The Chainsmokers Production Secrets |

The Chainsmokers Production Secrets – "Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay)"

The Chainsmokers - “Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay)” has racked up over 3 billion collective streams across YouTube, Spotify, and SoundCloud. It’s been placed in countless playlists, played at thousands of parties, streamed on the radio and played at massive festivals. So what makes it work so well?

In this professional track analysis we'll be going in-depth into the song-writing, music theory and arrangement of "The Chainsmokers – Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay)”, so you can gain exclusive insight into their techniques.

...AND we've included a bonus section on sound design so you can try re-creating some of the elements yourself (a GREAT way to learn)! Read on below…

►► Follow along by downloading the FREE Ableton project file and synth presets by clicking here.

Track Overview

The Chainsmokers’ “Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay)” is a mid-tempo EDM / Pop crossover song, with a typically classifiable “future bass” sound.

They crafted this perfect hit through a combination of masterful songwriting and production.

The most important element of this track is the vocal line, followed by the rhythm (specifically its contrast in different sections), and then by the harmonic content of the track (harmonic content = chord progression and melodies outside the lead vocal).

Read on to learn how The Chainsmokers and Coldplay made each of these elements work together to create one of the biggest EDM hits of the last five years...

Tempo: 103bpm
Key: D Major
Chord Sequences:

  1. G maj, A maj add11, B min, A maj add11
  2. G maj, A maj, B min, A maj
  3. G maj add9, A maj, B min7, A maj
  4. G maj add9, A maj, B min7, A maj, B min7, G maj add9, D maj, A maj, D maj, A maj;
    B min7/F#, A maj, B min7, G maj add9, D maj, A maj, D maj, A maj

(If you want more info on chords and how they work, check this out.)

Here is the arrangement diagram of the song:

The Chainsmokers - “Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay) Arrangement Diagram
Arrangement Diagram. Download by right clicking and saving image.

Detailed Breakdown

Bars 1-5 (Intro)
Chord Sequence 1: G maj, A maj add11, B min, A maj add11

Much like most of The Chainsmokers’ songs, “Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay)” begins with a short and sweet intro that sounds full and sets the tone for the track. In the modern age of streaming, it’s imperative to capture the listener’s attention early, and The Chainsmokers do exactly that by providing a medium-energy harmonic intro.

The chord progression (played by some cool layers of filtered e-pianos, pianos, and synths) sets the foundation for the harmonic progression of the song: IV - V - vi - IV (with subtle variations throughout the different sections). This particular progression uses the strongest, most stable chords of a key outside of the root - the IV and the VI - for three of its four chords. This lends to a sense of emotional stability and comfort, which matches the emotion conveyed by the hook “Something Just Like This”, making this chord progression perfect for the vibe of the track.

The particular variation of this progression for the intro involves a repeating D high note, driving home the key of the song and also adding a little bit of tension when held over the V chord (A major), which doesn’t contain a D. A little bit of tension is great in music, but you don’t want to overdo it in a song that’s supposed to convey stability - that’s why after every V chord is either the vi or the IV - both of which contain the root note of the key. As an added bonus to reinforce the stability this intro is meant to convey, The Chainsmokers layer in a live bass, which not only reinforces the root notes but also provides a bit of extra energy before the vocal comes in.

The Chainsmokers - “Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay) Chord Progression
Bars 1-5 (Intro)

The other key element of the intro to bring attention to is the rhythm of the chords and guitar melody. The piano and chords hit every eighth note, providing a constant, stable, and predictive rhythmic foundation for the track. While this might get boring if every chord were the same length, The Chainsmokers keep things interesting by adding some push and pull through the use of suspensions in their chord progression - they drag out the 1st and 3rd chord for an extra eighth note (and subsequently bring in the 2nd and 4th chords an eighth note later).

Even then, this chord progression by itself wouldn’t quite be enough - so The Chainsmokers add some rhythmic and melodic content in the form of a live guitar. What’s so special about this guitar? Sure, it’s alternating between a D and an A, the two most stable notes in the key of the song. But what’s really special is that it’s playing the exact same rhythm of the drop. Right away, The Chainsmokers have teased the main idea in a subtle way.

Bars 5-13 (Verse 1)
Chord Sequence 1: G maj, A maj add11, B min, A maj add11

As the first verse starts, the guitar fades out and the vocal comes in, leaving us with a very low energy through the first half of the verse. Really, all we’re left with is the piano and the vocal before some claps, the guitar, and a lighter synth start to come in at bar 9. What’s more is the piano is following the exact same progression and rhythmic structure as the intro. By keeping the foundation of the harmonic content the same and stripping everything else away, The Chainsmokers allow Coldplay’s vocal to really shine through and stand out as the defining element of the song.

Why would they want this? Well, because the vocal melody is expertly crafted to be an earworm, and The Chainsmokers want it to get stuck in your head. Let’s look at the transcription to see why:

The Chainsmokers - “Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay) Verse Melody
Verse Melody

This vocal melody works for a few reasons: it strikes a balance of unison, stepwise, and leapwise motion, it maintains a balance of repetition of variation, and it follows a nice melodic contour (shape). In the first four bars, Coldplay really drives home the key of the song by repeating the D note - this is particularly important since the chord progression doesn’t contain the root chord.

Now, take a second to consider the rhythm of each phrase in the first four bars here - you might notice they all share the exact same structure of 5 eighth notes followed by a quarter note. While this helps develop a strong rhythmic foundation for the track (matching the rhythm of the chords), this would be incredibly stale if Coldplay stayed on the D2 the entire time. Instead, he contrasts this unison motion with a balance of leapwise and stepwise motion at the end of each phrase. Also, note that the 1st and 3rd measures share similar patterns, as do the 2nd and 4th (with a subtle departure on the 4th).

Moving onto the 2nd half of the verse, Coldplay first leaps up to the F#, and then he slowly makes his way back down to D through upwards stepwise motion and then downwards leapwise motion. While the melodic shape is quite different, measures 5 and 6 follow the same rhythmic structure of the 1st half of the verse, tying this new melodic shape back to the first.

Note that in the second half of the verse, The Chainsmokers begin to tease a higher energy section by bringing in a few elements, matching the higher-energy nature of the vocals. One of these elements is the intro guitar - another opportunity for The Chainsmokers to tease the rhythm of the drop.

Bars 13-21 (Pre Chorus 1)
Chord Sequence 2: G maj, A maj, B min, A maj

Looking at the vocal in the pre-chorus, one of the first things you might notice is it’s shape - it looks like a smooth roller coaster, almost like a sine wave. This is no accident - smooth melodic contour naturally sounds nice, and it’s easy for crowds to sing back. Also, it ends in the hook of the song - icing on the cake.

The Chainsmokers - “Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay) Pre-Chorus Melody
Pre-chorus Melody

Again, we see a nice balance of stepwise and leapwise motion, and you’ll notice that the 1st half and 2nd half look almost identical with a few small variations. Also, the rhythm of measures 1-2 and 5-6 of the above clip matches the rhythm of the first half of the verse, but with a different melodic shape. If you haven’t picked up on it already, repetition with variation is key.

Looking at the harmonic content, you’ll notice a few significant changes. First, The Chainsmokers bring in the bass at the start of this section, lending more energy and an anticipation of a drop. Also, the chord sequence changes ever so slightly: the A maj add11 is now just an A major, which is ever-slightly-more stable, plus the entire progression is voiced up an octave, creating an increase in energy. In the second half of this section, a 16th note arpeggiated synth gets introduced, bringing up the energy even further.

To further push the energy forward and drive the 2nd half of this section forward, The Chainsmokers also re-introduce the clap/snap layer.

Bars 21-29 (Build 1)
Chord Sequence 2: G maj, A maj, B min, A maj

Right after the first pre-chorus, we’re keen to expect a chorus or a drop - some kind of big release of tension. But rather than give us that quite yet, The Chainsmokers and Coldplay decide to draw out the build another 8 bars, creating a ton of tension and building the energy that much further. Why is this important? It allows the drop to be that much more impactful when it actually does hit.

To a certain degree, our expectations are still met - we’ve got a simple and easily repeatable phrase ending in the hook, which pretty much makes it a chorus if it weren’t for the harmonic content suggesting otherwise.

The Chainsmokers - “Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay) Melody
Build Melody

For the first time in the song, the majority of the vocal melody consists of 16th notes (as opposed to 8th notes previously). Being faster, these contain more energy. Further reinforcing that is the melodic shape: Coldplay progresses stepwise upwards at the beginning of each phrase, and there’s no better way to represent building melodic energy than to walk up the scale. Also, the second half of the phrase is repeated up an octave, further building the energy in anticipation of the drop.

Outside of the vocal though, the harmonic content largely remains the same from the previous section with the exception of the new addition of the rhythmic guitar, which ever so subtly adds a bit of energy. Also, the arpeggio and the synths begin to open up and become more present, suggesting that we’re about to experience a shift away from vocals and towards the harmonic content.

Bars 29-37 (Drop 1)
Chord Sequence 3: G maj add9, A maj, B min7, A maj

Okay, here we are. Every section before this has served to lay a foundation and heighten tension towards this ultimate release - we call it the drop for a reason.

Nearly everything about this section perfectly contrasts the preceding build - the rhythm, the harmonic content, and the (lack of) vocals.

Beginning with the rhythm, the groove of the drop instantly gives us relief from the rhythm of the sections prior. We’ve been hearing repeated eighth notes nonstop for the first minute and five seconds of the song (Don’t believe me? Give it another listen and follow along with the midi files). When the drop comes around, our ears have come to expect a chord on every eighth note, so the rests in the drop are particularly impactful.

Now, that doesn’t mean that any random rhythm will work. Creating a hit song is a matter of balancing surprise with expectation - the listener still has to be able to predict the new rhythm to some degree. Remember the melodic guitar in the intro and verse? Since The Chainsmokers teased that rhythm there, it wasn’t 100% foreign when we heard it in the drop.

It’s also worth noting that this is the first time we hear the kick, snare, and percussion. Not only do those elements naturally contain sonic energy, they add a LOT to the previously somewhat stale rhythm.

Moving onto the harmonic content of the drop - the contrast here is just as important and impactful as the rhythmic contrast. In every previous section, most of the instrumental content has been acoustic or at least acoustically-influenced, but in the drop we’re met with a wall of supersaws and a synth lead with a ton of energy in the highs. This contrast really lets the listener feel the energy of the drop - it’s time to let loose and dance like crazy.

The Chainsmokers also do something cool with their chord progression here - they add a high A note over every chord, changing the first chord to a G maj add9 and the third to a B min7 (the A is in the A chord, so that stays the same). Every sequence prior to the drop has begun with a G major chord, so adding that extra 9th really stands out and adds emotion to the otherwise pretty-straightforward triad.

The third key contrast in the drop - what makes it work so well - is the sudden lack of vocals. In the verse, pre-chorus, and build, the vocals remained relatively constant, without a lot of space between phrases; so when we reach the drop and only hear the hook followed by four bars of vocal silence, we really appreciate that break. It makes us really connect with what’s left - the chords and the drums - and what’s left makes us dance.

Bars 37-45 (Verse 2)
Chord Sequence 2: G maj, A maj, B min, A maj

Some songs feature a break or an interlude after the chorus to bring energy back down to a suitable level for the second verse.

The Chainsmokers said screw that.

Right after the drop, we go straight into the second verse. If The Chainsmokers had simply copied their production from the first verse, this would have fallen incredibly flat. To keep the energy up from the drop, they kept the bass and kick drum going (though the kick drum changes to an acoustic sample). On top of that, they brought in both the melodic and rhythmic guitars right away, as well as layering a faint bit of the arpeggiated synth. Even within the piano, The Chainsmokers opted for chord sequence 2, which contains more energy than 1 (due to it being an octave higher).

Bars 45-53 (Pre Chorus 2)
Chord Sequence 2: G maj, A maj, B min, A maj

In understanding the pre-chorus, we need to first understand what comes next. Last time around it led into a build, but this time the pre-chorus is followed immediately by the drop. That means The Chainsmokers needed to find a way to build enough energy now, without relying on a dedicated build section afterwards. Luckily, they began Pre Chorus 2 at a higher energy state, continuing the kick drum, rhythmic guitar, melodic guitar, and arpeggio from Verse 2.

Add a riser and a little bit of percussion on top of that, open up the high end, remove some of the bass, and - voila - we’ve got ourselves a fully functioning build within our pre-chorus.

Bars 53-61 (Drop 2)
Chord Sequence 3: G maj add9, A maj, B min7, A maj

The second drop is a repetition of the first drop, with ever so subtle changes in the harmonics of the chords and vocals.

This brings up an important point that a lot of overzealous producers should consider - you don’t need to vary the second drop from your first. If it’s good enough and it’s enough of a contrast from the other sections, repeat it. To keep things from getting stale, do what The Chainsmokers did - use other vocal takes from Coldplay, and switch up the amount of chorusing (or some other parameter) ever so slightly in the synths. This creates a similar effect to the way we’d hear a live band perform: even if they performed the exact same chorus twice, there would be subtle differences in the performances of the players. Given the acoustic nature of a lot of this song, this technique is particularly effective.

Bars 61-69 (Bridge)
Chord Sequence 1: G maj, A maj add11, B min, A maj add11

After the first drop, The Chainsmokers led directly into a high energy Verse 2. That worked since prior to the first drop, there wasn’t a ton of energy in the song. But now that we’ve had four straight sections of energetic kick-drum-driven music, it’s time for a break.

The Chainsmokers give us exactly that with this bridge, stripping away the kick, snare, percussion, bass, and supersaw to leave us with nothing but the vocal from Build 1 and a piano accompaniment. Also, they filter out most of the high end, adding a sharp high cut at 7.3 kHz, and bring down the level of everything under 250 Hz, further stripping back the energy of this section. The Chainsmokers also bring us back to Chord Sequence 1, the most docile (so-to-speak) of the progressions thus far.

When it comes to the melodic and harmonic content, The Chainsmokers and Coldplay effectively repeat the same phrase four times (each one two bars long), growing in energy with each repetition.

Bars 69-77 (Pre Chorus 3)
Chord Sequence 2: G maj, A maj, B min, A maj

Having come from an extremely low energy section, Pre Chorus 3 now serves a similar function to Pre Chorus 1 - bridge the gap until the build section. With this in mind, much of the structure of this section is similar to Pre Chorus 1, with a few notable changes.

First, while the vocal melody follows a similar shape to the previous pre choruses, it’s higher in register this time around (remember that higher notes = higher energy) and ends on a more pleaful cry. Second, The Chainsmokers bring in the kick drum, building energy and tension towards a potential drop. Third, rather than bringing in the arpeggio layer, The Chainsmokers switch things up by reintroducing the guitar melody.

Bars 77-85 (Build 2)
Chord Sequence 4: G maj add9, A maj, B min7, A maj, B min7, G maj add9, D maj, A maj, D maj, A maj; B min7/F#, A maj, B min7, G maj add9, D maj, A maj, D maj, A maj

We’re at another section preceding the drop, and we know by now that the purpose of the section leading up to the drop is to build tension. Given that the next drop would be the biggest and most impactful, The Chainsmokers needed to build as much tension as possible in this section, and they did exactly that.

By stripping away the kick drum when the listener really expects it (I mean come on, we just had it and this is the build), we’re immediately given a sense of lightness as though we’re suspended above the floor just waiting to drop (pun intended).  Also, The Chainsmokers have completely stripped away the vocals for this section, making us really want the hook to return right when it does.

Since the purpose is still to build, you can’t just take everything away, so The Chainsmokers added in the rhythmic guitar and a rising cymbal hitting on every 8th note. Also, The Chainsmokers add a lot of complexity to the chord progression in this section, creating an implied melody in the piano and bringing the notes even higher than any previous section.

Bars 85-93 (Drop 3)
Chord Sequence 3: G maj add9, A maj, B min7, A maj

Since The Chainsmokers added even more tension and energy to Build 2 than they had in previous pre-drop sections, they needed to make sure this drop hit with a little extra energy and excitement to match it.

The most notable way The Chainsmokers amp up the energy in the third drop is by adding a new guitar melody that follows the chord progression (new, yet familiar). Coming in at the end of the song, this almost feels like a guitar solo, reminiscent of the days of classic rock (and paralleling the acoustic nature of the song). Naturally high in energy, this definitely helps keep the third drop fresh.

Since The Chainsmokers added a melodic element to compete for the listener’s primary focus, they needed to take away the vocal for most of this section, opting to only sing the hook once at the end.

The Chainsmokers also bring in the percussion right away in the third drop as well as adding in cymbals and shakers, further heightening the energy of this section.

Bars 93-101 (Drop 4)
Chord Sequence 3: G maj add9, A maj, B min7, A maj

The fourth and final drop is largely a continuation of the energy of Drop 3 - almost everything is the same, with the exception of the guitar soloist really taking off in this section. The guitarist’s riff is more active and complicated, building energy from the riff in the drop prior.

It’s also worth noting that the bassline and chordal content in this drop (and Drop 3) is slightly more complicated than in previous drops, though it follows the same macro shape and structure.

Bars 101-107 (Outro)
Chord Sequence 3: G maj add9, A maj, B min7, A maj

Having just finished a repetition of the drop, now 3 minutes and 53 seconds into the song, the listener is tired and done. The Chainsmokers and Coldplay got the point across, and they put everything they had out there in Drop 4.
Because of that, the outro can be extremely simple - everyone’s attention is done anyways, and we really just need some way to bring the energy back down to zero. So, The Chainsmokers simply repeat a filtered version of the drop chords that slowly fades away - nothing else.

Key Takeaways

  • Contrast is key to creating an impactful drop. Build tension and expectation in any way you can, and then switch it up at the drop.
  • Try to tease the drop’s big switch-up in previous sections of the song. Whether it’s a rhythm, chord progression, or melody, find subtle ways to hint at it early, so that it doesn’t catch the listener completely off guard in the drop.
  • Higher notes = higher energy. Switch up the voicing of your chords (or even move them up or down a full octave) and see how that impacts the feel of the section.
  • Vocal lines should be simple and easily repeatable, maintaining a balance of rhythm and motion.
►► Follow along by downloading the FREE Ableton project file and synth presets by clicking here.

BONUS: Sound Design

Now that you understand the purpose of each element in the track, let’s dive into how The Chainsmokers made some of those elements. Today, we’ll be looking at the sounds in the drop - the supersaw chord stack and the lead in the drop.

Supersaw Stack

Beginning with the supersaw chords in the drop, the first thing to point out is that the chords you’re hearing are being played by more than one synth. Listen carefully and you’ll hear two main layers in the chords from bars 29-33. One layer is playing the changing chords underneath, and the other layer is playing the repeated A3 note on top.

Serum Supersaws Oscillators

In the setup above, I’ve created an instrument rack that allows both of these layers to be played on a single track. Using Ableton’s ‘Key’ feature within the rack (red box at the bottom of the screenshot), I’ve routed things so that the Supersaws Just Like This 1 layer only plays for notes at or below G3, and the Supersaws Just Like This 2 layer only plays for notes above G3.

Why do this as opposed to creating two separate tracks? This method ensures I never overlap layers on the same exact note (which would muddy things up). Also, I can process both layers either independently or simultaneously (the same could be accomplished with groups, but this is a bit cleaner).

Enough setup, though - let’s dive into the actual design of the layers.

Both follow a near-identical envelope with a relatively short (but not aggressively so) attack, a medium-short decay to a relatively high sustain, and a fairly short release. This envelope allows the stack to come in quickly (without stabbing our ears) and just as quickly fade into nothingness - perfect when wanting to use the chords rhythmically.

Looking at the screenshot above, you’ll notice that the OSC window for each layer looks pretty much the same, with the exception of the specific oscillator used. For layer 1, I opted to use one of Serum’s analog saw emulations - this gives the sound just a bit more character than the basic saw wave. For layer 2 (the repeating A3 note), I chose the square-saw analog emulation. Why the difference in OSC for each layer? The repeated A3 note had a bit of a ‘hollow’ sound, which I typically associate with a square wave, but it still had a bit of the brightness associated with a saw. The chords of Layer 1, in contrast, seemed a bit more even and full across the frequency spectrum.

You also might notice that Layer 1 has 7 voices to it, whereas Layer 2 has only 5. That means Layer 1 should be thicker and stand out more, right? Not entirely. Thicker, yes - you’re adding more voices, and naturally you’ll fill up more of the frequency spectrum. However, adding additional voices actually has the effect of softening, as your ears become less focused on a specific frequency. Therefore, using only 5 voices in Layer 2 actually allows it to cut through the mix just a bit more than Layer 1.

Lastly, I have the noise oscillator turned on for each layer to add a bit of high-end energy.

Serum Supersaws FX

Moving onto the FX tab, you’ll see that these are largely the same for each layer. That’s no mistake - it gives the separate layers a degree of unity, making them seem more like a cohesive (almost singular) sound rather than two separate pieces.

For Layer 1, I followed the following FX reasoning: I added a bit of Hyper - Dimension to add width and increase the stereo image. I followed that up with Chorus to add a bit of character and spread the sound even further. Next, I used Serum’s Compressor on ‘Multiband’ setting to balance the frequency content and bring out the high end noisiness. Then, I added some Reverb to thicken up the sound and give it a degree of depth, followed by a faint bit of EQ to reduce the lows and bring out the highs ever so slightly. The Filter effect is mapped to Macro 1 and only used when automating a filter sweep at the end of each drop.

For Layer 2, I followed the same reasoning, with a couple of variations. First, I added in a bit of Distortion on the Diode 1 setting; by itself this is pretty aggressive, but I used the included filter in ‘Post’ mode to drastically reduce the brightness. The multiband compressor helps compensate for this high cut, bringing back in some of the noise and higher harmonics. Second, I subtly reduced the amount of reverb but increased the chorus depth - this allowed me to make that layer slightly more present (less reverb) but keep it just as full and interesting (more chorus depth). Lastly, I removed the EQ, as I felt it just wasn’t needed.

If you refer back to the first sound design screenshot, you’ll notice that I’ve also included Ableton’s Saturator - I added this to each layer to help thicken up the saws and add a lot of color. This was one of the most crucial steps in getting my recreation to sound as full and complete as The Chainsmokers did.

Drop Lead

In the second half of the drop, The Chainsmokers introduce a melody played by a lead synth. Without paying much attention, this almost sounds like part of the chord stack - but if you listen closely, you’ll hear it as a separate layer.

Looking at the screenshots below, we see these similarities to the chords reflected in the sound design - the OSC and FX pages are nearly identical.

The Chainsmokers - “Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay) Serum Lead OSC
The Chainsmokers - “Something Just Like This (ft. Coldplay) Serum FX
Serum Lead FX

However, there are a few notable differences between this lead layer and the supersaw chord stack - it’s slightly brighter and seems to be ever so slightly more forward in the mix.

To account for these changes, let’s first look at the OSC tab. You’ll notice that for this layer, I opted for the Basic Shapes saw wave. Why? This wave is brighter and contains more energy than the previously used analog emulations - and therefore it will sit just above the other layers in the mix. However, I didn’t think The Chainsmokers made this lead too present, so I chose to use 8 voices of unison. If you remember from earlier, this has the effect of softening the sound. Bonus tip: having an even number of voices keeps you from having anything in the dead center, which softens the sound further.

You’ll also notice that I’ve turned on the Sub oscillator, kept at the same octave but with a triangle wave - I did this to add some body, as I thought the saw wave by itself was a bit too thin.

Moving onto the FX tab, you’ll notice that I took away the Dimension effect (the use of 8 voices took care of this necessity) and upped the amount of Chorus ever so slightly. I also took away a tiny amount of the highs and lows with the EQ at the end.

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 🙂

►► Follow along by downloading the FREE Ableton project file and synth presets by clicking here.

About the Author

Neel is a 25-year-old music producer based in Los Angeles, CA. He has a passion for helping others and promoting positivity, and he is currently attending Icon Collective to develop his artist project launching later this year.

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