If you're going to analyze great production, there's no better place than Michael Jackson's hits. Between the impeccable engineering of Bruce Swedien, the legendary production skills of Quincy Jones, and Michael's groove sensibilities, the big hits set a standard that's hard to top.
Today we'll listen to the instrumental-only track of "Billy Jean" from the Thriller album. By the way, Bruce once told me that he did 99 mixes of the song, but they ended up using #2! Here's what to listen for:
1. Check out the reverb on the drums, especially the kick, in the intro. Listen to how it breathes with the track, just about dying out when the next beat hits.
2. Notice the shaker on the right side that adds motion, then is doubled on the left during the second verse and the effects that start on the left and end up on the right,.
3. The synths use Bruce's technique of remiking (sending the dry track out to the studio for some ambience - especially first reflection) to give them some separation from the rhythm section.
4. Speaking of synths, listen to how the patch changes from the verse to B-section to chorus.
5. Listen for the claps that reinforce the beat in the chorus.
6. Check all the background vocals, fills and effects that are panned off to one side or another, but balance each other out.
7. Listen to how long the outro is, which we never hear as part of the final mix.
There's so much going on in what might seem a very simple song, but that's part of what makes it a hit. There's something different always happening, but nothing that ever gets in the way of the vocal.