Case Study #2
Release Date: 5 July 2015
Genre: Drum & Bass
Time Signature: 4/4
Key Signature: A minor (A, B, C, D, E, F, G)
The ‘liquid’ niche of Drum & Bass tends to be more melodic and mellow in contrast to the rougher, grungier versions of Drum & Bass, typified by the heavily distorted and modulated sounds of artists like Noisia.
Liquid Drum & Bass despite its mellower aesthetic, is still high tempo and high energy music. Rio is no different, and with a tempo of 173 bpm, is both upbeat and uplifting. Rio maintains a funky and jazzy vibe, typified by the trumpet stabs while staying true to the Drum & Bass framework of dense sub basslines.
The song is inspired by Netsky’s travels through Brazil with British musician, Digital Farm Animals, who wrote and performed the vocals for the song. In June 2016, Netsky released his third studio album, entitled, “3.” Rio was released a year prior as the album’s official lead single.
Many of the instrument layers in Rio feature Brazilian inspired tones, including most notably a Cavaquinho; a traditional 4-string Brazilian instrument, similar to the ukulele. There is a certainly a sense of carnival in this song.
Applying the Framework
The core elements of this tracks are:
- Trumpet stabs
- Various harmonic layers (sampled and synthetic)
Like any self-respecting drum and bass song, the main focus of Rio is the drums and the bassline. These two sit very prominently in the mix and drive the song forward in all but 1 section of the song: the breakdown before the final chorus.
The trumpet stabs and vocals take turns at occupying the spot for second most prominent in this mix. Both the vocals and trumpet stabs have suitable space to shine as they exist always without the presence of the other.
- Drums — center
- Bass — center
- Vocals — center
- Trumpet — center
- Harmonic layers — the majority of the stereo field, wither left or right, depending on the texture used
Despite seemingly all elements panned to center, the mix contains a sense of width, I suspect through the use of effective reverb and delays.
For example, although the vocals are panned center, there is a layer of stereo width created by assigning a reverb with a pre-delay (discussed later).
Furthermore, the majority of the harmonic textures (far too numerous to identify individually), occupy the space either side of the mono center and help create the width of the song.
This spectrum snapshot reveals five things to me:
First, there is an extremely prominent sub bass presence, particularly around 80 Hz. This helps give some thump to the kick drum and the boom to the bassline. Further, having good presence in this important frequency band, helps give the weight a drum & bass song like Rio needs.
Second, as in Lola’s Theme, there is a roll-off of the very sub frequencies, (in this case from about 30 Hz there is a -50 db reduction) presumably to make the mix more translatable to systems not capable of reproducing such low frequency content.
Third, there is a sizable scoop removed between 100–200 Hz. Having too little in this band can cause music to sound thin or cold, but I don’t feel like that applies here. The scoop here, almost seems a ploy to create space for and accentuate the presence of the fundamental frequencies at around 80 Hz.
Fourth, the mix tends to favor the band of frequencies between 4–8 kHz over the band between 1–3 kHz. This helps add clarity and a sense of openness to the mix, in particular, the drums and percussion.
Finally, fifth, there is a gradual roll-off of high frequencies from around 12 kHz, and at 20 kHz, the -51 db reduction matches the same reduction at 30 Hz. This seems to better match the human hearing contours than the example in Lola’s Theme, where all frequencies at around 15 kHz simply disappear.
The drums are clear and punchy and are as a result, forward in the mix.
The most notable use of reverb is on the 909 style snare drum which can most clearly be heard in the drum intro.
This section features a hip-hop style groove, a variation to the main pattern. In this hip-hop groove, most of the instrumentation has not yet joined the mix, so there is more space between each drum hit. It makes sense then, to use a reverb to add depth and size to the snare, which might otherwise sound quite thin without it. I would guess that a simple reverb plug-in has been used, with a room setting chosen, with a decay which fades away before the subsequent kick or snare hit.
The bass seems the nearest instrument in the mix, with very little reverb and no delay; this would help keep these bass frequencies in the center of the stereo field. It does not take detract from the size of the bass as it still envelopes the listener.
Perhaps in order to add depth to the bass, some kind of distortion was used, to introduce extra harmonics to the fundamental frequency. This would help give this typically subby bassline some presence in the mix. Perhaps then, this band of extra frequencies had some reverb added to them, to help create the depth and size of the overall bassline.
The trumpet, when heard in the mix, seems to sit just above the bassline, not clashing with the sub frequencies, carrying plenty of attack and giving it its presence in the mix.
This all makes sense as I feel the trumpet is such a central part of translating the Brazilian vibe, so these trumpet stabs would need that presence in the mix.
I cannot detect any delay, but the reverb has a very fast decay time, with the dry signal certainly favored, so as not to drown out the attack of the trumpet.
The vocals contain the most processing in terms of reverb and delay. There is a short delay (perhaps a simple delay, set between a quarter or eighth note delay time, with very little feedback) and a dense reverb. This thickens-up the sound and helps create the stereo width despite being panned central.
Rio retains a constant tempo of a 173 bpm throughout, and does not deviate from its key signature of A minor.
Rio gradually increases in intensity though, as it takes 48 bars of introduction (a 16 bar pre-introduction of sorts, before a standard 32 bar intro) before the first chorus and main theme is introduced.
Once the song reaches the first chorus though, very little dynamism exists other than during the breakdown and build-up prior to the final chorus. The song therefore, maintains its a solid intensity throughout.
It is a short song — quite poppy for drum & bass, the vocals being the key ingredient there — so this relentless intensity fits.
Other than that, there is one other variation worth mentioning; the trumpet and vocals never play simultaneously, which creates a sense of dynamism and movement as they enter and exit the mix.
Being a drum & bass song, the main focus invariably is the drums and the bass. However, equal attention is paid to the trumpet stabs and the poppy vocals which form the collective, melodic hook of Rio.
The absence of these two elements from each other, permits full exposure when they are present, and they capture the listener’s full attention.