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Bruno Mars: 'Grenade'

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Bruno Mars: 'Grenade'

Postby Matt Houghton » Wed Mar 23, 2011 1:09 pm

Once I got over how much the piano riff sounded like Coldplay’s ‘Clocks’, what was most notable in this Manny Marroquin mix was the surprisingly bassy kick‑drum sound — low end is often very tightly controlled in chart releases, to save on headroom, but here it’s particularly loud and proud at around 45Hz, and the bass is also full‑sounding above it in the 60‑90Hz region. However, the cost of the powerful kick/bass combination and good vocal intelligibility is audible when the chorus hits: the additional instrument layers required to expand the arrangement at that point have to be pushed very wide in the stereo field to give them any illusion of size without adding too much level or clouding the central instruments. The result is that mono compatibility suffers, with the backing vocals and stereo synths taking a bit of a dive in the mono balance. Whether you think this is a good state of affairs is, naturally, a judgement call, and I suspect that it was no accident here, because a similar situation arises in one of Marroquin’s other recent high‑profile mix jobs, Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’.

Some nice general production touches also caught my ear. The first is the way the second half of the chorus is truncated to give an unusual 14‑bar overall duration. Rebelling against the tyranny of the four‑bar unit is always a risk in the charts, but when it’s done as smoothly as this, I think it does give the music a lot more character. (For another great recent phrase‑extension example, check out the final rapped verse of Eminem’s ‘Love The Way You Lie’.)

Another thing to highlight is that the snare is only added at the start of the second verse. This is such a simple thing to do, and often an extremely efficient way to ramp up your arrangement, but how often have you tried it? The problem is that if you’re used to how your drum groove sounds with the snare in there, it’ll always sound odd to you without it. However, a listener coming to the song fresh won’t have nearly as much difficulty with a snare‑less sound at the start of your song, because they don’t have that expectation of it being there. Indeed, if you compare the first and second choruses of ‘Grenade’ side by side, the first begins to sound a bit lame by comparison, even though it doesn’t come across this way in its proper context at the start of the song. And speaking of lining up different sections, it’s quite instructive to phase‑cancel the sparse kick+piano section at 1:09‑1:14 with the beginning of the second verse (1:18), as this demonstrates how little of the snare drum’s perceived weight is actually coming from the snare sample — most of the apparent low-mid range is actually provided by the kick. Mike Senior

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Re: Bruno Mars: 'Grenade'

Postby MC Deli » Wed Mar 23, 2011 2:59 pm

Matt Houghton wrote: surprisingly bassy kick‑drum sound

Bloated like a hot air balloon but ruthlessly effective;)

Great posts BTW
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Re: Bruno Mars: 'Grenade'

Postby Mike Senior » Tue Mar 29, 2011 8:02 am

I love this track! The arrangement's really well-judged, I think, and it helps that Bruno's vocal has that little tinge of desperation that reminds me strongly of Michael Jackson -- I've always been a bit of an MJ fan. (It's all coming out now... ) Reminds me of something like 'Dirty Diana'.

I did this review from the version of the track on the Bruno Mars album 'Doo-wops & Hooligans'. (I wish the album also included the brilliant Mars-enhanced Travie McCoy single 'Billionaire' too, but you can't have everything.) The relevant credits from the CD sleeve are as follows:

Written by Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine, Brody Brown, Claude Kelly, and Andrew Wyatt.
Produced by The Smeezingtons.
Mixed by Manny Marroquin.
Mastered by Stephen Marcussen at Marcussen Mastering.
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Re: Bruno Mars: 'Grenade'

Postby oggyb » Fri Apr 01, 2011 12:52 am

That bouncy-castle of a kick drum was what made me prick my ears up straight away: such a novel sound on a very commercial mix.

As well as the backing vox, I enjoyed noticing on headphones that the toms in the rhythm arrangement during the chorus are also full-stereo compared to the total mono of the verse. Very "Silver Rainbow"-esque in the use of pan (or just positioning) where the hits fall alternatively on either side of the soundstage.

An aspect that simultaneously pleased and irked me was the low-level distortion over the whole rhythm section, which both highlights and legitimises the huge amounts of compression over the tracks. It makes the drum hits militant and forceful, and turns the backing vox and pads into stretched dough.

I can't help but hate the static-loudness main vocal. Granted, there's little room for manouvre in a mix like this, but Mars's performance SOUNDS very nuanced underneath it all.

Anyone notice the delayed reverb on the snare in the middle-eight is on beats two and four, and only on beat four in the choruses?
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Re: Bruno Mars: 'Grenade'

Postby Mike Senior » Fri May 20, 2011 12:52 pm

Just a quick post to say that this very track is discussed by its producers in the latest issue. Here's a link to the interview:

ARI LEVINE & THE SMEEZINGTONS: Producing Bruno Mars

Some good general perspective for home-studio people in there too.
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Re: Bruno Mars: 'Grenade'

Postby Zebulon » Sun Jun 12, 2011 1:15 am

I'm not sure I'd have spotted the similarity of the piano riff to that of 'Clocks' but parts of the percussion strike me as being like a bloated, overblown version of the percussion on 2NE1's 'Fire'.

The vocals seem to have been hampered by the production but I don't understand what is making them sound unnatural. I'd be interested in opinions on this...

[Update: I should mention that I listened via a YouTube vid, which obviously puts the song at a disadvantage compared with a proper version].
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