?

The Chords Synthesizer from Running up that hill

And the settings for this instrument are also pretty simple.

Similar to the lead synth, there's this one oscillator with a wave that's between a saw and a square wave, but this time there's no pulse width modulation.

The Amp envelope is basically just a 2.3 seconds decay. The filter is a low-pass at 265 hertz.

The Chords from Running up that hill part 2

But we're using the envelopes to modulate the cutoff frequency and pitch.

Envelope 2 controls the cutoff frequency. So because of the 8 milliseconds attack, there's a quick rise in the cutoff frequency. Each note starts darker and quickly gets brighter, almost like a "Wah" sound.

Envelope 3 controls the pitch, so because of the 24 milliseconds attack, the notes start on a low pitch, and quickly rise one octave, creating this pitch slide effect, that's almost like the glide from the lead synthesizer.

This is just a different way to achieve that effect, and I thought it would be nice to show you both techniques.

So even if you're a beginner, you can finish this post with a bunch of new skills.

Next in the chain, the chords go through the usual reverb, and an equalizer to help position this sound in the low mid-range.

Voice samples (Oooh layer)

I added some voice samples, as a layer, just reinforcing some notes during the intro section, but it doesn't really play a big part in this arrangement.

The Bass in Running Up That Hill

Then there's the bass, which was very hard to distinguish.

And what's really fascinating here is that the bass is just pedaling on a C note throughout the whole song.

It doesn't change notes according to the chords being played by the other instruments.

To me it keeps the entire song in a tension state, it never lets us breathe, there's never full resolution.

Actually, to be more precise, the bass seems to play a few A# notes every now and then. But they're so brief, you could almost disregard them.

For the synth settings, I could get away with using just a sine wave. That's how deep this bass sounds.

But I wanted it to have at least some presence. I wanted to keep a little bit of that string plucking sound that a real bass guitar has.

Bass - Running Up That Hill

So I went with a saw wave, with a very low cutoff frequency of 79 hertz, which is being modulated by Envelope two, so it starts on a higher frequency, then it quickly decays, in about 80 milliseconds.

Bass 2 - Running Up That Hill

And that's what creates that bass string plucking sound.

Then I sidechained it to the kick for clarity purposes, to keep the sub frequencies from clashing.

Background Noise

Before we move on to the drums, I noticed there's some sort of a noise layer in the original instrumental, so I used the vocoder device to add a layer of noise whenever any note is played.

Vocoder Device to add a Layer of Noise

This affects all the instruments you've seen so far.

Alright, time to look at the drums.

The Drums in Running Up That Hill

Kate actually used the LinnDrum. It's a fantastic drum machine that all the cool people were using in the 80s, and are still using to this day.

What Kate Bush used for drums - The Linndrum

And it happens to be made by the same guy who created the Linnstrument, my favorite MIDI controller ever.

The Linnstrument

So I took the kick and the snare from the LinnDrum. Ran the snare through some reverbs to thicken it and make it last longer.

Then I used some toms and percussion samples to recreate that groove, with the help of an eight note ping-pong delay on the toms.

The drums pattern

During the chorus, the original song has this layer of cymbals or noise, or some high frequency content that I can't distinguish, it sounds like distorted open hi-hats maybe.

So I added some open hat samples and a crash hit on the first downbeat of the chorus.

And I don't know if you noticed, but in the original song, the chorus happens very suddenly. There's no anticipation. It's like... surprise, chorus!

So I took the liberty of adding a reverse crash sample, just to let you know the chorus is coming.

My goal here wasn't to try to "improve" the song. I was just adding my own spin.

And that's the instrumental, now let's quickly look at the vocal chain.

The vocal chain

I had great vocal tracks to work with, so basically I added compression to keep the volume steady, a de-esser and an equalizer that boosts the airy frequencies. 

I also added a vocal doubler to widen it a bit, since everything is this song is so wide in the stereo field.

This is important to make sure the vocals don't sound small in comparison, if they were just fully mono.

Then I'm using this awesome plugin, DSEQ3 as a multiband compressor. It has many uses besides that, and I definitely recommend it for everyone to check out.

DSEQ3 as a multiband compressor

Next in the chain, delays and reverbs by Valhalla. Super necessary for recreating that 80s vibe. They really loved reverb in the 80s.

For the backvocals, I got several tracks, different recordings, each one panned to a different position in the stereo field, like we're surrounded by backvocals.

The backvocals

The chain includes the usual effects, but the equalization is different to separate them from the main vocals and avoid muddiness in the 200 to 500 hertz area.

Equalizing the backvocals

By the way, the reverb on the backvocals is way louder than on the main vocals to help push them to the back of the mix.

On the master chain, I'm using Ozone 9 to add vintage tape distortion, widen the stereo image of the high mids and high frequencies, and push the loudness with the maximizer module.

Now it's your turn

I had a lot of fun remaking this song and I hope this in depth tutorial helped you.

Now, it's your turn to make your own version of Running Up That Hill! Make sure to share it with me in the comments below.

If you'd like to learn more, check out these music production resources.


Thales Matos

July 31, 2022


Enjoyed this article ?



Leave a Comment

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}