(Disclaimer: This is a revision of one of my old articles already posted on the Steem blockchain with the intention of building my Engrave blog)
Today i'd like to share a post with some recording analysis from a producer's perspective , not so much in the ''musical'' sense or the recording tech specifics but some overall analysis of why I think those ''top notch pop records'' sound so appealing and they have the ability to catch and attract audiences in such a effective way.
I know there are ''formulas'' and ways to create melodic hooks and ways to structure a song for it to fall into the ''pop'' category. Pop is such a loose term since what it really means is popular , that is why a Pop song from the 70s will sound SO MUCH different than a song released last year even though they fall into the same music category.
So, having said this .. in most good productions ( on an objective level , we know music is subjective so ''good'' means different things to different people) I have personally found elements that I like to call ''The intangibles'' .. I think @meno jokingly used this term for this ... but it makes sense.. so ''Intangibles'' it is.
What are intangibles then?
I don't think I have an exact term for this but I can say the intangibles are those elements in a production that go by unnoticed on a first ( or second, or third ) listen but they introduce new information on the song , keeping it fresh .. and engaging and interesting. We know pop relies a lot on repetition.. but is it really that repetitive?
Let's do an experiment.
Or some reverse engineering.. this is an example I use for my production students as I want to introduce them to this idea early on , ''are you really hearing all what is happening inside a song?''... Let's see.
Let's grab a rock/pop band that in my opinion has an excellent level of production , whether you like the music or not .. we can't deny this is very well done!
What I'll do with my students is play this video and tell them.. ''ok..make a list on your head or paper of all you think you hear.. then I'll ask you some questions''.
Most of my students will catch this:
- some FX
More adventurous ones will grab the programmed kick drum in the beginning or point out a specific FX on one of the guitars.. cool.. not bad at all.. then comes my questions.
- How many guitars do you think were played here? 2 , 3 ... 40 ??
- How many vocal layers can you pick up?
- Those FX... what are they doing specifically? can you point them out??
- How many tracks do you think this session might have?
Then watch as they do some confused faces while I ask Are you sure? ... I guess I can be a little intimidating when I ask questions as most of my students will get all shy and answer with a low voice.... ''I don't know"... LOL... I'm sorry!!! I'm not mean... I think.... :P !
Let's Make an analysis on a step by step basis.
The reason why I chose this track apart from it's production quality is because the isolated group tracks are online.. so.. we can actually hear how each individual group element was built. So .. let's start
This is a very solid drum take... It is also very dark sounding.. hinting some old school sound maybe. One curious thing to notice is that the Bass drum is panned to the left completely.. this reminds me of old rock records.. like the first Van Halen albums .. where the kick drum is very panned to one side.. also .. old beatle recordings do this same thing. Lots of harmonic and reverb was left in.. I don't think this was recorded with too many microphones. ... Maybe 8 - 12 tracks?? It's really impossible to grab an exact number if we don't have the multitrack.. but .. let's have a happy medium and leave it at 10 .
So.. 10 channels for the drums it is. Let's not get too much into detail as it is not the main focus of this particular post.
Oh.. yes.. this makes sense.. if the Bass drums comes from the left side... it makes sense that the Bass player comes from the right side... interesting to see this in a recording from 2011.
Nice.. punchy.. distorted.. and played with a pick .. Could be a combination from a DI track and an AMP .. as it has some nice direct attack.. but if you listen carefully there is a little bit of bleeding in certain parts.. so.. some microphone was used too. So.. my estimation... 2 tracks.
Drums : 10
Bass : 2
Aha!.. so this is where the meat is... there is a massive amount of layering going on here....
The intro opens up with two hard panned guitars to L and R and a quite centered guitar doing a little motive. (3)
Then we open up with a doubled guitar with a mild phaser (2). A guitar motiv (1)
The chorus become massive sounding.. so.. I'm guessing extra layering. Maybe Quad layer ? (4)
Doubled motiv with Spring Reverb to come out of the Chorus (2)
Everything seems to be the same for the second time the song form comes on... until the bridge.
Complete different guitar sound.. doubled with some filtering . (2)
An 8th motif comes in quite centered with two doubled guitars on L and R (3)
Chorus comes in again with and continuous 8th feel. Doubled (2)
Chorus comes back again like before.. nothing new. Guitar motiff comes in with a very snappy sound first alone.. then doubled . so .. (2)
So.. my estimation on guitar tracks : 21 tracks ... let's leave it at 20 .. It could be less.. it could be more.. depending on how the session was built.. but if each distinct section/sound was in a different track we would get to this number.. if we had multiple microphone techniques.. then the number could get higher.. so.. this is only an estimation.
So. So far we have
Drums : 10
Bass : 2
Guitars : 20
what... 32 tracks already.. yup... and wait... maybe you missed this:
- The "Intangibles".
What? All of this was happening? .. This always makes my student smile with a surprised face... yess... All of this is going in the background!
A programmed kick , some random claps, keyboard layers , motivs , rythmic effects with subdivisions , vocal layering, extra guitars! ... I'ma let YOU point out the elements going here.. but..there are quite a bit right?
I'll point out the electric kicks (1) ,one of the claps (1) , backing vocals (3 maybe) , random screams (1) just to add to the number..but we are clearly missing more .. so my incomplete estimation of intangibles here are 6 .. there are clearly many more
Intangibles: 6 (incomplete)
Seems that we will hit the 40 track mark easily if we look for the rest of ''intangibles''.
- Main Vocals
I'll leave this one to you.. how many times do you spot a tonal change in the vocal? and also.. there is something else in the middle used for effect .. can you spot it??
- Some thoughts.
My thoughs of why good productions keep you engaged (or one of the reasons) is that they are always introducing new and valuable elements to the music without making it overwhelming , you clearly are not hearing the same part twice played in the exact same way.. at least some minor element changed without you noticing it. I think this works more in a subconscious level , introducing fresh elements over what would be a very repetitive song otherwise and would make you skip it.. at least this is what I think.
Oh.. btw.. I googled who the producer was for this song/album... and... now it all makes sense: