Main Forums >> Production - Mixing, Mastering, Gear & Techniques
        Print Thread

Pages: 1
Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist

Joined: 08/08/03
Posts: 1449
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Pixie Lott: 'All About Tonight'
      #983249 - 20/04/12 09:40 AM
In this track what most grabbed my attention was the way that several layers of rhythmic complexity combine to create interest and uncertainty. It’s not hard to guess that any pop tune destined for the clubs will at some point be driven by a dominant 4/4 beat, but the predictability requires that the producer brings other tricks into play to maintain interest. To this end, they’ll often play with off-beats and cross-rhythms. In this track, though, the main riff is something of a rarity, because until the vocal (and more so, later, the main beat) kicks in, it strongly resists being interpreted within a standard 4/4 metre: when the main riff is stated completely on its own, some people would be hard pressed to tap their foot confidently, let alone keep track of where the downbeat should be!

This may sound like the kiss of death for anything destined for the dance floor, but it’s very effective here, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because the downbeat is absent, it can be tricky to know when the vocal’s going to come in, even if you’ve heard the track before. When it does arrive, therefore, it can catch you unawares. Secondly, the cross-rhythmic complexity remains entertaining, even when the kick drum is indisputably nailing each of the four beats to the floor. On both counts, you’re forced to listen to and engage with the tune.

You can learn a lot from analysing exactly how this sort of rhythmic sleight of hand is achieved. In this case, the ambiguity in the intro is largely down to the way that each successive bar’s eighth-notes are strung together into groups, to encourage you to hear rhythmic stresses that contradict the standard 4/4 pattern. In the first two bars, a pair of three-quaver groupings (for those who aren’t familiar with the term, a quaver is an eighth note) start us off, followed by five identically weighted two-quaver groupings, to give a 3-3-2-2-2-2-2 sequence. If there were anything to indicate the presence of a bar line after the first two-quaver grouping there would be nothing particularly unusual here, because dividing a bar’s quavers into a 3-3-2 pattern is very common in many modern styles. But in the absence of any bar-line indication, there’s a strong implication that the music’s metre isn’t 4/4 at all — or, in other words, that the first two groupings constitute a 6/8 bar, and that the first two-quaver grouping is the downbeat of a new bar with a different time-signature. Whatever time-signature you think is coming up there, it’s implicit that the song’s seventh quaver is a downbeat, and that its ninth is probably an upbeat, which is precisely the opposite of what you’d expect in straight 4/4.

But that’s not all. If you work on the assumption that the first two-quaver grouping is the start of a longer notional bar, then what time-signature will you guess it has to start with? The two-quaver notes are identical in volume, so natural guesses would be 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4, but no matter which you choose, the return of the opening C#-D-A melodic fragment can still catch you unawares by implying a new downbeat after five two-quaver groupings.

The next 16 quavers (bars three and four, according to the 4/4 grid) are grouped slightly differently as 3-3-3-2-2-3, which opens up new possibilities for confusion. For a start, the last quaver of the third grouping will almost certainly be heard as the start of a second two-quaver group (as it was before), such that the onset of the real fourth group on the tenth quaver will feel like a bit of a jolt. At that point, it would not be unnatural to revise your interpretation of the third three-quaver grouping, perhaps guessing that it might actually have been the start of another 6/8 bar — until the fifth grouping arrives a quaver early! In all that confusion, it’s not unlikely that the final three groups will then dupe you into thinking that they’re a series of two-quaver groups on the beat as before, such that the familiar C#-D-A melody will wrong-foot you again, by apparently arriving on the off-beat.

Of course, you may experience the effects of this opening rhythmic pattern slightly differently (I’m not suggesting that your analysis will, or should, be the same as mine), but few would argue that this passage toys repeatedly with the listener’s expectations. If you’d like to get a bit of that action in your own productions it would be well worth spending a few minutes grappling with the mechanics of this example for yourself — and if you come up with some alternative suggestions as to how it achieves such playfully unsettling results, remember that it’s always open season for hecklers on this thread!

Recording Secrets for the Small Studio
Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio.

Post Extras: Print Post   Remind Me!   Notify Moderator     Back to top
Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist

Joined: 08/08/03
Posts: 1449
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Re: Pixie Lott: 'All About Tonight' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #983253 - 20/04/12 09:48 AM
I reviewed this track from the version on the NOW 80 compilation. Wikipedia gives the following credits:

Written by Pixie Lott, Tebey Ottoh, Brian Kidd, Tommy Lee James
Engineered by Chris Utley, Wesley Michene
Mixed by Jimmy Douglass
Mastered by Tim Debney

If the rather technical and small-scale nature of this particular critique leaves you scratching your head a little, then have a glance at the following diagram, where I've transcribed the opening four bars of the high synth line in Reaper's piano-roll MIDI editor and then annotated some of the things I'm talking about:

The green annotations show the basic rhythmic groupings as I hear them: 3-3-2-2-2-2-2 for bars one and two, and then 3-3-3-2-2-3 for bars three and four. The red annotations below them show how I'm suggesting the listener might be trying to make sense of those small rhythmic groupings in terms of musical time-signatures as that line progresses. The pink-shaded area is the point at which there's a strong tendency to hear the off-beat groupings as if they're actually starting on the beat. (The image file can be downloaded from here if you want to look at it more closely.)

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

Recording Secrets for the Small Studio
Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio.

Post Extras: Print Post   Remind Me!   Notify Moderator     Back to top

Joined: 09/02/08
Posts: 1656
Loc: Leeds, UK
Re: Pixie Lott: 'All About Tonight' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #984830 - 28/04/12 04:34 PM
I didn't notice, so I had to go back and listen again with your annotation to hear the offputtingness!

I guess a short lifetime of learning Bernstein and Britten has made me more used to feeling cross rhythm groups in context.

It is a nice, original motif of course, but it's lost in timbral and mix choices from 2002.


Post Extras: Print Post   Remind Me!   Notify Moderator     Back to top
Pages: 1

Rate this thread

Jump to

Extra Information
0 registered and 28 anonymous users are browsing this forum.

Moderator:  David Etheridge, James Perrett, zenguitar, Martin Walker, Hugh Robjohns, Zukan, Frank Eleveld, SOS News Editor 
Forum Permissions
      You cannot start new topics
      You cannot reply to topics
      HTML is enabled
      UBBCode is enabled
Thread views: 22661

December 2015
On sale now at main newsagents and bookstores (or buy direct from the SOS Web Shop)
SOS current Print Magazine: click here for FULL Contents list
Click image for December 2015
DAW Techniques


Home | Search | News | Current Issue | Tablet Mag | Articles | Forum | Blog | Subscribe | Shop | Readers Ads

Advertise | Information | Privacy Policy | Support | Login Help


Email: Contact SOS

Telephone: +44 (0)1954 789888

Fax: +44 (0)1954 789895

Registered Office: Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB23 8SQ, United Kingdom.

Sound On Sound Ltd is registered in England and Wales.

Company number: 3015516 VAT number: GB 638 5307 26


We accept the following payment methods in our web Shop:

Pay by PayPal - fast and secure  VISA  MasterCard  Solo  Electron  Maestro (used to be Switch)  

All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2015. All rights reserved.
The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents.
The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

Web site designed & maintained by PB Associates | SOS | Relative Media