The Chainsmokers – “Closer (featuring Halsey)” was undeniably one of the biggest smash hits of 2016. It’s infectious melody and catchy groove works in clubs, in festivals, and on the radio, but what makes it so damn effective?…
Below is a detailed track analysis for you guys to get some exclusive insights into how “Closer” was made. If you want to learn some of The Chainsmokers production secrets, read on…
Key: Ab Major
Chord Sequence: Db9 – Eb6 – Fm7 – Eb
(If you want more info on chords and how they work, check this out)
The Chainsmokers’ smash hit “Closer” is a slow-paced, expertly constructed EDM / Pop crossover song. There are a few key elements which make it as strong as it is: The first is the main melody (which is played by synths as well as being sung by both the male singer AND the female singer. This exact layering and repetition of the melody drives it into the listener’s brain. It’s also extremely simple and memorable). The second is the rhythm: The simple kick pattern underpins the track, and almost all the main elements reinforce this pattern (i.e. the piano chords, the synth chords, the bass line and the main melody). The third strong element is the chorus and vocal hook, which are memorable and easy to sing, largely because they mimic the melody exactly. The result is a catchy, punchy song that hinges on these three simple – but powerful – ideas.
Bars 1 – 5 (Intro)
As this is a “made-for-radio” track (as opposed to a club track), the intro is short and sweet. The term “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus!” really means what it says: On radio you only have a few seconds to grab the attention of a listener. This means introductions are short and distinctive. For “Closer”, The Chainsmokers start by filtering in the piano chords (with reverb). These set the tone and rhythm for the whole track. Not only that, but you can also hear the main hook suggested quietly in the background. This lets you know what song it is straight away, and teases you with a hint of what’s to come.
Bars 5 – 13 (Verse 1)
The entire track only uses one chord sequence (Db9 – Eb6 – Fm7 – Eb), so it’s continued into the first verse. However, the piano chords from the intro disappear and are replaced by synth stab chords, with tight filter and amplitude envelopes. The male singer sings the first verse, which reinforces the kick’s rhythm and dances around it. The contrast of the introduction’s reverb is really powerful, as all the sounds in this section are quite “dry”. The real finger clicks enhance this. The second part of the first verse builds into the bridge using a syncopated clap rhythm, and once again you can hear the main riff hinted at.
Bars 13 – 21 (Bridge 1)
The bridge is all about building anticipation of the chorus, and here the drums are in full swing: The finger clicks are replaced with a powerful clap layered over a subtle snare (the snare adds weight and lower frequencies), and a hi hat pattern gives the track some groove. The piano chords are also re-introduced, with a low pas filter opening up over the duration of the bridge, which add depth to the synth stab chords. A subtle, bell-like synth starts playing the rhythm of the main melody, but only on two notes. As I mentioned earlier, the melody is one of the three core elements of this track, and The Chainsmokers allude to it throughout the whole song.
Bars 21 – 29 (Chorus 1 / Build 1)
This is it…the sing along bit! The male vocal sings the entire main melody for the first time, all the drums disappear, and a single, sustained string builds tension in anticipation of the first drop. To add weight to the melody, there is a male vocal line an octave below the main vocal, and one an octave above, too. These are both much lower in the mix, but follow the melody exactly. Towards the end of the build, a rolling snare drum lets you know that track’s about to drop, a white noise riser increases the energy, the bass is filtered out with a high pass filter and the main melody is played quietly on a synth to add excitement.
Bars 29 – 37 (Drop 1)
Action stations! All the drums are now playing, and the layered clap and snare are brought up slightly in the mix to supply more power. The main melody is playing on the synth, and “air” is added by a very high pass filtered, rattling texture that follows the same line (this may well be a heavily processed vocal line, using distortion and definitely EQ. It’s a great way to add presence to the chorus, and means it sounds “in your face”, even on phone or laptop speakers). The male vocals reinforce the melody with the vocal hook “We ain’t ever getting older”.
Bars 37 – 45 (Verse 2)
Instrumentally, this is the same as verse 1, but instead of the male singer, the female singer is introduced here. This is kind of a long-game version of the “call and response” method, where two complimentary elements call, and indeed, respond to each other.
Bars 45 – 53 (Bridge 2)
Again, almost the same as the first bridge, except for three elements: 1. It’s the female singing instead of the male, 2. There are also some atmospheric pitch-bent vocal sounds added, which compliment her singing, and 3. The bass line is played an octave higher to add some variation and highlight the woman’s higher vocal tone. These elements all bring the second bridge up a level from the first one.
Bars 53 – 61 (Chorus 2)
The same as chorus one, except now – for the first time in the track – the man and woman are both singing together. The build-up into the second drop is the same as into the first.
Bars 61 – 69 (Drop 2)
Exactly the same as the first drop, except the vocal hook is now sung by both the male and female simultaneously.
Bars 69 – 77 (Chorus 3 / Break)
Here we drop right back down again, and most of the elements are stripped out. This contrast of energy is exactly what’s needed in electronic dance music, as it allows people to relax before the drop. It’s just the male vocals singing the chorus (but softly and without the higher and lower octave backing vocals), the piano chords, and the sustained string to create anticipation.
Bars 77 – 85 (Build 2)
This second build is all about building tension and anticipation before the largest, fullest and final drop. The vocal hook is repeated, and the female vocalist comes in to augment the male. There is a deep but energetic drum pattern leading up to the snare roll, and the synth melody is re-introduced subtly. Reverb is also building (most likely on an auxiliary buss), so that when the drop comes the contrast is greater. The white noise riser also builds energy.
Bars 85 – 93 (Drop 3)
Bam! Here is the final drop, and it’s all guns blazing. It’s mostly the same a drop two, except for a few additional elements: 1. The piano chords play as well as the synth chord stabs, adding depth. 2. Female ad lib vocals are added. 3. The sustained string is played an octave higher.
Bars 93 – 97 (Outro)
The outro takes the energy back down before the end of the track. The piano chords play and are filtered out with a low pass filter (basically the opposite from the intro), and even now the melody is playing very quietly in the background. A wash of vocal reverb from the end of the last drop fades intro nothing.
- Have a few, strong elements that all support the main idea. As with “Closer”, the drums, chords, melodies and vocals ALL support the main melody idea.
- Layer to add depth. Rather than having several interplaying melodies or bass lines, try layering two or three different instruments that occupy different frequency ranges, but that play the same melody (or bass line).
- Simplicity. Simplicity is the key…Don’t over-complicate things!
- Vocal manipulation. Vocals can also be used as instruments, or to add texture. Think above and beyond just using a vocal top-line.
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 🙂