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Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist


Joined: 08/08/03
Posts: 1393
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Caro Emerald: 'A Night Like This'
      #948212 - 20/10/11 02:53 PM
This is a bona fide masterclass in arrangement, if only on the basis that the endlessly repeated piano figuration somehow manages not to grate on the ear too much. The first thing to point out is the way that every new section brings with it some new sonic layer, while at the same time existing layers are frequently stripped out to keep the texture from expanding to a point where the choruses start sounding small. The pre-choruses (0:39 and 1:57) are a case in point, where the marimba rolls and hummed backing vocals are offset by the removal of all the upper drum programming, leaving just the kick keeping the pulse. Comparing the two pre-choruses also reveals an additional vibes line which subtly lifts the second pre-chorus compared with the first — the whole production is full of careful little touches like that. I also love the use of ear-catching sounds and performance techniques. I’ve already mentioned the marimba rolls, vocal humming, and vibes, but there’s also string tremolo and pizzicato, baritone sax ‘burps’, harp glissandi, gongs, and a vibrato-heavy Hawaian-sounding guitar solo to titillate your auricles. With so much chart-style arrangement sounding like the work of one-fingered keyboard-players, this is a breath of fresh air.

Finally, this song is simply chock full of interesting fills, providing additional momentum into all the important section boundaries — and a lot of the less important ones too! Listening to them closely, a number follow the formula of muting some important aspect of the arrangement (often the drums, bass, and/or piano) at the end of a section, and then creating some kind of transition effect into the downbeat of the following section — usually reverse cymbal or harp glissando in this track, or else a vocal/guitar pickup. This template is actually ridiculously easy to apply in any musical style, but if I had a penny for every home-studio production I’ve heard that’s wasted such fill opportunities, I’d probably have £27.63 by now. Roughly speaking.

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Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist


Joined: 08/08/03
Posts: 1393
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Re: Caro Emerald: 'A Night Like This' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #948213 - 20/10/11 03:00 PM
I reviewed this track off Caro Emerald's album 'Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor' which gives the following credits:

All songs arranged, recorded, and produced by David Schreurs and Jan van Wieringen.
Vocal arrangements by Caro Emerald.
Mixed by Jan van Wieringen.
Mastered by Darius van Helfteren.

Hats off to David Schreurs and Jan van Wieringen, especially as they're also credited with the mellotron, hammond organ, marimba, strings, celeste, and vibraphone parts, as well as the drum programming and percussion. Deeply talented. I'd give them my last Rolo just for that great little turnaround into the second half of verse two (around 1:41)!

The drum programming here is another great facet of the production, to my mind, without overstating its case. Let me just walk through the first section to demonstrate what I mean. For a start bar two's snare pattern is a slight variation on bar one (a bit more snare action), then bar four contains a big drop with a soft cymbal crash and some kind of open hi-hat or brush snare fill into the downbeat of the first verse, so you're left with the first four bars looking like this:

[A1] [A2] [A1] [Drop+Hat]

Then at 0:08 an extra little hi-hat layer comes in with the vocals, which gives the verse a little rhythmic lift, and you get a similar pattern again for the next four bars, but with the last of these varied with that open-hat/brush-snare fill at the end:

[A1] [A2] [A1] [A2+Hat]

The next four bars (from 0:16) follow a pretty similar format, but here the first A2 bar feels like it's been simplified a little -- perhaps to get out of the way of the vocal line there -- and the second is punctuated with the guitar stab at 0:22:

[A1] [A2 simplified] [A1] [A2+Gtr Stab+Hat]

Then the second half of the verse (0:23) brings another cymbal crash and a subtle new stereo tambourine layer (as well as some nice unison string stabs), and again varies the previous pattern slightly, simplifying the third A2 section's snare part even further, and adding in a reverse cymbal in bar eight, as well as some kind of subtle percussion that's tricky to identify:

[A1+Crash] [A2] [A1] [A2+Hat]
[A1] [A2 more simplified] [A1] [A2+RevCymb+Perc+Hat]

At which point (0:39), we cut right back down to kick and shaker (with covering fire from the marimba's entry at this point), freshening up the ear in preparation for a return to the main rhythm programming with the arrival of the chorus eight bars later.

The thing I want to highlight with all that description is that the rhythm programming keeps varying itself subtly at various different 'zoom factors'. No matter whether you look at the music in one-bar, two-bar, four-bar, or eight-bar chunks, there's always some kind of subtle variation going on that helps keep the programming sounding musical, especially because these variations support the musical drive of the production -- for example the gradually increasing percussion layers to increase the energy levels, and the drop section to prepare for the big arrival of the first chorus. And yet the variations are also subtle and well-placed enough that they don't distract from more important things in the arrangement or confuse the track stylistically. It's a real balancing act, and in my opinion is part of what helps keep people interested well beyond the first listen.

Other little highlights for me include the fabulous little fill variation at 1:41, which really slings you into the second half of the second chorus; the dulled vocal drop at 2:56, allowing the brighter final chorus to demand more attention; and the odd stereo-ising effect on the main piano sample during the same section, which again contrasts with the more focused mono presentation during the last chorus.

It's just one of those arrangements that goes on giving and giving!

For more critiques of commercial productions, browse The Mix Review Index.


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Chris Jackson



Joined: 21/10/11
Posts: 2
Loc: Cambridgeshire
Re: Caro Emerald: 'A Night Like This' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #948381 - 21/10/11 12:06 PM
Hi Mike,
I'm new to this forum (I actually joined after reading this post just to share my enthusiasm of this song with you!) but I'm currently in the process of programming a backing track of 'A Night Like This' to perform with my quartet and found this thread whilst searching for views and tips on the production of this song. I couldn't agree with you more - I've marvelled at the arrangement and production of this track on each and every listen. They've managed to take a very straightforward, repetetive chord structure (basically a II-V-I with the odd A half diminished thrown in and an uplifting shift from minor to major key for the chorus) and, along with Caro Emerald's wonderfully sensual vocals, craft an enjoyable, engaging and feel-good record full of subtle nuances that would otherwise go unnoticed by most.

As you say, it has been superbly arranged and the attention to detail is second to none. I must have listened to this song getting on for 50 times or so now whilst working on my backing track, and each listen brings out something new I hadn't noticed.

I love the pre-chorus holding back of the main drum beat at 0:39 when the marimba comes in (I don't know if you mention it and I might be wrong, but my ear also picked out a very subtle guiro figure playing throughout this section) and the unusual choice of a harp glissando to announce the chorus. Who would have thought of using that kind of sound to bring in a chorus?? Real creative vision demonstrated there.

I love the interplay between the unions strings and bass line in the chorus, and the very brief, yet incredibly effective, addition of the high string figure (are those mellotron strings, by any chance?) at the beginning of each 4 bar pattern of the chorus - understated, never overdone but just enough to lift the start of each pattern.

They've also managed to effortlessly combine new and old school sounds and styles to evoke timeless 50's glamour with an up to date, contemporary feel that provides a real breath of fresh air. Hats off to those guys, it really is very clever stuff indeed.

I doubt I'll be able to (and not sure I actually need to!) capture all those nuances in my backing track - especially when I'm programming it on my Korg M3 for live performance - but it's certainly a pleasure working on, and attempting to emulate, such a well crafted tune. I haven't enjoyed producing a backing track so much for years!

Thanks for your review - I found it extremely helpful and informative, and it certainly added to what I'd already managed to pick up on the production and arrangement of this song. Now I've found this forum, I look forward to making repeated visits and reading your future articles and reviews.

Kind regards,
Chris


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Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist


Joined: 08/08/03
Posts: 1393
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Re: Caro Emerald: 'A Night Like This' new [Re: Chris Jackson]
      #948425 - 21/10/11 03:08 PM
Thanks for the kind words, and I'm glad that this review's been useful for you. It was one of the more fun ones to do, as you can probably tell!

Quote Chris Jackson:

I love the pre-chorus holding back of the main drum beat at 0:39 when the marimba comes in (I don't know if you mention it and I might be wrong, but my ear also picked out a very subtle guiro figure playing throughout this section)




Yes, although it only really surfaces for me consciously towards the end of that section, almost like a little subliminal run-up to the harp fill. Listening really carefully I'm pretty sure it's running right from 0:39 as you say, but I'd have trouble picking it out with any certainly if it weren't more exposed just before the chorus, because of the way the bari sax and woodblocks contribute to the same kind of register. It's one of those situations where, for transcription purposes, you have to work almost as much by implication as by actually hearing what's there!

--------------------
Recording Secrets for the Small Studio
A complete recording method based around the techniques of the world's most famous producers.


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Chris Jackson



Joined: 21/10/11
Posts: 2
Loc: Cambridgeshire
Re: Caro Emerald: 'A Night Like This' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #948437 - 21/10/11 04:12 PM
Yes you're right, it only starts becoming prominent in the lull just before the chorus, and so by assumption I was guessing it's present in the whole pre-chorus section. That's the beauty of the track, some things are so subtle it's actually difficult to identify exactly what's going on.

Also at 1:41, where you mention that great fill that takes you into the 2nd half of the 2nd verse, another percussive sound (a type of handclap?) is brought in panned hard to one side (or to both sides, I can't quite tell) that just lifts the snare drum and gives it extra stereo width for the rest of that verse. A great trick for future use.

Programming backing tracks can be tedious at times, but it's true that it makes you listen to a track in a way and to a depth you perhaps wouldn't normally. It's a great way to learn about the little production and arrangement tricks that the pros use to add extra bits of interest and 'ear candy' to a song.

Programming that harp fill is going to be fun!

Chris


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Jennifer Jones
Web Editor, Support & Social Media


Joined: 06/11/07
Posts: 1101
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Re: Caro Emerald: 'A Night Like This' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #950499 - 31/10/11 03:49 PM
Just wanted to say a big thank you to Mike for introducing me to this artist

Each month, I read Mike's critique at the same time as listening to the track in HQ, and this was one song I'd only heard very briefly before. Since hearing it whilst reading the critique, I've been inspired to search out her other tracks, and have discovered an artist I really enjoy.

Most of her other tracks are put together in a similarly interesting manner, using subtle musical highlights and layering to keep your interest whilst still retaining the same basic beat and driving bassline (for example, "Back It Up").

If you are interested in hearing other examples of what has been achieved here, I can recommend reading what Mike has said about "A Night Like This" alongside listening to some of her other tracks, as a lot of the same techniques and approaches have been used.

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Vlaaing Peerd



Joined: 02/06/10
Posts: 53
Loc: Groningen, Netherworld
Re: Caro Emerald: 'A Night Like This' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #954804 - 22/11/11 01:44 PM
Nice to read a good analysis of this track and also nice to see Caro Emerald now get's some attention abroad (I heard she even appeared on Jools Holland and now touring the UK). Though this song topped the charts for a while I can definitely recommend the rest of the album too. Lovely singing and the producers keep up the quality throughout the whole album.

Typically that these tunes consist of mostly cliché vintage sounds but it's the freshest approach I heard in ages.

Also look out for the cover of “You’re All I Want For Christmas”, will be released tomorrow!

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Stoney



Joined: 01/09/04
Posts: 573
Loc: London
Re: Caro Emerald: 'A Night Like This' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #955267 - 25/11/11 11:19 AM
Good song - but isn't it just Banho de Cheiro ?


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