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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ellie Goulding "Lights" Song Analysis

Here's a song analysis of a top 10 hit by Ellie Goulding called "Lights." The song is the title song from the album of the same name (Lights), and was the 6th hit single from the album in the UK. The single was certified platinum in the US in May of 2012 with sales of 1.9 million. Interestingly, most of the recording was done in producer Starsmith's (Finely Dow Smith) bedroom.

As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Lights" has a slightly unusual form in the there's both a verse B section and a chorus B section. The form looks like this:

Intro, verse, B section, chorus, chorus B section, verse, B section, chorus, chorus B section, 
Bridge, Chorus (no vocals), chorus, chorus B section, outro, intro

What happens is that the chorus hook comes back in after the chorus B section, which makes the chorus a lot longer than normal.

The bridge is also interesting in that it's instrumental, followed by an instrumental first half of the chorus. This is a way to add both length and interest to the song.

The song has a pretty strong melody in every section, and, which is unusual for a pop song these days, and it differs considerably from section to section.

The lyrics paint an abstract picture which isn't to easy to understand, but the rhymes don't seem forced, even though the content may be a little thin.

The Arrangement
Like most hits, the arrangement for "Lights" is based around each section changing both instrument-wise and dynamically.

The song begins with an arpeggiated synth by itself, then joined on the verse by the lead vocal. There are no additional instruments until the chorus, when both a synth bass and a high pad enter along with doubled male and lead vocals. The kick drum enters on the chorus B section.

On the second verse the song breaks down again to the arpeggiated synth, but programmed drums and a strumming guitar are added as well. The 2nd B section also includes a high harmony of the meloldy line. The second chorus has the drums continue playing (unlike the first chorus) and an additional synth pad is added.

The bridge is another breakdown back to the drums and arpeggiated synth, but a cello-like synth plays the melody, which all ends in a record-like slowdown. The chorus then begins with the same instrumentation as the 2nd chorus, with the addition of a tom fill and the vocals singing only "Lights," which ends in another slowdown.

The 3rd chorus then continues with the same instrumentation including the tom fills. The outro is over the chorus chord pattern with the same instruments, but the background vocals again sing "Lights." The lead vocal ad libs, and on the 3rd time through the pattern the chord changes go up instead of down. The song ends just as it began, with the lone arpeggiated synth.

The arrangement elements look like this:
  * The Foundation: programmed drums, synth bass

  * The Rhythm: arpeggiated synth and rhythm guitar on verses

  * The Pad: low and very high synths in the choruses and bridge

  *The Lead: vocal

  * The Fills: vocal answers

The Sound
Unlike so many pop songs these days, the sound of "Lights" is pretty clean with little distortion. There are no overt ambiences, except for the many delays that occurs on the vocals and the ping pong delay on the arpeggiated synth. The vocal is very breathy and in your face during the first verse, and although it's compressed, doesn't feel squashed. All in all, it's a really good sounding recording.

The Production
Like most hits, it's the many little things that sometime make a production. Listen to the delays on the lead vocal that occur on only one side of the soundfield. Listen to the doubled lead vocals in the vocals that are spread left and right, as well as the low male vocals. Listen to the toms in the last chorus as they push the song along as does the rhythm guitar in the verse. Check out the stutter edits on the vocal on the outro. Listen to how the song builds in the chorus, then breathes a bit with fewer instruments during the verse. These are the things that keep a song interesting, an element that is vital in all hits.


You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Career Tips From Henry Rollins

Ex-Black Flag lead singer Henry Rollins has gone on to so much after the band broke up, to being an author, actor, television and radio host, to solo artist. In this video Henry tells of his humble beginnings scooping ice cream in Washington DC, to how he got his break, to the personal secrets that lead to his many careers.

Take note that Henry doesn't consider himself to have a lot of talent, but his tips on how he's overcome that to have any carrer at all are priceless.


You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Motown Loses Its Bottom End

When musicians, especially bass players, refer to Motown records of the 60's and early 70's, they  usually think about the late great James Jamerson, who anchored many, but not all of those great hits. A bass player who played on just as many hits but has never gotten nearly as much acclaim is Bob Babbitt, who played on big hits like Smokey Robinson's "Tears Of A Clown," Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," Marvin Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me,Gladys Night and the Pips "Midnight Train To Georgia," The Capitol's "Cool Jerk" and many more.

Bob was as much a part of the legendary Funk Brothers as Jamerson, and he was featured in the excellent Standing In The Shadow Of Motown movie and all of their subsequent concert tours. Sadly, Bob passed away yesterday at age 73, but you can get a feel for this great and humble man from this video, where Bob explains how he got his break into the fairly closed Motown family.

There's an excellent article about Bob's life and the many hits he played on in the Tennessean that's well worth the read.


You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Ken Scott At The Grammy Museum This Thursday

For those of you who live in the Los Angeles area, legendary producer Ken Scott will be giving one of his excellent talks at The Grammy Museum this Thursday July 19 at 7:30 PM.

Ken's stories about his career are great, but the highlight for me is when he plays some tracks from George Harrison and David Bowie and breaks them down in a way that few people outside of the studio have ever heard.

Tickets are limited since the Grammy Museum auditorium is rather small, and you can buy them online on their website.

If you can't make it, you can read all the stories and many more in Ken's Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust memoir.

Monday, July 16, 2012

4 Isolated McCartney Bass Lines

We all know Paul McCartney as a fabulous songwriter and singer, but it's easy to overlook what an influential bass player he is as well. Paul, along with MoTown's James Jamerson, changed bass playing from laying down a foundation of root notes to a melodic thing of beauty. Although I don't think the following video is comprised of the best examples of Paul's genius, it does give you an idea of his style.

You'll hear individual snippets from the songs "With A Little Help From My Friends," "Come Together,""Golden Slumbers," and "Band On The Run" with the bass mostly isolated. Sometimes you'll hear other instruments also on the bass track (like the tambourine on "Help From My Friends"), which wasn't all that unusual, according to Beatle engineer Ken Scott's book Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust (which I was lucky enough to help him write). Have a listen.


You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

4 Ways The Internet Could Go Down

Technicians lay a fiber optic cable in October 2011 to allow Gabon and 22 African countries to get an Internet connection.
Technicians lay an undersea fiber-optic cable
Since so much of our everyday lives revolve around the Internet, the last thing we ever want to think about is the entire Internet going down and taking us back to the stone age (or what would seem like it). Imagine: no more writing collaborations, no more software updates, no more communicating with a client, no more social media marketing, no more music streaming and downloads.

While most of us believe that the Internet is super robust, fault-tolerant and distributed (which it is), here are 4 doomsday scenarios that could cause an Internet blackout, as described in this article for CNN:

1. Space Weather: Space weather is primarily dictated by the sun, and even though it's 92 million miles away, solar flares have reeked havoc on us before. Solar flares as far back as 1859 caused telegraph lines to burn, and in 1998 took out satellites from the US, Germany, Japan, NASA and Motorola. Another one in 1989 took out the power in Quebec and halted the Toronto stock exchange for 3 hours. These solar flares, while large, are small compared to the potential damage from "the big one." Don't forget that we're about to head into the next cycle of solar activity that will peak in mid-2013.

2. Cyber Warfare: We've already seen what could happen with Stuxnet as it took down the Iranian nuclear program for a bit. Although military communications are somewhat hardened, we've been warned time and again what could happen to our power grid, communications networks and water systems under the right cyber circumstances. And a cyber attack would be launched over the Interent, which may prompt the military to attempt to shut it down (some say they have the capability). Be happy we don't know what we don't know.

3. Political Mandate: Speaking of shutting it down, there's been legislation on the table to install an "Internet Kill Switch" that gives the president "emergency authority to shut down private sector or government networks in the event of a cyber attack capable of causing massive damage or loss of life." While this isn't legislated yet (the kill switch might not even be possible), some unknown and unpublicized attack could cause our modem lights to glow red while we scratch our heads why.

4. Cable Cutting: 99% of global Internet traffic depends upon deep-sea fiber-optic cables on the ocean floor. A little snip here and another there, and guess what? No more Internet. Don't laugh, this already happened in 2008 when 2 undersea cables were severed, causing 75% of the communications with Europe and the Middle East to go away. Then a few days later another was cut near Dubai, then a few more days later, two more were cut off the coast of Malaysia. Guess what? No one knows how or why. Investigation showed no ships in the areas 12 hours before or after, and the mystery continues until this day.

So if you think that your Internet, no matter how slow and pokey it may be, is safe. Think again. For a lot more on the subject, read the CNN article.


You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.


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