Case Study #3
Song: Little L
Album: A Funk Odyssey
Release Date: 13 August 2001
BPM: 122 bpm
Time Signature: 4/4
Key Signature: E♭ minor (E♭, F, G♭, A♭, B♭, C♭, D♭)
Formed in 1992, Jamiroquai were at the forefront of the London-based, acid jazz movement, and their initial studio albums explored this genre. Subsequent albums journeyed into areas including pop, disco and electronica.
“A Funk Odyssey” was Jamiroquai’s fifth studio album, released in 2001. Combining elements of funk, disco and electronica, the sound of the album reflects Jay Kay’s evolving taste in music, moving away from the band’s acid-jazz routes.
“A Funk Odyssey” represented the peak of the band’s international and commercial success, ensuring that they became a household name across the globe.
Little L, reached #1 in many charts worldwide becoming their single best dance hit.
Applying the Framework
The core elements of this tracks are:
- Rhythm Guitar (3x Layers)
- Excitement Layers (including strings, brass, synth piano, FX swooshes)
The vocals are the single most important part of this track. They sit the furthest forward in the mix, are clear and uninhibited by the other instrument layers.
The bassline sits slightly further back in the mix yet present enough to carry the track through, especially in sections where the vocals are not present in the mix.
The offbeat pluck of the rhythm guitar, although lower down in the mix, maintains a good presence throughout the song due to its constancy.
- Vocals — center
- Bass — center
- Rhythm Guitar (3x layers) — Left, Centre, Right
- Drums — center
- Excitement layers — dynamic movement throughout stereo field
With the vocals, bassline, offbeat rhythm guitar and drums occupying the majority of the center, there exists plenty space in the stereo field for the many instrument layers, which pop in and out of the mix.
For instance, the FX swooshes feature in a “call and response” pattern; the initial call appears panned hard right, and the ensuing response, panned hard left.
The 2x extra guitar layers are panned left and right respectively to create a wider stereo field.
This snapshot reveals three points:
First, the dominant low end frequencies are present around 120–160 Hz, higher than Rio where the bass frequency fundamentals accumulated around 80 Hz. This is indicative of the era of Little L and the nature of the instruments used to produce the drums and bassline. In the case of Little L, the kick and bassline are both actual acoustic instruments, whereas in Rio, the bassline is synthesized, therefore capable of producing far lower and more intense bass fundamentals.
Second, as the image below will better reveal, there is good presence between 200–500 Hz. This gives the guitar layers the weight and warmth they need to drive the song forward. Without this, the song could sound thin and empty.
Third, the frequency band between 1.5–4 kHz is well populated, giving clarity and definition to the vocals. Particularly important to a song which heavily relies on the vocal to maintain interest.
The vocals sit forward in the mix and are very clear. This is part down to the very sparse amount of processing added. I can’t detect any delay and what reverb there is, has a short decay time, rendering it almost unnoticeable.
What this does, is allow the vocal to maintain its clarity and not to wash over the sound. It also creates the perception that the vocals are “close” to you as the listener, and allows other elements to then occupy the space further back.
The bassline sits “below” the vocals, and although is prominent in the mix, does maintain a sense of distance to the listener. I think this is achieved in part, by the use of a low pass filter, creating a pseudo telephone effect.
The offbeat rhythm guitar appears to be tucked in above and behind the bass. The signal too, appears to be very dry and does not contain much, if any processing, in terms of delay and reverb. The majority of it’s processing is a result of filters to further accentuate the telephone effect of the bass. This time, the effect is more typical, as the filter used appears to be a band pass filter, cutting both highs and lows.
The only real reverb processing is applied to the strings/brass layers which occupy the stereo field, especially during the choruses, to add extra harmonic interest.
In particular, the strings appear to have a reverb decay setting of around 3 seconds, with the wet/processed signal favored over the dry. This allows these short stabs to remain in the mix longer.
In retrospect, there is sparse use of processing, with the majority of the dimension created either, by using filters or by the placement of the additional layers (FX swooshes, strings etc)in the stereo field.
Little L retains a constant tempo of a 122 bpm throughout, and does not deviate from its key signature of E♭ minor.
The song is constant in terms of volume and intensity. Once the first verse begins, the dynamism which exists is a result of the variation and introduction of what I have termed excitement layers.
The focus of this song is on the vocals, so in this sense, the song structure does not distract from this, yet still retains a sense of dynamism with the many layers which enter and exit throughout.
The interest of Little L is maintained by the vocals, yet this is aided by the constant variation of the excitement layers.
In particular, during the instrumental bridge (a 16 bar section absent of any vocals), interest is effortlessly maintained by the evolving sounds of the strings, brass, synth piano and the panning of the FX swooshes.
It would be remiss not to mention the iconic double clap which features throughout the song. It’s a sort of trademark, and seems to be the thing which most people remember. Have a look at this great live performance in Verona for illustration.