Dance Pop Tutorial Day 6: Arrangement, FX & Melodies [7 Day Song]

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Hi! I’m Dave from and welcome to day 6 of the 7 day song on Dance Pop, courtesy of Propellerhead Software’s Music Making Month.

Yesterday we talked about the vocal processing for the Dance Pop track, and today we’ll look into how I’ve arranged it, have a quick look at the FX I’ve used and then discuss the thinking behind my choice of progressions, rhythms and melodies.

Firstly the arrangement then. Reason and Record’s “Block” mode makes it frickin’ easy to lay out and to see the sections of the track. We’ve got 8 bars of intro, verse, prechorus, chorus, then a 4 bar intro section into the verse, the prechorus and two choruses, a 16 bar bridge, a tiny 2 bar intro break, the chorus twice again and ending on an 8 bar loop of the intro. Nice and ironic.

So! Join me in part 2 for- just kidding, let’s have a bit more of an in depth look and see how the FX affect the effect of the sections. I’ve just used a redrum instance to add FX sample to the track, for a more in depth look into how to add FX check out any of the previous 7 day songs where I explain that.

The intro section is akin to the lady gaga style of Dance Pop – she has this awesome habit of having ridiculous hooks that end up being stuck in your head, and you’ll often find they’re quite minor sounding harmonies or just rapped.

So I went for an intro section that’s not too melodic with a repetitive and suitably lyrically dodgy hook. In Record or Reason, just drawing over a section put in by a block mutes it out – this is ideal for bringing in our out elements, as you can see the first 4 bars I’ve gone for the intro without the beat, bringing it in later to begin driving the track.

Building up sections is really important when making interesting pop music, even if the intro is the same thing looped, introducing new elements or dropping out existing instruments is a great way to keep your listener engaged, and since your conventional target audience for this genre is probably 13 year olds with rich parents and ADD, you really need to put every effort in to keep them engaged.

So, FX wise I’ve got a nice little boom to start the track, a bit of a reverse to lead into the verse and a white noise sweep at the start there as well just so that synth isn’t all alone there and the track sounds a bit more filled out.

Moving into the verse, we’ve got the same beat as the intro, notice it’s a little different to the chorus beat (I’ll discuss it in part 2), for a little bit of rhythmical difference in this instance. The bass is introduced and the gated lead drops out. It’s good to try and keep one instrument focal at a time – the pitch bend synth comes in in between the bass notes, keeping with the “one synth sound at a time” thing.

However, to fill it out, once again we have FX to the rescue – I found this cool hollow reverby synth sample in the Primeloops Razor FX sample pack (which I use all the time because it’s frickin’ useful – link to grab that below)

Since the lyrics change in the verse, I didn’t feel the need to change any of the instrumentation.

So over to the prechorus, where I’ve got another FX sample added – a little blip that I was initially wondering “Hmm, is that too cheesy?” and then realised I was making a Dance Pop song and snapped out of my moment of foolishness. If there’s ever a genre you can get away with cheesy little sounds, this is it. But make sure they’re accompanied by some sort of powerful element – be it synths, bass or beat.

I drop out the drums at the end of the prechorus, so it hits harder when the chorus comes in.

That first chorus is when we really start to think about building. There’s quite a few elements in the full version of the chorus, so for the first instance I’ve removed a bunch of them so the song can introduce them later to feel like it’s built up. The high synth is muted, as is the tambourine.

So we just have the lead, bass and beat as well as that crash in FX sample and the reverse up to the quick intro. This time with the beat to keep it flowing. The white noise sweep stops exactly when the verse comes in, which feels like the intro is bringing the track back down again, quite a cool effect.

Second verse is much the same as the first musically, there’s a little alteration to the beat to hilight a vocal stutter I added which is so frickin’ cool if I do say so myself. Hey, if you don’t like the music you make, why are you making it? Oh yeah, to make a horrendous amount of money, fair enough. But I frickin’ adore Dance Pop so I’m pretty lucky I guess.

Anyway, Prechorus again, with that variation in the Ah~ vocal harmony keeping it interesting, and it’s time for the chorus! This time half way through the gloves come off and the tambourine and little backing synth come in to fill it out a bit more so it has some kind of building feel. The FX are just crashes and reverses.

Now for the bridge – Just the bass pad and arp with the vocal on top, but to fill out the top end we have that white noise sweep from the intro peeking in to say hello, you’ll start to notice a ton of these effects in Pop music when you are actively aware of them, they really help filling out tracks with not much in them without taking too much focus. A really big explosive hit starts the section, then half way through we’ve got the kick drum unmuted just driving it along. I really like how my horrendous over compression of the track has given a sidechained pumping sound to the white noise when the kick hits, you might want to be less messy and do that with a side chain compressor, but that’s your call.

Then we have a nice long reverse into the tiny intro section that this time is swamped by a bit-crushed effect sample, I crushed it with Scream 4 (man does that sound inappropriately metal at this time) – this just adds that tiny bit of unexpected tension before the final chorus, which is another technique you’ll see done time and again in Pop songs. Linkin Park used to do that all the time too… back in the days of Hybrid Theory and Meteora… simpler times… what? Oh yeah, song, right.

Final Chorus time – introducing it with the tambourine so it hits a bit harder, then bringing in the little backing synth and the extra vocal harmony for the big finale, then crashing out into the intro. Just letting that double clap finish it off. Marvellous!

So you have the choice whether or not to put in a Gaga style intro break section, and sometimes the verse and prechorus are musically the same and just the vocals will change, but this is pretty much the layout of every Dance Pop song.

It’s very formulaeic – and for a reason, this maximizes the amount of catchy hooks you can fit into 3 to 3 and a half minutes, which is the ideal radio play time, apparently. Not sure if there’s any scientific or psychological reasoning behind that, but most radio stations seem to abide by it.

Remember not to neglect your FX. They really tie the song together and it won’t sound as filled out and pro without them.

So join me in part 2 where I’ll go through the choices of notes and rhythms in the track!

Okay, so we have a few different parts, so let’s go through one at a time.

Intro synth

This is just a really deliberately disjointed sounding melody, from the D to the A, then the semitone above A#, which gives a minor feel and down to the E. The notes don’t seem to have much relation to each other which gives that unusual and cool feel to them.

Intro Beat

The beat has the claps on every 2 and 4, with the echoey clap on the 4 and this just drives the beat along nicely, keeping the dancey feel, then the kick is on the 1 and just after the clap to give a bouncey, hip hoppy kind of syncopated feel. The kick has a double kick because it gives the inevitable metal kid doing a drum cover on youtube something to do, and also kind of mirrors the double clap at the end.

Intro vocal harmony

Just a minor third harmony here with the D and F, making a minor and emotional vocal harmony over the weird melody works really well in creating that cool, dark pop vibe.

Verse bass

A very simple riff playing off the D root note and also you’ll notice every time the kick drum hits, the bass will play a note. This is a good convention to follow when making a strong and catchy bass riff. just goes up to the G, to the A# and A, playing off the semitone again, which is a little reference to the intro gated pad riff.

Verse pitch bend synth

In the same vein, the two notes being hit that are just long enough to bring it up to the recogniseable pitch are on those semitone notes A# and A. This is a kind of theme throughout the song, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – semitones are dark and powerful and I love them like a child. A child that actually does what you say and works hard and shuts up and takes care of themself when you’re having a rest after a hard day so you don’t have to go to court and waste money on some decent lawyers to avoid battery charges and negligence.

Verse vocal

The catchy melody just repeates from the “why why” to the “but I say why”, so in addition to the lyrical repetition, there’s also melodic repetition. Making this mega catchy – the notes are just working their way down to the root note, going G A F G D.

Prechorus vocal/synth

This synth is the same as the vocal, again just working its way down to the vocal. The notes don’t change exactly when you expect them to on the beat, giving a cool kind of lazy feel to the flow of the vocal.

Prechorus bass

The bass in the prechorus is similar to the verse, only less frequent and just works its way up the key.

Chorus lead

The chorus lead follows the rhythm and melody the bass has been establishing just to keep it catchy, then has the occasional jump up high to first the A and then the C, making it feel progressively more like it wants to resolve, then when you expect it to hit the note the chorus either ends or loops round.

Chorus bass

In contrast to the repeated lead riff, the bass changes the chord progression of the song, still following the kick drum rhythm from the verse to give a nice shuffle, from D to G to A# to the C at the top, which is aching to go up to that D, we take it down to the D, but this kinda works well with the lead synth which goes nice and high to strengthen the tension I mentioned.

Chorus vocal

You’ll notice that in a lot of pop songs, the chorus will hit at the same time the vocalist will sing the high note of the vocal melody – this is a really powerful way to start a chorus, the high note in this melody being the A note, then it’s just playing around between the D and the A, with the final little catchy hook on the semitone between E and F, for some pretty tension before the resolution to the intro section.

Chorus little synth

The weedy leady synth is much the same as the prechorus for the most part, but on that last “Just an illusion” hook, it goes up to the second and then down to the root note just to be a bit darker. It’s very quiet but subtly drives the track along.

Bridge pad

We’re using bar long notes here that go D, to the pretty third F, down to the A# in an unexpected turn of events that’s pretty powerful, then to keep up the tension going to the A, but up an octave so it feels brighter so it’s not too dark and gloomy.

Bridge arp

Then the arp on top of that just starts on the D note then walks down from the A to the D skipping the second note, so the prettiness is maintained without the arp sounding too minor and dark. This in conjunction with the pad makes a really powerful and emotional sound, since it’s acting as a kind of pedal – a reference point for the root note of the track which really enforces the tension caused by the root notes.

Bridge vocal

The vocal in the bridge walks up the scale to that A A# semitone, where it holds the final notes and plays between. Again, tons of gorgeous tension here, especially with the third vocal harmonies on top and that bass pad/arp combo keeping it together. Love this section.

And there we have it! I mentioned about the chorus vocal harmonies in day 5, so that about covers it. Now all we have left is the mixing and mastering as well as the magical unveiling of the final finished 7 day Dance Pop song! Frickin’ Sweet.

So join me tomorrow in Day 7 for that!


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