Decoding the Mix #6: Sync-able Synth-pop

M83’s ‘Midnight City’ is one of those songs that is so catchy, interesting and cool that it’s constantly being used in adverts and TV programmes.

What is it about this epic production that makes it so valuable to brands? And how can we use this information to make our music more attractive to the lucrative business of music sync?


How Pros Make Hits


What is 'Music Sync'?


‘Music Sync’ is short for ‘music synchronization license’ which is a license that allows the licensee to use a composition in conjunction with film, TV, adverts, video games, website, movie trailers or any other visual media output. The license is granted by the holder of the copyright of the music that is to be licensed. The fee paid for this type of license can be anything from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. It can be the largest revenue stream for some artists.


Music Synchronization


Unique & Brand-able Sound


Brands want to stand out and be unique. They want to portray themselves as cool and desirable, and that needs to come across in the music they use.


The lead synth heard during the intro of ‘Midnight City’ (and throughout the track) is probably the most memorable and significant element of the song. It’s a simple but unique melody and the sound is like nothing you will have heard. This sound was created by Anthony Gonzalez (leader of M83) singing the melody then smashing it with some heavy distortion.


Human recording manipulation


This creative approach adds the human touch that electronic music often lacks. During your next production see if you can create an instrument out of your own voice. Manipulate the sound so it’s not obvious that it’s a vocal recording. This will make that sound totally unique to you, whilst adding an extra human touch to your production.


Verse Vs Chorus Dynamic Range


The verse in ‘Midnight City’ is quite sparse and dynamic featuring the punchy drums and bass parts. This contrasts heavily with the dense and rich texture of the chorus where the sustained synths fill the speakers. As you can see from the LEVELS images below, you can see the difference in dynamic range is considerable.


Dynamic variation


To make an impact with music, your sections should have a contrast. In previous Decoding The Mix posts I’ve found that a lot of tracks go for a more mono verse and a wider chorus. But this track goes for a relaxed and dynamic verse and then hits the listener with a massive wall of high-energy sound for the chorus. The effect is that the chorus feels epic. Brands want to be seen as epic, so this is a good approach to make your music more sync-able. Remember that if both your verse AND your chorus are epic, then neither feel epic. One has to be more epic relative to the other.


Stereo Spread


This production has a lot of focus in the mids. The synths are massive, warm, bright and take up a lot of space. Finding a place for everything in the mix must have been a challenge. Somehow they managed to get the vocal to cut through whilst being immersed in a swirling swamp of reverb, modulation, and delay. The infographic below shows the rough placement of the different elements of the mix within the stereo spectrum. The main takeaway is that the synths that occupied the same frequencies had different widths. They also seem to find a different synth to fill every possible space in the stereo field and frequency to get the fullest sound possible.


Stereo Spread


Structure and Arrangement


‘Midnight City’ has a lot going on. During the chorus, the instrumentation is densely packed. The final chorus and outro is a crescendo where almost all of the elements come together for the first time. The stripped back verses have only 4 elements at times and often build the instrumentation to lead up to the chorus so it's not such a shock when it drops.


Often in music production ‘less is more’. ‘Midnight City’ is a great contradiction of the ‘less is more’ advice. The packed chorus sacrifices the punch of the drums, but it works.


Structure and Arrangement


What Did We Learn 


  • Create cool and desirable music for a better chance of earning from Music Sync opportunities.
  • Recording your own voice then warping it into something new can give you a unique sound with a human flavor.
  • You can use dynamic range as a way to differentiate your verse from your chorus.
  • If you have a densely populated mix, make sure each element is occupying a different frequency OR stereo space.


Now It's Your Turn!

Deconstructing a mix like this is a great way to make real improvements in your music production. One of the six cheat-sheets in my eBook ‘Never Get Stuck Again’ is a cheat sheet to help you decode any mix in minutes.