Spencer Clarke Sound

Editor and Engineer, Music and Post

Freelance Editor and Recording Engineer

Vocal Specialty

Elon University c/o 2015, Music Production & Recording Arts

Arrangement & Production Analysis - It Girl

For my first arrangement analysis, I’m returning to a song that I know incredibly well. Jason Derulo’s It Girl. It was the first song that I learned as a member of Rip_Chord my freshman year, and we continued singing it all the way through the fall of my Junior year. Tom Anderson’s arrangement of It Girl was the reason that Rip_Chord started implementing a “repertoire” system, to ensure that the very best songs would continue to be sung even beyond their concert lifetime as touring repertoire. This would give us the chance to take our very best with us wherever we went. Looking back on It Girl now, I can see why it is so successful: It sticks with the original chord progressions and rhythm of the original song, but takes the “vocal band” concept a step further. Rather than imitating the backing instruments in Jason Derulo’s original, Anderson takes the liberty of re-writing that background, taking cues from the instruments, but giving it a life and feel all his own; something that is expressed in his company name, “Random Notes”.

More specifically, Anderson takes more liberty with the rhythm in It Girl than the notes, as he is required to stay within the basic chordal structure of the song due to its popularity. I would imagine that he approached the arrangement with the attitude of a producer, rather than an arranger, writing out the parts that he felt were missing from the original. There are plenty of additional backing vocals written into the baritone and tenor parts that not only replace the guitar strums in the background of the original, but add new life by using lyrics from the solo to make it feel like it should have been in the original as sung background.

A great example of this happens right away, on Page 2 of the arrangement, right after the verse starts:

The top two tenors sing "choom ba doo choom ba doo choom choom a..." and it sounds like it belonged in the original song all along. There are rhythmic changes like this and similar things throughout the song, which takes a fairly ordinary R&B song to new heights. The trick to this approach is that there always has to be an overlapping phrase so that a section it doesn't sound empty when multiple parts step up into the foreground of the arrangement. A great example of this is in the chorus. Aside from the basses, "dm-ing" their bassline, the upper 5 parts trade off background "ooh's" and "oh's" for melodic lines.

Right here is a great example of the trading motion between two groups. Baritones and the bottom Tenor line are a group, and the top three are another. The separate groups have separate counterpoint lines, but both counterpoint groups still fall within the chord progression, and the original feel of the song is preserved.

Random Notes

This is a good example of additional chords added for interest. Here, the marked "Add 9" is filling the F# in the chord that is usually taken care of by the whistling in the original song. In the bass line, there are extra notes added for interest, so this section is not straight "strums", as it is in the original. The added "9" is a prominent part of Anderson arrangements. It doesn't change the fundamental chord, but it adds interest and gives room for leading tones into the next chord.

[In the song, this falls immediately after "trust me, this is it girl..."]

Structural change - The Last Chorus

In the last chorus, Anderson makes the choice to cut the background, leaving only the soloist, harmonies, and the bass, to add interest to the arrangement. In the original, the only change is the added riffs over the soloist. With the background dropping for the last chorus, Anderson adds anticipation for where the background singers return in the second half, which is also an opportunity for background changes that herald its return.

No background!

And it returns here, in the second half of the last chorus.


-March 13, 2014-

Harmonic Deviations?

In this fast-paced popular song, Anderson doesn't really deviate from the harmonic structure. Too much fiddling with that, and the song won't sound like the original, which is increasingly problematic as a song becomes more and more popular.

I found one spot where he did deviate a bit, but only in the interest of spicing things up a bit. In the original, The chord progression is something like this:

(IV, V, vi, I)x2

Anderson takes the liberty of adding in another note in the bass line of the 4th measure of this phrase, letting the bass line walk up the scale from C# to D# to E.

This creates an interesting chord, voiced as follows, bottom-up:

D#, F#, B, B, E, C#

The first four notes give the chord away as a first-inversion dominant chord, but the last two are more perplexing. The E is something that we can write off, because it's a droning tenor note through the whole section. It sustains over the V and through the vi in the tenor line second from the top (not counting the harmony line). The C# is a bit more out of place though. Adding the C# (while omitting the E) and then writing the notes out in order, we get B, C#, D#, F#. A Vadd9. It's not at all out of place in the progression, and it gets hidden in the chords because all of the "out of place" notes are in the Bass and Baritone parts.

It's a nice way to allow a walking melodic bass line without totally throwing off the chord progression of the entire section. It's especially permissable here in the bridge, which is arguably the most boring section of the original, where the soloist carries the section without any realized "building" feeling in the background.

Measures 2-4 of the Bridge are illustrated with red markings depicting the harmonic changes

Upon meeting with my advisor, we decided that it's a first inversion V(add11). The add 9 is implied as an option when you write 11. Suspensions don't resolve, so it is a new chord. Inversion isn't indicated when writing jazz chord notation.

Voicings

Determining the accuracy of voicing choices for this arrangement is tough. The background track(s) of the original song are mixed incredibly low, and sidechain compressed such that the harmonic textures disappear whenever a rhythmic element appears. But, I was able to gather a few things from the quieter sections.

Intro

In the introduction of the song, I heard something that sounds a lot like this. This represents the first four measures of the song, then only the guitar (written in the bass clef) continues under the soloist for the first part of the verse. This is what I heard when I listened to the first part of the song.

The whistling line is written on top, the droning pads that enter are written on the treble clef, and the notes that I could make out from the muted guitar are represented on the bass clef.

This is a fairly straightforward example of the chord progressions I outlined earlier in the piece. IV-I-V-vi. The last chord in the second measure has the added B in the tenor voice, which gives the chord more of a "ii of V" feeling, I think, but I haven't taken theory in long enough to really know what the added B signifies. I just don't remember what a vi(add7) would actually represent or how to properly write it. The F#s in the whistling line serve as an (add9) for the root chord, which persists in the arrangement, albeit in a lower voicing.

In the Tom Anderson arrangement, the voicings are a bit different. They look like this, with simplified motion so that the rhythms align more with what is in the original.

This voicing ordered according to parts on the arrangement. Tenors on top, basses on the bottom. Only four parts sang for the first two measures. There are other entrances later on, but this illustrates the basic voicing.

You can see that Anderson moved the whistling line down into the texture, instead of having it stick out. Also, the droning B and E have disappeared, in favor of moving parts and avoiding doubles, for weight. The new addition in the arrangement is the clearly defined C#-->B (top tenor line) that is not audible in the original song. This just helps to define the IV as a major chord, something that is taken for granted in pop music's "four chord songs". That C# moves to the bassline for the V-vi movement in the second measure, and is omitted from the upper parts, again to avoid doubling. The V-vi motion was clearly meant to be accented in the song, as in both the original and the arrangement, no attempts are made to remove the parallel 5ths in the motion. Anderson even goes so far as to make the whole chord (without the drone in the Tenor 2) move in parallel motion.

The introduction is written with very minimal voicing, to leave room for the arrangement to grow, and that's one of the things that makes the arrangement successful. The rhythmic feel of the piece is not bogged down by excessive harmonic textures in the background. Fewer moving voices means fewer voices that have to lock into rhythm.


-April 9, 2014-

Voicing the Bridge

In the arrangement, the bridge follows the same basic chord progression as the original, but fleshes out the chords and changes the primary voicing of the song. Aside from the solo line, the most prominent elements in the bridge are the synthesized bass line, and the organ providing the harmonic definition. I have transcribed what I could gather from the song here:

Here, the organ provides the necessary harmonies to give the listener an idea of the chord progression present. You can also see the droning "B" in the organ part present throughout the section as well.

 

In the Anderson arrangement, there are a lot of suspensions, (covered earlier), but he fleshes out the chords. I have simplified the arrangement into this grand staff so that you can see what it actually turns out to be on paper.

Immediately, the arrangement adds a bit of flare: in the first measure, the Tonic chord (E,G,B), is played over the IV chord. Because the tonic and dominant tones (1st and 5th) of the IV chord are in the outer voices, The IV chord is what is most apparent to the ear, keeping the progression the same. The second bar is the same as the original, aside from the added E (11th of B) and the F# to flesh out the chord. The third measure is the same as the original except for the included G#, again, just padding the chord. The fourth measure illustrates the change from the beginning of the measure to the end of the measure. At the beginning of the measure, you have the walking bass on a D#, and it moves to an E in the second half of the measure. The second chord of this measure is just an E(add9). The high B at the top of the staff is the dominant of the chord, really making the tonic chord of the song stick out. This continues with an A(add9) and a B(add11). The second to last measure gets interesting as well. Anderson has written a [vi] chord, but then added the tonic and dominant of the [V] chord in the upper voices, anticipating the return to the [V] chord in the next measure.

One of the takeaways from this voicing is the changed pitch of the droning note of the section. In the original, the drone is on the B. In Anderson's arrangement, it is moved to the E. I find that having a pronounced droning tone helps to glue the harmonies together and ground the chord progression in the final production. However, this only works with the tonic pitch or the dominant pitch. Anything else just ends up sounding out of place.


Mix Notes - Breaking Down the Liquid 5th Production.

Right off the bat, the first thing that I notice about the a cappella mix is the treatment on the percussion. To Liquid 5th's credit, it sounds remarkably similar to the original, but it sounds incredibly artificial, almost to the point that I wonder whether or not they added an 808 to the mix. There are several points where I think that there are handclaps in the percussion section, but I don't recall ever recording claps, (not to mention that claps aren't vocal). There are also portions of the song where the percussion is clearly layered. It's just not possible for snare hits and "bass" elements to happen at the same time from one percussionist.

In terms of the actual mix levels, the solo is mixed far lower in the a cappella cover than in the original song. At times during the song, it's really hard to make out what the soloist is singing. It's always present, but it's just a bit too glued in to the mix. It needs to poke out a bit more. Even during the bridge, the song as a whole doesn't grow like it should. It's been compressed too much, or attention wasn't paid to making that section grow. It all just sounds stagnant. I have reason to believe that compression is a culprit, as any time that someone other than the soloist is singing, the meters on the Mackie Big Knob at my desk rarely leave 0db

Normally, I'm fairly critical of the processing on the bass section of a song, but in this case, it sort of fits. That's probably due to the fact that it mainly sounds just like a wash underneath the percussive hits. There are times where I can certainly pick out the fact that Doubler or some other "octavizing" plugin was used, so it's just a bit too much. In my opinion, effects on the bass should only subtly enhance the tone, not serve as a complete duplicate, just an octave lower. My emphasis would be on extension, rather than supplementation. The extra octave should be there to round out the sound, and make the voice sound deeper, rather than replacing it altogether with a lower octave. Moderation is key here.

-What I've learned-

  • The song isn't a rigid framework for the arrangement. It's more of a skeleton to base ideas off of.
  • Add 9 and add 11 make great additions to an otherwise plain progression
  • Voicings don't have to match the original song. Depending on which tone you want to emphasize in the chord, voicing and doubling help to strengthen this.

-In The Mix-

  • Percussion will be the first thing to give away over-production.
  • Make sure that the solo stands out in the final mix. Compression will glue it back together, but if it doesn't stick out early in the mix, it won't stick out further down the line.
  • Don't over-do the extra bass octave. It still has to sound believable.