Track Focus: Jordin Sparks ‘Battlefield’
This recent hit (which you can hear on her official web site) is a great example of using arrangement ‘drops’ to sustain the listener’s interest despite essentially repetitive musical material. Let me explain.
The first drop appears in the second chorus, where you suddenly get solo vocals for ‘better go get your armour’ (at 2:03). This cleverly freshens up the second chorus, even though it lasts 50% longer than the first chorus (at 0:46). Not only is the simple shock tactic exhilarating in itself, but it also dips the overall track energy so that the chorus extension can forcefully reassert its subjective power despite the musical repetition. Without the drop, that chorus extension would just have felt like it was treading water, and the listener would have begun zoning out.
Of course, the problem of maintaining the audience’s attention is magnified in the final choruses, which repeat that same material even further, but this is also handled beautifully in ‘Battlefield’. First of all, the middle eight (at 2:19) builds up to the beginning of the final chorus section as if it’s going to arrive with all guns blazing as before, but then (at 2:32) it pulls the rug out from under you by presenting you with just drums and vocals — hammering home the song title, natch! The downbeat of this ‘drop chorus’ gives you almost the same emotional pay-off as the full-force chorus sound would have, but adds in the element of surprise and leaves enough mix headroom to give a second build-up/pay-off four bars later (at 2:45).
And the cherry on top is the final vocals-only drop (at 3:10), which confounds your expectations again: although you’re now expecting it because of chorus two, it wrong-foots you again with the additional mad phasing effect and high harmony part.
In short: a masterclass.
Mike Senior is a professional engineer who has worked with Wet Wet Wet, The Charlatans, Reef, Therapy, and Nigel Kennedy. He has transformed dozens of amateur mixes for Sound On Sound magazine’s popular Mix Rescue column.
As part of Cambridge Music Technology he also provides in-depth training courses and workshops specializing in the documented techniques of the world’s top producers. His new book, is a down-to-earth Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio mixing primer which shows how to achieve commercial-grade sonics within real-world project/college setups.