Let me get technical with you:
Most music has a whole bunch of crap going on simultaneously.
Think about it. Even the most mickey-mouse, basic music has at least two melodies going at the same time, a drum beat, a bassline and some chords. It’s a mess.
And the human ear, as we’ve discussed in the past, is an idiot. It is difficult for us to hear all of these elements simultaneously, so we find it more enjoyable if one element is foregrounded in some way. Thus, we have to find ways to emphasize the most important element of an arrangement at any given time.
Haven’t thought about what part of the track is the most important yet? Haven’t figured out if that lead is supposed to be on top of the arp, or vice versa? Now would be the time to think about that.
Confession time. I love The-Dream. I really do. I love him because he is a master arranger.
Think about it, do his songs ever have “cool sounds”? No. “Interesting effects”? No. He basically uses what appear to be the presets on a Triton and still makes great jams that transcend pop&B gym-music (I call that stuff “gym-music” because that’s the only place that I hear it).
One of my favorites is his song Rockin That Thang, where he uses emphasis to guide your ear towards the most important part of the song at different points.
Rockin That Thang – The-Dream
The first, and probably most obvious way to add emphasis to a song is with volume. Since, like I said, our ears lack subtlety, we’ll gravitate towards the loudest element of a song. This means that, if you’d like a song element to have some presence and to figure into the listener’s profile of the track, you have to allow it some time when it is the most prominent sound. You can hear this at the beginning of Rock That Thang
The-Dream has an accompanying melodic element that he introduces during this intro. Coincidentally, it is basically the same notes as the chorus, something that we will discuss next post. Since he starts this element before the melody comes in, it is foregrounded and can play, quietly, through the rest of the song and mirror the melody. You can see here that the emphasized element doesn’t have to be loud, it just has to be “the loudest.”
The-Dream also emphasizes certain portions of the melody using two different techniques: volume and harmony.
In this little portion, The-Dream cuts out the other elements (accompanying melody, bass, drums) in order to let the vocals stand alone. This makes it the loudest, giving it the emphasis. He also doubles this melody with other, simultaneous vocals which sing different notes but in the same rhythm. This method of sudden harmonic doubling calls attention to the melody and makes it stick out from the rest of the track, which in turn highlights the drop back into the pre-chorus. Pretty awesome, huh!
I hope that this post has made you like The-Dream a little more. Let me know if it worked in the comments!