Stay – Zedd feat. Alessia Cara
Zedd’s recent hit, Stay, is a good example of a traditional song structure with an EDMinspired twist, adding an additional instrumental drop chorus after what would ordinarily be a standard chorus, but which in this case is almost completely made up of acappella vocals. This would have been an unusual step even five years ago, but producers are continually experimenting and pushing the boundaries of the traditional song form. The three-minute pop song format currently offers a wider canvas for dynamic exploration than ever. Pounding drums now yield to atmospheric breakdowns more frequently than just once in the middle of the song, and innovative use of technology such as pitch warping, Auto-Tune and Melodyne, together with new instruments like iZotope’s VocalSynth 2, are making it possible to craft new song sections that don’t rely on conventional vocals – of which this tune is a perfect example. Here’s a breakdown of the arrangement.
A looped and pitched-up sample of a male voice humming an intricate lick serves as the introduction to the song, cycled over four bars and backed with the two main chords that go on to provide the backdrop to the verse, prechorus and bridge sections.
0:09 VERSE 1
The delicate verse vocal melody enters over a synth pad and that continually looping hum. All the main sections from this point in the song onwards are eight bars long.
0:28 PRECHORUS 1
After a percussion fill, things start to build over a backdrop of minimal percussion: mainly reverbed finger snaps and clattering, low-pass filtered, high-pitched snares.
0:47 CHORUS 1
Here’s where it gets interesting. We’re expecting a full-on chorus, but the track falls away completely, leaving us with just the acapella vocal chorus hook, backed by computergenerated BVs. The only other musical element is the bass that punctuates a single root note with every chord change. Machine-gun snare fills prolong the second four bars to lead us to…
1:05 DROP 1
In come the drums and the rest of the track, expertly arranged swooping synths taking over from the vocals. Intricate fills keep us interested from the rhythmic point of view. A sampled ‘uh’ and one line of lead vocal half way through seem to be all that’s needed vocally at this point.
A one-bar rest, over which the reverb and delay overhanging from the drop die away, helps us reset in readiness for the reintroduction of that looped sample and verse two.
1:27 VERSE 2
Gradually opening filtered percussion and a subtle vocal countermelody are all that really set the second verse apart from the first, but the development in terms of the progression of the song is still noticeable.
1:45 PRECHORUS 2
The development continues. This prechorus is discernible from its predecessor by the addition of a fuller drum track with kicks and offbeat
tambourine, together with big piano chords filling out the musical side of things. 2:04 CHORUS 2
This chorus, too, comes across as a breakdown, sounding almost the same as the first but with the addition of the ticking clock sample throughout, and a fuller synth pad part that appears earlier in the section.
2:23 DROP 2
Other than some additional high-end percussion in this second version, the two drop sections are pretty much identical.
Musically the same as the intro, verse and prechorus sections, the bridge is mainly synth pad, vocal and picky guitar line, until the kick drum reappears again four bars in, ushering in a short build-up to the final drop chorus.
3:01 DROP CHORUS
The full-instrumentation, sing-along chorus section that the whole song has been building to. To keep it to a radio-friendly length, there’s no double-length outro chorus, merely a single eight-bar section that fuses the vocal hook from the chorus with the music of the drop.
Practically a musical mirror image of the intro, the identical four-bar outro brings us back to earth with a downward-facing vocal adlib, ready for the anticipated hit of the repeat button.
Zedd’s Stay combines EDM-style and traditional arrangement approaches to great effect