Gear­ing up to that mo­ment

Computer Music - - The Drop -

The drop is the cli­mac­tic mo­ment of the track. It’s when the strobes flash, the smoke ma­chines blast and the bass hits hard. The term comes from the idea of drop­ping things back into the track – with most elec­tronic mu­sic, this means the core rhyth­mic el­e­ments, and of course, the bass.

Over the years, the ar­range­ment of elec­tronic mu­sic has be­come quite uni­form, dance mu­sic par­tic­u­larly so. We’ve all heard so much of it now that we ex­pect things to hap­pen at cer­tain times…

Ar­range­ment 101

Typ­i­cally, things start off with min­i­mal el­e­ments to set the tone, then move for­ward in 16-bar sec­tions, adding el­e­ments ev­ery four or eight bars to ramp up the power. This build­ing con­tin­ues un­til the break­down, which typ­i­cally falls right in the mid­dle of the track and can last from any­thing from eight to 32 bars, or even more. The break­down leads us into the drop, the ul­ti­mate high point of the track. Af­ter the drop, the in­ten­sity grad­u­ally de­clines un­til the track ends. It’s a tried and tested struc­ture that works well in most sit­u­a­tions.

Pow­er­ful drops rely on sub­vert­ing our ex­pec­ta­tions. For ex­am­ple, if you’ve heard a tune’s catchy cho­rus, you’ll be ex­pect­ing it to come back later in the song. When it does re­turn, it’s the same but typ­i­cally in a stronger for­mat than be­fore, in­creas­ing the pay­off. While a lot of elec­tronic mu­sic doesn’t typ­i­cally em­ploy the verse/cho­rus ar­range­ment style, the prin­ci­ple of prim­ing the au­di­ence then re­ward­ing them with a pay­off is ex­actly the same. Our goal is to es­tab­lish a core idea, then take it away, then bring it back in again stronger than ever.

Turn up the con­trast

“When the bass comes back, the track sud­denly comes alive again”

A sense of con­trast can help re­ally max­imise a drop’s im­pact. One sec­tion of a track will sound big­ger when it’s placed next to a sec­tion that’s com­par­a­tively ‘small’ or low in power. We’ve all heard DJs high-pass fil­ter out the bass, only to throw it back in again. When the bass does comes back, the track sud­denly comes alive again, thanks to this con­trast. It’s this idea that makes the drop hit harder, af­ter hav­ing the power pulled back in the break­down for a tri­umphant rein­tro­duc­tion.

Com­bin­ing con­trast with ten­sion and re­lease is the route to truly epic drops. Our brains tend to favour orderly, re­peat­ing pat­terns to latch onto. In the fi­nal stages of a build-up sec­tion, ev­ery­thing be­comes chaotic – rhythms start to speed up, and pat­terns starts to blur to­gether. You might also start hear­ing ris­ing synth tones. Any pitch that rises up­wards will cre­ate the im­pres­sion of build­ing and a rise in in­ten­sity, but it also adds a feel­ing of chaos into the mu­sic.

Sud­denly, we don’t have that sta­ble pitch any­more – our tonal cen­tre (ie, the mu­si­cal key of the song) has be­come lost and mud­died, cre­at­ing ten­sion. When the drop hits, the chaos is reined back in, and the track seems to sta­bilise, pro­vid­ing wel­come re­lief and restor­ing fo­cus.

Ar­range­ments are very sim­i­lar across elec­tronic mu­sic, but there’s room for vari­a­tion

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