Decoding The Mix #7 - All-Star Collaboration
When the biggest artists come together to create a song the result is destined for success. Heavy-hitters Mark Ronson, Diplo (the duo are calling themselves ‘Silk City’) and Dua Lipa have released a collaboration that has gained over 10.5 million streams on Youtube in less than a week.
In this post, I’ll be taking a close look at ‘Electricity’ by Silk City to see what we can learn from these international superstars. Hopefully, you’ll take away something new to improve your next production.
Structure & Arrangement
Electricity is a great example of talented producers taking influence from a more underground genre (90s House) and making it accessible to the commercial market. The infographic below details the structure and arrangement of the production. The song is driven by the piano and vocals which are heard throughout. The bass and claps are also prominent, dropping out occasionally to add suspense and change. The kick, which is usually a driving element of a house inspired track, is less prominent and is only heard in the choruses and second verse. The shaker, guitar and ‘vibe noise’ are extremely sporadic and are barely heard in the mix. These more background elements help add novelty to the mix and keep the listener engaged. This is further accentuated at the end of the song where a live kit is heard for just the final 4 bars, sounds that were not introduced at any other point in the track.
House tracks are typically over 6 minutes long and are never in a hurry getting from section to section. Electricity has 16 bar verses, which are a little more drawn out than other ‘commercial house’ tracks (such as the 8 bar verses in ‘One Kiss’ by Calvin Harris). However, Electricity still hits the golden rule of getting to the chorus before the 1-minute mark. If you create commercial music and you’re not getting to the chorus within 60 seconds, it’s a tried and tested technique that helps audiences stay connected whilst listening to your track.
I love it when a chorus comes in with an epic entrance. When I’m listening to music I want to have that moment where the track builds and climaxes. For that to happen the sections have to contrast. If both the ‘build-up’ and the ‘climax’ have very similar technical properties, then I won’t notice much of a difference. There are a number of ways you can make the chorus feel more epic than the build-up. The simplest is making the chorus louder. Another option is to make the chorus much wider than your build-up. In Electricity, they went for loudness and a change in dynamics. The build-up is quiet and dynamic, whereas the chorus is loud and very compressed. As we can see in the visual below, our plugin LEVELS is showing that the build-up is 12.4DR and the chorus is 7.5DR. This dramatic change gives a clear signal to the listener that the music has moved to the new section. It makes it easy to listen to and digest.
Balance In The Mix
I was surprised to see Mark Ronson take on a ‘House’ project like this given that he is more known for his live pop projects. His track ‘Uptown Funk’ with Bruno Mars was a massive hit, so I wanted to see how the tonal balance compared between the two tracks. Both are commercial tracks, but they can be classified into different genres. With that in mind, we can have an idea of what is expected ‘tonally’ from a house track compared to a commercial Pop/Funk/Soul production. In the visual below our plugin REFERENCE is giving us an insight into the difference in tonal balance.
Separation In The Mix
One thing that stood out to me in the mix is just how mono the kick and bass are. In a lot of mixes, you’ll find the upper frequencies of the kick and bass edging out into the stereo field. If you listen to just the ‘sides’ of the mix you won’t hear even a hint of the kick and bass. Taking this approach, you can be absolutely sure that the kick and bass will translate perfectly when heard on a club sound system.
The kick and bass along with the vocals and piano make up the four main elements of the mix. All of which are positioned centrally in the mix. The piano has some width to give space to the vocals which occupy similar frequencies. The other elements which jump in and out of the arrangement are placed wider in the mix. This helps them add interest to the production without compromising the attention placed on the main elements. Using the stereo width in this way helps avoid conflict and battling frequencies.
I have only positive things to say about the technical details of Electricity! Let’s start with the loudness. Youtube only turned down the track by 2dB (decibels), meaning the uploaded audio was sitting around 10LUFS (loudness units full scale) integrated. This is a very conservative level and shows that they didn’t just take the uninformed approach that ‘louder is better’. Our quality control app EXPOSE is also showing no phase issues and there are no areas where the left/right balance is noticeably unequal. EXPOSE is showing a loudness range of 7.9LU (loudness units) which shows that there is a considerable difference in the loudness between the various sections of the track. More static loudness ranges can be found in hip-hop and generally sit around 3LU. Anything over 6LU can be considered dynamic.
The track streams on the louder side of the average for YouTube and Spotify. I’ve been doing some more testing and it looks like tracks with a more dynamic loudness range play-back slightly louder. So if you do want your music to play back a touch louder, try increasing the difference between the loudness of your verses and chorus’.
What Did We Learn?
- Getting to the chorus within the first 60 seconds helps to keep hold of your listeners attention.
- You can use a difference in dynamics to add contrast between sections.
- House music often has a fuller low-end and more controlled high-frequencies compared to commercial pop/funk/soul music.
- Keeping the kick and bass totally mono will ensure that it will translate well on a club sound system.
- Having a more dynamic loudness range can make your tracks stream a little louder.
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.