Calvin Harris Production Secrets – This is What You Came For (featuring Rihanna)

Calvin Harris’s productions are some of the most successful of all time, and his newest track “This Is What You Came For (featuring Rihanna)” is blowing-up dance-floors across the globe.

I’ve put together a detailed track analysis for you guys to get some exclusive insights into how one of the most successful record producers of all time composes his music. If that sounds good to you, read on…

Track Overview:

Tempo: 124BPM
Key: A Minor.
Chord Sequences:
1: A minor, F major, G major, C major,
2: F major, F major, G major, A minor


In classic Calvin Harris style, he uses acoustic instruments as well as electronic to add an extra level of depth and texture to what could otherwise be a pretty standard EDM track. In terms of arrangement, his choruses are in the breaks, and the drops are instrumental / hook-based (he pioneered this when we wrote “I’m Not Alone”, and it’s now a pretty standard structure in EDM tracks). He also only uses 4 chords, but cleverly uses them in different orders and octaves throughout the song to add variety (if any of the terms are confusing, let us know and we’ll put together an EDM production glossary).


Here is the arrangement diagram on Google Sheets (view image below or click here to download).

Calvin Harris production secrets

Click to Enlarge


Bars 1 – 17 (Intro) / Chord Sequence 1 (Sustained) (What do we mean by sustained? Basically, the first chord in the sequence is held and doesn’t progress to the other chords in the sequence).
This “beats-only” section allowed the DJ to mix this track into the last without clashing notes or chords. The radio edit doesn’t have this, and instead starts from the first break (which is very common practise in EDM tracks with radio edits). The kick drum is tuned to the bass note of the track (in this case, A Minor). An interesting snare and acoustic hi-hat rhythm is used to keep interest, and it actually follows the same rhythm as the main hook and riff which come later. There are a few atmospheric points of interest, including a quiet vocal from Calvin, and a “dub-snare” echo hit. An acoustic ride cymbal comes in half-way through the intro to build to the first break.

Bars 17 – 37 (Break 1) / Chord Sequence 1
The first break introduces the guitar pluck riff and the higher pitched guitar loop. You can hear that they are acoustic instruments and not perfectly quantised (in time). This adds an element of interest. It’s also a stark contrast to the power of the synths in the build-up, and EDM is all about contrast. We then move onto Rihanna’s short first verse, then the main hook (although at a lower octave), and here the energy is increased by the introduction of the syncopated synth stabs and subtle 4/4 string stabs. This is early for the hook, but stops listeners getting bored (especially radio listeners).

Bars 37 – 45 (Build-Up 1) / Chord Sequence 2 (High Octave)
The 1st Rihanna chorus is a build up with 4/4 claps, snares which follow the rhythm of the synth stabs to accentuate the rhythm, and a subtle rising sound.

Bars 45 – 53 (Drop 1) / Chord Sequence 2 (Low Octave)
The drop is the main hook of the song. In an interview with Calvin he said that this was the main idea behind the song – the contrast of the big build-up and then stripping everything out for the drop. Drum-wise, there is just the kick and clap. There is a distorted main bass that follows the same rhythm that the synth stabs did in the build-up, as well as a subtle vocal bass stab to add texture. A marimba follows the same rhythm as the bass, too, as does Rihanna’s chopped vocal hook, which cements in the simple syncopated rhythm.

Bars 53 – 61 (Drop 1 Full)
This just adds onto the last phrase, bringing in the open-hats and building the synth stabs following the main rhythm to get booties shaking.

Bars 61 – 69 (Verse 2) / Chord Sequence 1 (Sustained)
This is almost treated as a middle 8, maintaining one bass note but bringing the guitar pluck riff and the higher pitched guitar loop for added texture. The drums drop back to just pick and clap and a subtle sonar sound is introduced every 16 beats. Ri-Ri cracks on with verse 2.

Bars 69 – 77 (Verse 2 Full)
Building on the last phrase, a thinner, TR-808 open-hat is introduced here for the only time in the song (a nice difference from the main 909 open-hat). The sonar note occurs more frequently and plays a simple riff. At the end of the last bar the synth stabs start to be filtered in to make a smooth transition into the second break/chorus…

Bars 77 – 85 (Break / Build-up 2) / Chord Sequence 2 (High Octave)
Pow! Straight into the build-up with the even bigger synth stabs and Rihanna’s full strength second chorus, as well as the snare/clap/riser build-up.

Bars 85 – 93 (Drop 2) / Chord Sequence 2 (Low Octave)
Much like the first drop, except the synth stabs are very subtley added to make it sound fuller than the first drop.

Bars 93 – 101 (Drop 2 Full)
Again, much like the first but with the slightly bigger synth stabs.

Bars 101 – 109 Main Break / Chord Sequence 1
Like the first break but builds quicker and has a slight ad-lib from Rihanna that’s only heard once in the song.

Bars 109 – 117 (Build-up / Chorus 3) / Chord Sequence 1 (Sustained)
This is different from both previous build-ups as it uses the first chord sequence (sustained) rather than the second chord sequence (high octave) as the others do. It gives it a feeling of extra tension before the final drop. There is also the re-introcution of the sonar riff that appeared in Bars 69 – 77.

Bars 117 – 125 (Drop 3) / Chord Sequence 2 (Low Octave)
OK, so here is the final drop, and it’s all guns blazing. The ride cymbal and 909 hats come in together for the first time, so there’s no stripped back kick and clap.

Bars 125 – 133 (Drop 3 Full)
The build here comes from the addition of the pitched guitar loop (as all the drums are already in since the drop).

Bars 133 – 149 (Outro) / Chord Sequence 1 (Sustained)
Now we go back to the root chord of the track (that the kick is playing), and only drums. The interesting snare and hi-hat rhythm from the intro re-appear. Calvin removes elements one by one to allow the DJ to mix into the next track (this is standard in all club mixes of EDM tracks).

Key Takeaways:

 

  • Have ONE main hook idea, and ONE chorus idea.

 

    Don’t try and fit too many ideas into one track…You can always make another!

  1. Consider using acoustic instruments / samples of acoustic instruments to add extra depth and texture to your track. They don’t need to be perfectly in-time.
  2. Try and get a simple hook that people can sing / hum along to. This works for club tracks and radio alike.
  3. Even though EDM is pushed loud on the drops, you can use subtle “ear candy” dynamics to avoid tiring out the listener – particularly in the breaks.
  4. The intro / outro drums can be different from the main drums to add interest.
What do you guys think? What other tracks would you like a detailed analysis of? Feel free to comment below if I’ve missed anything or if you have any suggestions.

About the Author

My name's Will Darling. I've been making and playing dance music for over 20 years, and share what I've learnt on EDMtips. Get in touch on Facebook.

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