“Titanium” – David Guetta featuring Sia: A Production Analysis, Part I

Titanium - David Guetta and Sia
Titanium – David Guetta and Sia

Produced by David Guetta, Giorgio Tuinfort, and Afrojack

“Titanium” is a song written by Sia Furler, David Guetta, Giorgio Tuinfort, and Nick Van De Wall. Sia Furler started her career as a jazz singer, but has gained more fame as a pop and dance vocalist, releasing five albums (not including a recent “best of” album). Giorgio Tuinfort has also had success working on previous songs such as “Nothing But the Beat” and “Who’s That Chick?” with David Guetta (and Rhianna for “Who’s That Chick?”), as well as singles with Akon and Usher. Nick Van De Wall (A.K.A. Afrojack) is a Dutch DJ that has worked with the likes of Shermanology, Steve Aoki, Quintino, and The Partysquad, as well as multiple singles with Guetta. Guetta himself is an accomplished DJ and music producer, whose 2011 album release Nothing But the Beat has received many honors and awards. Guetta may be best-known for his work with The Black Eyed Peas on their 2009 hit single “I Gotta Feeling”.

Official Video

Lessons to be learned from this production:

You Don’t Have To Use The Same Instrumentation Throughout the Song

Notice the very beginning of the song. There’s a guitar in the beginning. That guitar continues through the first verse. However, it stops when we get to the pre-hook at 0:46. Another instrument takes over the job, so the function of the rhythmic melodic instrument is still in play, but there’s no need to have that same guitar playing the same part throughout the song. The guitar DOES reappear in the 2nd verse, but again, only for that section. We never hear from it again.

Do NOT feel like you must have the same instrumentation included throughout the song.

A common techniques employed by producers is to set up certain instruments as identifiers of the parts of the song. Here, the guitar tells you you’re in a verse (or the intro, but that only happens once). Experiment with different instruments in different parts of the song, like you hear here. Notice that there’s a different pulsing synth sound used for the pre-hook/hook part compared to the chorus too.

Reverb Control as Special Effect

Want to make a simple instrumental part stand out in a crowd? Add reverb, but don’t add it all the time. Play around with when it’s active and not active. Take the very beginning of this song, for example. The guitar plays a fairly simple part. Eighth notes with a bit of delay (Andy Summers would be proud!). To add some interest, Guetta plays around with adding reverb on some phrases the guitar plays, but not others. Imagine that amount of reverb on the entire guitar track – it’d be all you hear by the end. What Guetta does is turn the sends from the guitar track to the reverb on & off (a good reason to set up your reverb as an auxiliary track instead of inserted on the track) and mutes/unmutes the reverb tracks well, so that the reverb builds when the sends are on. As soon as the sends are turned off, there’s no more new reverb, and when he mutes the aux track, the existing reverb gets cut too.

Keyed Compression

One of the most prevalent music production techniques used in this track is the use of side-chained (A.K.A. keyed) compression.  If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you’re very familiar with the sound. It happens in this song multiple times, on the sweep at 0:42 to 0:46, and again at 1:58 to 2:02, the synth at 1:16 to 1:32, and again at 2:32 to 2:46. Notice what happens here. As the kick hits, it causes the sweep/synth to decrease in volume.

What’s happening is called side-chain compression because a compressor (what turns down the volume) is placed on the sweep/synth, but the kick is what is actually controlling the turning down of the volume.

The kick track has been side-chained to the sweep and synth tracks, so that every time the kick hits, it turns the volume of the sweep or synth. Between kick hits, the volume of the sweep/synth is turned back up. It adds rhythmic elements to the track since the kick is rhythmic. It makes the synth track feel as if it pulses with the beat.

One of the cooler uses of this technique is to trigger this side-chain compression with a percussive track that’s not routed to the main outputs.

For an example of this, listen to 2:44 to 2:48. If you single out those two bars, notice that there’s no kick track. However, the synth is still pulsing like it was when you could hear the kick. Guetta mutes the kick track for those two bars, so you don’t hear them, but they’re still triggering the synth to turn down and up again in volume. For a fairly extensive lesson in using this technique (sometimes in more subtle ways than others), listen to Portisehead’s album Dummy.

“Payphone” – Maroon 5 & Wiz Khalifa – A Production and Compositional Analysis

In this series, we take the world’s most popular songs, hit by hit, and deconstruct them, bit by bit, to learn what makes them popular, memorable, and interesting. We look at the compositional techniques used in the song, such as chord progressions, tempo, and meter, as well as the instrumentation used to make this song a hit. We also discuss what makes the song such a memorable “earworm”.

Maroon 5 and Wiz Khalifa - Payphone Production Analysis
Maroon 5 and Wiz Khalifa – Payphone Production Analysis

Written by Adam Levine, Shellback, Benjamin Levin, Ammar Malik, Dan Omelio, and Cameron Thomaz

Produced by Benny Blanco, Benny Blanco, Robocop

Official Music Video (Explicit)

Without the cinematic aspects (which is the one I will reference in this analysis) (Explicit)

“Payphone” employs many production devices that seek to grab the listener’s attention and keep it there in order to tell the story. Let’s take a look at some of them and see what we can learn from Payphone by Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa:

Begin With the Vocals

From the very first second (literally 0:00 on the YouTube counter), notice that the song begins with just the vocals, no instrumentation. People have a natural tendency to listen to other peoples’ voices. Think about it from a evolutionary standpoint. Our ancestors that were predisposed to paying attention to what other cave people had to say were the ones that learned that there was a sabre-tooth-tiger around the corner and didn’t get eaten. You and I are naturally wired to listen to the human voice above all else, and, when that’s the only thing going on, your attention is focused on the message being conveyed.

Additionally, the song begins with the chorus. Those of us whom have taken popular music songwriting courses in college have been told to get to the chorus ASAP. Well, they do it here. Those are the words the songwriter wants people to remember, so once the listener’s attention is grabbed, make the most of it and give them the single thing you want them to remember.

Songwriting Tip

Speaking of the chorus, and why it’s so memorable, people also focus on personalization. Words like “I”, “you”, “us”, “me”, “your” get people involved in the story. Want a crash course in using this technique effectively? Listen to most anything the Beatles ever did, especially their earlier albums. A quick perusal over my iTunes gives me “I’ll Follow the Sun”, “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You”, ”Tell Me What You See”, and “P.S. I Love You”. People want to hear stories they can put themselves in, and making songs personal keeps peoples’ attention.

The introductory chorus includes very simple instrumentation, just enough to give the listener a feel for where the song is going, chord-wise. Just in case the listener’s stopped paying attention by the end of that first chorus, they grab your attention AGAIN by including a moment of complete silence around 0:18. Silent (along with vocals-only) sections are a wonderful way to break up parts of a song and capture attention, and are included in lots of popular music songs. People notice change, and changing from sound to no sound forces attention back to the song at hand.

The first verse is also not very climactic, taking out the bass added at the end of the intro chorus and bringing in an almost marching-band snare and kick drum. Not complicated, just a very sharp snare and punchy kick.

Using Background Vocals

The drama is turned up a notch in the pre-chorus by adding background vocals (0:33, starting with “all of our bridges burned down”). Again, parts of songs that are repeated are the most important ones, and this pre-chorus is part of what needs to be remembers and sung along to. The sound of multiple people singing triggers the listener’s own desire to sing along.

There’s another vocal-only section at 0:52, and now the listener has the aural cue to pay attention when they only hear the vocals with no instrumentation. Back to the chorus/hook/song title.  They knew they had to make is count here, so they bring in the whole band and multiple vocal tracks. The percussion that’s awash in reverb on the 4 of each measure introduces gives the listener the cue to where the downbeat of one is.

The chorus ends at 1:28 and is cued by that special-effect sucking sound, whatever that’s officially called, which is also used in this song to tell the listener there’s a change happening in the song.  There’s no turn around, no time for the listener to stop paying attention after the chorus and forget about the song, but they launch right in to verse two. The song doesn’t go back to the level it was at in the first verse, but adds the bass and acoustic guitar to what we had in the first verse.

The second pre-chorus adds some vocal ornamentation in the background vocals (1:52 and 2:10, for examples). This gives the listener a cue that this is a different and more expanded chorus than what they’ve had before. It also keeps interest and lets the people singing along have fun with the ornamentation as well (as they try to mimic what they hear). Also seeks to turn up the drama another notch, on our way to the climax).

Changing Up the Bridge

The Wiz Khalifa verse at 2:38 acts as a bridge for the song, providing a break in the song that’s different than the verses and choruses. This song also treats this section by changing the entire texture of the instrumentation, opting for an 808-style kick, snaps instead of a snare, and a woppy synth instead of piano.

The climax hits around 3:13, once again with no break in between song sections, and being introduced by a two-measure lay-out of the drums.

The end of the song is abrupt, which I’m sure radio DJs don’t care for, but works well for the song because the last line of the entire song is the first line of the chorus (“I’m at a payphone”), which also happened to be the name of the song. Genius use of music production techniques!

Bob Moog’s birthday!

Happy birthday, Dr. Moog! We’ll always be thankful for your inventions, unless they’re used in ways we don’t approve of 😉

Get comfortable with the fact that anything you buy is already obsolete

Continuing with the series of Techno-Literacy, today’s lesson is:

• Technologies improve so fast you should postpone getting anything you need until the last second. Get comfortable with the fact that anything you buy is already obsolete. 

This is, I believe, a change that has taken place in the recording studio in the past 10 to 15 years or so.

Whereas, yes, recording technology has always progressed – 2-track to 4-track to 8-, 16-, & 24-track analog recording, for example. However, this progression from 2 tracks to 24 tracks took from the mid-1950s to what, the mid-1970’s? And all that work got us was an apex of 24 tracks for recording. In 20 years?

We know each new technology proliferates at a quicker rate as time goes on – from telegraph to telephone to fax machines to e-mail to internet to cell phone usage (and all the steps I missed in there). We’re now at a point in time where the software used to create new studio technology is literally given away (in the form of development kits and the like), and it’s up to the creators (see the previous post) to use their imagination and create. That makes for a situation where anyone whom wants (again see my previous post) to can become a studio technology creator and publish it for free (or pay) on the Internet for anyone to download and use.

Today’s lesson is part godsend and part curse for those of us (like me) whom are very cost-conscious. I’m the kind of guy that hates to buy new technology. I AM the kind of person to wait until the very last minute to buy a new piece of technology, because I know that something better is always around the corner. I remember buying my first computer in the late 1990’s. When I tell younger people about this time period, I think that they have a hard time believing me (or just think that I’m an idiot). The late 1990’s was almost a wild west show in the computer hardware world. I would pick up the Best Buy sales flyer every Sunday and sweep through the computer hardware section to see what new processor speed and memory storage their computers had. There was a time period of several years’ where, literally, almost every other week, I’d see faster speeds & more memory on their computers. Why would anyone want to purchase a computer one week at 733 megahertz and two weeks later see a computer for the same price at 867 megahertz? Or buy a computer with a 10 GB hard drive then see the same computer two weeks later with a 16 GB hard drive?

The technology you buy today is already outdated. You may not be able to buy the newest technology tomorrow, but it won’t be long.

You have two choices: you can either continually chase the technology and buy a new computer every six months, in which case a LOT of your overhead is being taken up with computer hardware and software. I’d say that’s a mistake. 

One thing I ALWAYS tell people I consult with is this: When you start attracting clients to your studio business, do NOT advertise based on your equipment. If you start that trend, you’ll ALWAYS be behind. Someone else will ALWAYS have better equipment, more equipment, more updated software, etc. If you win the equipment chase game, the only ones who really win are the equipment manufacturers. DO NOT PLAY THE EQUIPMENT CHASE GAME.

A better idea is this: Get comfortable with the hardware and software you already have, and learn to use every single feature of that software effectively. Squeeze the blood form that turnip, son! There’s still some juice left in it!

Probably, you have equipment in your studio that has functions you don’t even know about. You learned how the basic functions work for that piece of software, but when you have a need for some other function, you turn to buying another piece of software.

Pro Tools has an entire notation feature built into the software. Did you know that? That fact may mean there’s no real need to buy Finale, Sibelius, or some stand-alone music notation software program. 

When you buy a Pro Tools LE system, you get Melodyne for free. Free! No, it’s not the full-featured Melodyne Studio, but you know what, the vast majority of projects I’m working on don’t necessarily need all of those features. If i can correct some pitches, I’m good!

Learn your software. Learn your hardware. Squeeze every last feature out of your equipment you can. It will save you money in the future. If what I say here saves you some money, let’s go out for coffee later.