Semester B Project

Archive for February, 2017

Song Composition – Max Martin

Posted in Song Research on February 24, 2017 by James Woodliffe

This week I have researched about Max Martin and how he constructs pop music. Max Martin is currently the songwriter with the 3rd most #1s on the US Billboard – behind Paul McCartney & John Lennon. He is also currently the producer with the 2nd most #1s – behind George Martin.

During an interiew with NME, Max Martin revealed what he considered to be important information when writing pop music. His general rules are listed in full below – but he sticks to 3 main principles. Don’t overwhelm the listener, make the most familiar and most importantly, the vocal is what is important. These are teachings that I will apply to my own compositions in writing familiar pop music.

“Another theory is that you can also sing the chorus melody as a verse. For instance, take ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ with Prince. The verse and chorus of that song are exactly the same. But as a listener, you don’t really notice since the energy of the chorus is completely different compared to the verse” – (Max Martin, 2017)

Singing involves a great deal of psychology. If the artist isn’t having a great day or finds it all boring, my role becomes that of a coach. Getting the very best out of the artist. Helping them perform at their very best when it’s game time. One way to get them there is to bring them out of their comfort zones. To coach them a little, get them to try new stuff” (Max Martin, 2017)

“If you’ve got a verse with a lot of rhythm, you want to pair it with something that doesn’t. Longer notes. Something that might not start at the same beat. As I say this, I’m afraid it might sound like I’ve got a whole concept figured out…But it’s not like that. The most crucial thing is always how it feels. But the theories are great to have on hand when you get stuck. ’We can’t think of anything, is there anything we could do?’ In those cases, you can bring it in as a tool. If you listen to ‘Shake It Off’ with Taylor Swift (he hums the verse melody). After that segment, you need a few longer notes in order to take it all in, otherwise it’s simply too much information. If there would have been as many rhythm elements in the part right before the chorus.” (Max Martin, 2017)

“The level of attention he puts into the song, no stone unturned and really finds the best lyric, melody etc. He puts a lot of focus on the vocal – he treats it as an instrument. If the melody is great, he focuses on the melody as well. I call him earworms. He’s amazing at making earworms.” (Justin Timberlake, 2016)

Pop Music Characteristics – Tempo

Posted in Pop Music Analysis on February 17, 2017 by James Woodliffe

Pop Music is a genre of music that is popular and not appealing to the sub-genres of music culture. Pop music tends to use many many styles and themes borrowed from other genres. The main medium of pop music is the song, often between two and a half and three and a half minutes in length. The songs usually have a strong rhythmic and/or melodic element to them that the listener can grab on to straight away. Common variants include verse-chorus structure in a 32 bar form that has contrasting elements within the verse and chorus separated by catchy vocal hooks. The beats and instruments tend to be very simple with the focus on the vocal pattern. Production tends to focus on the vocals first and everything else after due to the vocal being the selling point.

The graph below is research into the Top 100 Billboard tracks of 2015 and mapping where they lie in terms of tempo. 120 bpm is the most common bpm of 2015, appearing the most times (6), the median value was also 120. I found this quite interesting that both Pro Tools and Logic open sessions at 120 bpm as a default. However, there is no correlation between song tempo and placement within the chart. As pop music focuses around the vocal, the tempo is not irrelevant, just not as important. However factors such as song tempo will bring a familiarity with the listener, which is important for pop music’s success. Interestingly, there is a direct comparison between a song’s tempo, its danceability and its commercial success. The more danceable songs were between 78 and 140 bpm. The top 9 most popular songs were between 108 and 150 bpm.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 11.25.43Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 11.31.19


Posted in Uncategorized on February 16, 2017 by James Woodliffe

How I am going to benchmark my work is an important aspect to my research. I aim to compare my music to contemporary pop music (which I have listed previously in posts) and when submitting a track blog about the track I have compared it to stylistically and production wise (LO4 and A&O 2&4)

Throughout working at University of Lincoln I have used Pro Tools for 99% of my work and used Logic Pro X in my spare time at home. I purchased it before starting at University primarily because it’s relatively cheap and has a lot of functions with VSTs. I will be using Logic Pro X for this project simply because I believe it to be a better program for a project such as this, and has more creative scope than Pro Tools due to the sheer amount of VSTs, presets that are available to alter and the quality of the virtual instruments. I’m am not to argue that Logic is a better program than Pro Tools, just has a different use. I prefer Pro Tools as a multi-tracking software, but as for creating sounds and using midi etc, Logic Pro X wins it for me.

Within Logic I will be using Ultrabeat and Alchemy. Ultrabeat is a drum programming plug in; as I am a terrible drummer (and all round rough rhythmically) having a strong and simple to use plug in to print my ideas is a necessity. Ultrabeat has 80 preset kits that are a good starting point to modify and use to compare to my benchmark material. This should hopefully enable me to create a stronger “rhythmic” sound. Alchemy is also a fantastic plug in synth instrument, the vast amount of sounds, layers and options within the plug in allow for a massive sonic pallet to work from; the ability to alter existing sounds in such a simple way allows for creativity to flow without being bogged down in the production all the time. A lot of the work I will be doing will be a mixture of production and writing cohesively, but being stuck in one are for too long will be unproductive. Alchemy is fantastic for allowing me to creatively work and also give the options to manipulate sounds to be comparable to songs that are contemporary pop.

To improve my skills within Logic Pro X I will be using YouTube tutorials to get the best out of the program and deepen my understanding using VSTs of mixing within another DAW (LO 2&4) Such as ones listed below. YouTube videos are great to get an understanding of a plug in and learn about it.

Learning Outcomes / Aims & Objectives

Posted in Uncategorized on February 8, 2017 by James Woodliffe

Learning Outcomes:
1.To have furthered my knowledge of contemporary pop music composition.
2.To deepen my understanding of VST usage within pop music composition alongside traditional instruments.
3.To further understand the roles of pop music composers within the contemporary music industry.
4.To enhance my pop music mixing skills within a DAW.

Aims & Objectives:
1.Produce a cohesive EP of contemporary vocal pop music
2.Compose appropriate material to facilitate contemporary pop production approaches.
3.Employ a hybrid approach of real instruments and VSTs.
4.Mix the tracks to the technical standards of appropriate benchmark material.
5.Mix the tracks to the aesthetic/stylistic conventions of appropriate reference material.


Posted in Uncategorized on February 5, 2017 by James Woodliffe

This week in my tutorial David McSherry and I discussed my project and to seal off the potential aims & objectives. My Aims & Objectives will be posted in a separate post. David suggested that as my project is a pop music project my aims should revolve around the pop music aesthetic, specifically aiming around the vocal and use of VSTs. The tracks should work towards a benchmark of listening material and use a hybrid of real instruments and VSTs.

The outcomes of learning were also discussed. As this is my final project I wanted to do a project that would challenge my production style. David suggested as I write music myself that writing and producing my own music would be a suitable avenue to go down. I have a unashamed love for pop music and its composition/production. It would have been easier for me to get a rock band or a similar genre and record them – however that would not widen my skills. For this project I really wanted to try something that would open different doors creatively and to alternate styles of production.