With hits like “Closer,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “Paris,” it’s no surprise the Chainsmokers have become one of the most popular current artists. They recently hit #2 on Spotify’s most popular artists rankings, surpassing The Weeknd with almost 38 million unique monthly listeners! And since there are about 100 million active Spotify users, that’s 38% of all Spotify! Only Ed Sheeran has more worldwide.
If you’d like to watch the video on YouTube, you can here. Or if you want to read about it, just keep scrolling!
So let’s get down to the mix review. I’ll be breaking down the 3 most basic elements of the mix: width, height, and depth. Here’s a link so you can listen as you read.
This is a synth-heavy dance track, with a vamping riff going on pretty much the whole time. The whole thing needs to be pretty heavily straight up the middle, or else it may not sound good in dance clubs or at events where it’s going to be blasted. For that reason, the mix really isn’t super wide.
What they’ve done to make it sound wider but keep it sonically mirrored is they’ve taken some of the synths, copied them, panned them hard right and left, and then slightly changed them, either by EQ or making them out of time with each other. This allows our brains to hear 2 different signals between right and left and it makes them sound much wider.
Defining the bottom end of the song are the kick and bass. However, the kick also contains a lot of low mid frequency content and therefore the bass takes the primary role of driving this mix in regards to low end.
Low Mids: 130-500hz
A lot of the low end of the synths reside in this range. They’re basically rolled off at around 130 with a steep curve. In the build-up before the first chorus, it’s really crazy and a lot of the synths are rubbing into each other. That’s the effect the mixer went for in that part of the song, and it should tell you that sometimes the music calls for this swirly messy sound to make the next part sound clean in contrast.
When I solo this frequency range, the snare tail jumps out at me. Not so much the whole snare sound (it’s very splashy and high-rangy) but just the reverb. I also hear more of the synths and some of the fundamental frequencies of Chris Martin’s vocal. Also, I actually do still hear a lot of kick drum coming through in this range. Will we hear more kick in the high-mids? Perhaps the snap?
High Mids: 1,500-5,000hz
Kind of… You can definitely hear some kick, but it’s not really snappy, but rather more compressed and just hammering.
So this song is pretty unique in terms of the vocal sounds. The vocal in the chorus is a higher line and Chris is kinda belting it, so a lot of the frequency content naturally falls into this area. But in the verse, he’s singing low notes and those parts don’t come through as much in this range, save for some of the intelligibility and overtones in his voice. Really, this range is home to the synths and the snare. The attack of the toms also come through in this range.
There’s no traditional drum kit in this song. It’s all software drums, and apparently The Chainsmokers decided it would be cool to take out the hi-hat and cymbals and make their synths super bright instead. So basically all the top end in this song comes from the driving synth riff in the chorus, and the highest frequencies of the snare. There’s also a lot of air on the vocal.
The depth component is made up of reverbs, delays, and the difference between the quiet and loud parts of the song. One thing that is GENIUS is there’s a kind of ghost note drum part that appears in the chorus right before each snare hit. This allows the drums to have depth and space, defining the closeness of the kick and snare and the distance of that other drum element.
In terms of the synths, there’s a good amount of side-chain compression hooked up to the kick. Basically it’s a smart compressor that only kicks in on the synths when the kick drum hits. It’s often used on dance and EDM tracks in a really extreme way, called “pumping.” So that technique helps give the synths it’s own unique sound, and the rhythms are very Chainsmoker-esque (has anyone noticed how similar it is to “Closer”?).
If I were to close my eyes and just imagine where all the instruments would be, the vocal would be closest, followed by the drum kit which is just slightly behind the vocal. The synths are behind them and kind of all around me along with some pianos and other keyboard sounds. The bass blends in with the synths dynamically, so I almost picture them as a single element (technically, the bass IS a synth in this case).
When I listen to the mix as a whole, I’m drawn to the unusual kick sound and how little rhythmic top-end there is in the mix (it’s all air either from the synths or the vocal). Looking deeper, I found out that the kick sound is really a full-range sound with frequency content across the spectrum.
The takeaway? Don’t just blindly cut out all the top end of your kick. You don’t have to have cymbals to get the nice airy top-end you’re song needs. Also, as a final note, a lot of what makes this song unique are the arrangement choices, not just the mix.
Thanks for reading! If you heard something I didn’t mention or want to ask about anything, fire away and I’ll be sure to respond.
P.S. Hit me up with suggestions for which song I should do next!