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Really Love

by KSI
feat. Craig David & Digital Farm Animals

A really solid EDM beat here (one of the best I’ve heard since Topic & A7S’s stonking 'Breaking Me', in fact), combined with a meaty, rasping lead rap timbre, smartly designed to feel aggressive and upfront without spittiness. But what most intrigues me with this production is the way the harmony develops under Craig David’s sung vocal sections.

You see, when the hook first appears at the outset, the harmonic backing is a kind of hazy wash of watery modulated notes that roughly coalesce into a rather ambiguous Ebmaj9 chord. It’s only with the rap’s arrival at 0:31 that we get any clear sense of bass line, but by that point the sung hook’s out of the mix – and when it reappears again at 1:03 the bass drops out again. However, despite the harmonic backdrop second time round being no different from before, the harmony already feels like it has a little more direction, and I wonder whether that’s simply because we’re mentally extrapolating the verse bass line (which, as you can hear during the final hook section at 2:23, gives the hook section a much clearer harmonic momentum) that we’ve been hearing for the past thirty seconds.

And the half-time middle section at 2:07 hints even more strongly at the forthcoming bass+hook juxtaposition, by putting the singer over the verse’s bass pitches for the first time. But it still keeps the musical connection oblique by using a different vocal line and a different bass rhythm. Only on the closing “losing my head trying to make you mine” phrase at 2:19 does the connection become explicit, right as we’re heading into the final hook section where the bass and sung vocal elements are finally heard together in their entirety. A nicely paced slow reveal.

Sweet Melody

by Little Mix

Overlooking, for a moment, the heavy irony of any member of Little Mix delivering songwriting critique (“I wasn’t crazy about the words, but the melodies were sweet” at 0:19), this production is interesting for the way it maintains its super-wide sense of stereo image. Now it’s probably fair to say that, for most pop producers, the wider the mix sounds, the better. However, widening any sound beyond a certain point can begin seriously compromising its mono compatibility, which is important for mass-market mix translation. So the trick to having your cake and eating it is to focus your stereo-widening processes primarily on parts that aren’t musically that important. And this specific song showcases a variety of such ‘safe’ widening targets.

Right at the start, for instance, it’s that strange asynchronous tremolo sound-effect doing the honours. Yes, it dives in the balance when you sum to mono, but that matters not a jot because it’s the bass line and vocal melodic hook that are the important musical features there. Then the verse passes the widening role to the finger-click backbeat from 0:08. You might well argue that the backbeat is crucially important to any pop song, and I wouldn’t argue with you on that. But what’s most important about it here is its rhythmic positioning, not how loud it is. So even though it’s certainly quieter in mono, it’s still easily audible enough to serve its rhythmic purpose just fine. Now if it had been a rock drummer’s snare, then that kind of level loss in mono would likely have been unacceptable – that actually needs its raw power! Here, however, nothing much is lost by the backbeat being quieter in mono. And the same applies to the half-time backbeat hits in the following hook section (from 0:24).

Following more click-widening in the second verse (from 0:32), we get new widening elements in the second hook section (0:48), namely some kind of short, dense stereo reverb on the lead vocal, with some super-wide harmony vocal layers joining halfway through (0:52). Again, neither of these elements are essential. So what if the vocal has a little less of the reverb effect in mono? And so what if we’re not hearing as much of the harmony? In both cases the main melody line remains as prominent as ever.

Then with the arrival of the chorus at 0:56, we get a combination of vocal layers, synth pads, SFX transitions, and effects returns hyping the width. Now the first of these is always a slight risk, it has to be said, because it means you’re setting up a disparity between the stereo and mono vocal balances. (Indeed, there’s a noticeable drop in vocal level in the mono mix here, although it’s nothing too drastic.) So it makes sense not to rely too heavily on the vocals for widening. With the pads and effect returns, however, there’s a lot less to lose, because no matter how wide you go you’ll still get the lead vocal, bass, and drums coming through strongly in mono, so the musical backbone of the song will nonetheless survive to the listener intact.