This is the second episode of our new tutorial series that will help improve your arrangement skills and understand how commercial tracks are put together.
This time we’ve analyzed one of the biggest tracks of 2015, Major Lazer’s collaboration with French producer DJ Snake featuring the vocals of Danish recording artist MØ.
Much like our previous Duke Dumont breakdown, less is more. Lean On is stripped down to essential elements, with some effective features to keep the listeners engaged.
You can play the video below to follow how the structure develops as the track plays. Select full screen and HD quality to see what’s going on section-by-section.
Break it Down
Let’s look at the arrangement, Lean On is very effective and yet so simple in its elements. We start with a 4 bar intro with the main chords, this is the backbone of the track which the bass and vocals revolve around.
This is the arranger view divided by sections and color coded elements.
This arrangement follows a classic song structure Verse – Bridge – Chorus | Verse – Bridge – Chorus with each section exactly 8 bars long. A mini break then introduces a Middle 8, followed by an 8 bar Bridge/Chorus hybrid. The track ends with a 4 bar section, where a looped sample and delay-tail serve as a fading-out outro.
Step by Step
Even with the most catchy vocals and well produced elements, arrangement is always a challenge. The very nature of electronic music is based on repetition, which makes things complicated when trying to sound fresh for a full track.
Some key elements of Lean On keep the arrangement evolving. Let’s look at the color coded tracks to understand how they’ve been put together.
1. Drums (Red)
The kick drum follows a straight four-to-the-floor pattern in Chorus sections. There’s a second shuffled kick with increasing velocity in the second verse and middle 8.
Major Lazer often mute the kick for 4 bars (see chorus 1 – verse 2 – bridge 2), this takes Lean On a bit further from a straight house groove and giving it some Trap influences (check the “trap hat” as well).
2. Bass (Blue)
Nothing fancy here, just a solid deep tone with a medium release to underpin the main chord progression.
3. Main Chords (Orange)
These are introduced straight away in the intro with just two chords. In the first verse this develops into a full four chord progression. The chord stabs are repeating the same pattern across the arrangement, with filter and volume automations highlighting transitions.
4. Vocals (White)
This is where the magic happens – the vocals are the main driving element in this track.
Starting from the sampled filtered intro, progressing into the first verse clever micro-delays. In the arrangement view you can see a track named “Micro Delays #”. This is a very effective technique and can be achieved with fx send automation such as delays, echo, reverb or any other interesting processing. Alternatively just copy words or sentences to another track with insert FX.
Moving to the first bridge section, harmonies and “hooh” every other bar keep the vocal full and interesting. Also note reversed reverbs are often used to introduce the next element.
The middle 8 starting at bar 55 features a sung “hoo” section with pitch shifting, most likely achieved by pitching single snippets or playing the melody with a sampler.
The more you listen the more you’ll notice little details that makes Lean On a great track to learn vocal production.
Mini Key (Orange)
This extra layer comes in for the first time at bar 37 and then again at 63 to add movement. This is very effective at bar 37, when after 32 bar of Verse – Bridge – Chorus – Verse, things might become a bit boring.
What can we learn ?
A well produced track doesn’t need loads of sounds to be effective. In a nutshell less is more.
Sometimes it’s tempting to over-produce our music to have a bigger impact, but we can try to go the opposite direction to achieve an arrangement with just a few elements. This approach can also improve mixing and mastering, as there are less elements to position in the frequency spectrum.
Download our free Steinberg Cubase template for Lean On and use it for your own projects!
Simply open it up in Cubase and replace the midi clips with your music.