What makes this song great?
April 9, 2018 9:38 AM   Subscribe

In his 'What Makes This Song Great' video series, musician and producer Rick Beato breaks down the musical structure and production techniques in popular songs. Working from the stems of each song, he discusses everything from Sting's Lydian mode bassline, to the use of Neumann mics to capture the intensity of Chris Cornell's vocals; from sidechain compression in an Ariana Grande song, to the use of a flat 6th to introduce a melancholy air in to the vocal melody of a Tool song. Beato's enthusiasm and breadth of knowledge are boundless, and whether or not you like the songs he analyzes, you're sure to learn something.

The 'What Makes This Song Great?' series so far:

1. Blink-182 - All the Small Things
2. The Police - Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
3. Steely Dan - Kid Charlemagne
4. Nirvana - On a Plain
5. Pearl Jam - Jeremy
6. Linkin Park - Numb
7. Tom Petty - I Won't Back Down
8. A Perfect Circle - Judith
9. Toto - Rosanna
10. Soundgarden - Spoonman
11. Metallica - Enter Sandman
13. Alice in Chains - Them Bones
14. Rage Against the Machine - Killing in the Name Of
15. Tool - Schism
16. Foo Fighters - Everlong
17. Boston - Hitch a Ride
18. (Producer) Max Martin - Into You by Ariana Grande (with a great discussion of sidechain compression)
19. Rush - Closer to the Heart

Bonus videos:

Analyzing the work of mixer Andy Wallace, including identifying the kick and snare samples and exact chorus setting (Yamaha SPX90 patch 15 'symphonic') that he used on multiple recordings.

His son, Dylan, has perfect pitch and is astonishing at identifying notes, intervals, and complex polychords.

Everything you ever wanted to know about compression.
posted by googly (43 comments total) 122 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I listen to "Every Little Thing" it is clear to me from the get-go that the verse progression is IV V IV/VI V/VII. So to say that the bass is in the Lydian mode is a little misleading since the song, as evidenced by the chorus, is in the key of D, and the bass notes are IV V VI VII which in that key are G A B C#.

So what makes the song interesting, IMO, is that the verse is in a state of constant tension without resolution. You really, really want the bass to get to D, and it just doesn't, not until the chorus.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:59 AM on April 9 [6 favorites]


Are these like Chilly Gonzalez' Pop Music Masterclasses (previously)?
posted by progosk at 10:05 AM on April 9


He posted a new one of these last night for Vasoline by Stone Temple Pilots.
posted by wabbittwax at 10:33 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


He's had a couple of them taken down by DMCA claims (Fleetwood Mac - You Can Go Your Own Way and Queens of the Stone Age - No One Knows), you can find them here.
posted by phibetakafka at 10:45 AM on April 9 [6 favorites]


wow he's been churning these out, there are already about 20?
posted by thelonius at 11:17 AM on April 9


Ooh, I love this kind of stuff! Thanks for posting!
posted by aka burlap at 11:31 AM on April 9


I found this about a month ago completely by accident and immediately subscribed. It's great stuff.
posted by Wild_Eep at 11:38 AM on April 9


This is pushing all my buttons, in a good way - my audio engineering geek button, my I-really-wanted-to-get-into-production button, and my “Oh my god, I love this song!” button.

I get a kick out of his little asides where he basically says “...back when singers really, actually knew how to sing.” Damn straight!

He’s obviously such a fan of these songs and musicians, too. It makes the videos a joy to watch.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:39 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


perfect pitch

A thing I did not know until recently is that people with perfect pitch can lose it. The vibraphonist Gary Burton mentioned that this had happened to him, when announcing his retirement.
posted by thelonius at 11:47 AM on April 9


I love the producer/mixer comments more than the music theory that turns a bunch of these one-note songs (my opinion) into technical masterpieces and big hits. I can't stand half of these songs but still love this.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:53 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


When I listen to "Every Little Thing" it is clear to me from the get-go that the verse progression is IV V IV/VI V/VII. So to say that the bass is in the Lydian mode is a little misleading since the song, as evidenced by the chorus, is in the key of D, and the bass notes are IV V VI VII which in that key are G A B C#.

I see your point, but I think Beato's analysis is reasonable in that, as the first chord of a repeated four-bar phrase, the G sounds like a tonic.
posted by thelonius at 12:10 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I only know five of these songs. They are, however, all in the category of "ooh that song is AWESOME!" so I suppose I have to track down the rest and put them all on a playlist.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:19 PM on April 9


His son, Dylan, has perfect pitch and is astonishing at identifying notes, intervals, and complex polychords

Do you want Mozarts? Because this is how you get Mozarts.
posted by wabbittwax at 12:24 PM on April 9 [4 favorites]


A thing I did not know until recently is that people with perfect pitch can lose it.

It apparently happens due to age. He has a few videos on the subject, including a couple about absurd claims of people developing it in adulthood.

Kind of eerie seeing him show up here, I only recently subscribed to his channel after seeing his videos recommended all the time. Adam Neely (channel) is also worth a look, for those who like to plumb the depths of music making. He has appeared on Rick's channel, IIRC.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:13 PM on April 9 [4 favorites]


Does anybody know how he isolates the instrument and vocal tracks so well? Is he working from multitrack recordings or is that the result of some software processing? It adds a whole new dimension to how I think about these songs.
posted by dbx at 1:16 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Does anybody know how he isolates the instrument and vocal tracks so well?
In the Nirvana On a Plain one, he says that he's not doing it with software, and kind of infers that he gets access to them due to personal connections perhaps.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:21 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Is he working from multitrack recordings or is that the result of some software processing?
in the comments to one of the early ones in the series a lot of people were asking how he got these, and he made some oblique remark about "knowing people"

repeated four-bar phrase
well, two bar phrase, I guess
posted by thelonius at 1:22 PM on April 9


Multi tracks, you can't do that with software.
posted by bongo_x at 1:41 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


When I listen to "Every Little Thing" it is clear to me from the get-go that the verse progression is IV V IV/VI V/VII. So to say that the bass is in the Lydian mode is a little misleading since the song, as evidenced by the chorus, is in the key of D, and the bass notes are IV V VI VII which in that key are G A B C#.

So what makes the song interesting, IMO, is that the verse is in a state of constant tension without resolution. You really, really want the bass to get to D, and it just doesn't, not until the chorus.


I was coming here to say more or less this: it is to my ear absolutely in D, and the trick of refusing to resolve back to the tonic is a favourite of Sting's: Roxanne, for example, is in Bb, but the verses plug in a Gsus4 (I think) where your ear expects to hear the tonic. I haven't played it on a chorded instrument in huge years, but I think the first line of the chorus is a Bb and it never again resolves, but fades out cycling through three lines of chorus rather than the usual two or four.

Also, Beato: FWIW, the song was released in 1981, not 1983. Dude.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:25 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I found the melodic breakdown of "Them Bones" fascinating. It's not often that popular singers use the perfect fourth interval repeatedly. I am currently studying melodic breakdown with my songwriting / guitar instructor, and this stuff fascinates me. We are working through the Beatles' Rubber Soul, and the information Beato presents is exactly the information I am getting into. I will probably watch the whole series, so thanks.
posted by Benway at 3:33 PM on April 9


I enjoyed watching the one about the Arianna Grande song, but...grumble coming!

It felt a bit like minimizing both the pop genre of music and Grande's personal contribution to the song, in favor of pumping up the producer, who undoubtedly played a big part...but do we know what her contribution was? She might have been sitting at the mixing board with suggestions and ideas, for all I know. I'd be surprised if she wasn't.

And while having his daughter listen for a bit to emphasize his kids really liked the song was cute, the lyrics are definitely those of a song for an adult. I like Grande (she's a huge talent) and think that song is on par with others in the collection.

I mean, just from his analysis, Into You is a sophisticated, accomplished piece of music. I don't know what I'm blathering on about here, other than...look at that list up top. Isn't Grande essentially the only female artist on it? Isn't she one of the only non-white people on it?

Get out more, is what I'm saying. There's great music all over the place.
posted by maxwelton at 4:51 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


maxwelton: you might enjoy Switched on Pop's analysis of 'into you', which shows more respect for the non-white female at its heart.
posted by signal at 6:00 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


This kind of analysis always humbles me and teaches me at the same time. Thanks for posting this. Also, damn, I wish I had perfect pitch.
posted by not_on_display at 7:59 PM on April 9


I wish I had perfect pitch.

I don't. I think it is kind of a curse. It's bad enough knowing when people are out of tune, I can't imagine knowing that a given recording was 23 cents north of A440.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:09 PM on April 9 [4 favorites]


Most of these songs were in rock band or guitar hero back when those were big, so there are four track masters just floating around since they got ripped off of xbox discs.
posted by fomhar at 12:17 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


It's worth Google image searching him in 2014 - black bushy beard, baseball cap, looks like a backwoodsman. Just four years later he's a silver haired guy who reminds me of Don Calfa in 'Return Of The Living Dead'.

Anyway, fantastic videos, especially enjoyed the Tool one.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:05 AM on April 10


Lyrics don't make songs great?
posted by bonefish at 1:28 AM on April 10


Lyrics don't make songs great?
He discusses the lyrics and singing too.

look at that list up top. Isn't Grande essentially the only female artist on it? Isn't she one of the only non-white people on it? I don't know, it's one guy, very much dependent on the tracks he has access to to do this kind of analysis, and judging by the list above his tastes are pretty narrow and specific. If he doesn't like Ariana Grande or pop music or whatever, that seems like small potatoes.

Also, I'm not a producer but that track is so Max Martiny it's really almost irrelevant what else Grande added to it besides singing. Max Martin = no more than 1 measure without singing/some kind of vocalizations. The music by itself can never play for more than 1 measure past the intro. Taylor Swift wasn't able to MM to change that up - not sure anyone can. So on a MM track the music is noise in the background - the singer doing the singing and vocalizations is the hook/product. I be there aren't more than a half dozen MM songs that break that mold -that's where an artist is adding track input beyond singing if they exist.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:06 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


So I like his analyses, and Rick Beato's videos are fun to watch, but I want to point out that they're very typical of a problem in music theory/analysis/technology: these topics are largely presented to the general public by white men, who typically choose to present and explain music by white men. Google any topic on music theory or technology and you'll see that nearly all the Youtube discussions are conducted by white guys. It's pretty pervasive and I'd love to see more videos by women, because it creates an online culture that music is to be explained by men and for men, and it applies mostly to dudes with guitars. (Try doing a search for "diatonic modes" on Youtube, for example.)

I say this as a woman who teaches music theory, and who struggles to get and keep women enrolled in my classes.
posted by daisystomper at 8:35 AM on April 10 [4 favorites]


Try doing a search for "diatonic modes" on Youtube, for example.

I'd expect to be hitting a vein of wannabe shredder dudes who have decided that "learning the modes" is the key to glory.
posted by thelonius at 9:04 AM on April 10


I'd expect to be hitting a vein of wannabe shredder dudes who have decided that "learning the modes" is the key to glory.

There's some of that. But it's more than just dudes wanting to shred: it seems like the whole of pop-music theory online is geared toward playing and producing music along divisions that typically skew male. Music theory is for drummers, guitarists, jazz pianists, and composers. Musical activities that skew female aren't explained with "music theory" but as "songwriting" and "vocal training." (To be fair, there's lots of "songwriting" videos explained by men too.)
posted by daisystomper at 9:21 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Also I'm on Team "Every Little Thing" is in D without a tonic chord in the verses; there's not enough G in the melody to support the G Lydian claim.
posted by daisystomper at 9:57 AM on April 10


that track is so Max Martiny it's really almost irrelevant what else Grande added to it besides singing.

It's fitting that the only video that didn't mention the artist in the title and only mentions its producer is by the non-white-female, because everyone knows that white male artist's songs spring fully formed from their testicles like Athena from Zeus' head, whereas multiplatinum selling, highly dedicated, skilled and talented non-white-females hardly have any input in their songs 'besides singing'.
posted by signal at 4:24 PM on April 10


It's not so much gender as genre. The Way Things Are Done is often so completely different in different genres that people usually don't cross those lines.

because everyone knows that white male artist's songs spring fully formed from their testicles like Athena from Zeus' head

That attitude is true though, and makes me crazy. I read fans online saying that Dude's records would be so much better if all those studio and label people weren't bringing him down and he was just allowed to spew his magic directly to the fans, high resolution uncompressed of course. You rarely see that kind of nonsense written about women. They obviously aren't magic and need the help of others.

I hope these kinds of videos help dispel those myths. People are much more realistic about how movies are made, probably because of all the behind the scenes footage. What I've watched of these are pretty good. You can disagree with him about points, but at least it's not just complete divorced from reality nonsense like a lot of internet information about music production.

But I don't know why people get upset about "only singing". Singing really well is pretty important. Every artist doesn't need to write their own string charts and build their own synths from scratch to be legit. The list of things artists are supposed to be responsible for just keeps growing, and is ridiculous. And more ridiculous because so much of it comes from the fans.

Sarah Vaughan was only a singer.
Frank Sinatra was only a singer.
posted by bongo_x at 6:50 PM on April 10 [4 favorites]


Ariana Grande is one of five songwriters credited for "Into You"; like it or not, this kind of pop is indeed usually heavily worked over by hitmakers.
posted by thelonius at 6:57 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Ariana Grande is one of five songwriters credited for "Into You"; like it or not, this kind of pop is indeed usually heavily worked over by hitmakers.

My point wasn't so much to denigrate Martin's contributions, but to point out that they are not the only reason the song is a hit. I think we dismiss a lot of young female artists as pre-packaged mindless prettiness in a way we don't for males at the same stage of their careers. We can do better.

Also...Max Martin is a white dude. I dunno, y'all may be right in the only music he has access to or interest in is from the vaunted White Male vault, but I think some of the funnest explorations of any topic is when you take someone who deeply embedded in one genre and have them explore a different genre. But not my channel, certainly not my time, just wishing, here.
posted by maxwelton at 7:46 PM on April 10


I don't know, "Hi I'm a middle age white guy, here's my opinion on a genre of music I'm not that familiar with" doesn't sound that great to me.
posted by bongo_x at 9:09 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Beato gushes about how skilled of a vocalist AG is. It isn't like he glosses over that. Like bongo_x said, the pop machine is very much a collaborative effort made up of specialists. Within Max Martin's team, for instance, there is likely someone dedicated just to making the kick drum sound perfect. So while Ariana may have some songwriting talent, it is most likely that the songwriting was done almost entirely by dedicated songwriters with a track record of hits. Ditto the produciton, and within the current pop landscape, production is really the differentiating factor.

The real issue with Beto's series is the framing. "This Is What Makes This Song Great" positions him as an authority who Knows What's Up, which of course rubs people the wrong way. A better way for him to approach this would be "Here's What I Love About This Song" which would more accurately frame his videos as opinion, which by definition all music criticism and analysis is.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:13 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


opinion, which by definition all music criticism and analysis is

Uh, no? Music analysis is not equivalent to "opinions about music." There are actual objective properties that create musical structure and meaning (within a reasonable scope of interpretation). I don't have a problem with Beato speaking as an authority on music, per se. He does a good job explaining the features of the music and explaining, as an authority on music, why they are effective. One's enjoyment of those particular features, of course, is a matter of personal taste.

Music analysis and composition have the same Genius Problem that physics and philosophy do: many people think you have to have a special talent or "genius" to contribute meaningfully to these areas, and that tends to attract men who like to explain things to display their knowledge publicly, and it also tends to intimidate women who underestimate their competence in the subject.

But I don't think the solution is to just say "expertise, schmexpertise" and say that it's all just a matter of opinion.
posted by daisystomper at 8:55 PM on April 11


There are as many different ways to analyze a piece of music as there are to make chicken with rice. No single analytical method is more "correct" or "factual" than another. So making statements about how a piece of music is constructed as evidence of why it is great is, in fact, an expression of opinion, even if that opinion is informed.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:04 AM on April 12 [2 favorites]


There is little I love more than watching someone loving something so much.
posted by thebrokedown at 6:24 PM on April 12 [2 favorites]


No single analytical method is more "correct" or "factual" than another.

Sorry, no, that's just wrong. There are definitely analytical approaches that are a better fit and more appropriate than others for any given piece of music. There are definitely songs that are better constructed and executed and more interesting than other pieces in a similar style that are trying to do the same thing. And you can absolutely point to objective qualities as to why that is.

Applying the label "great" or "masterpiece" to a piece of music is of course subjective. But saying the comparative qualities don't exist, except as a matter of taste, cheapens the value of music.
posted by daisystomper at 8:24 PM on April 12


I probably prefer Christian James Hand's less music-theory and more "check out this monster rhythm/pipes/shredding" as he deconstructs a song. Yeah, there's a lot of laughing and morning zoo misanthropy but it doesn't make me feel as dumb the way this show unfortunately does.
posted by stevil at 11:54 AM on April 14


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