What You Know - Learn Mix, Hook, Vocals
TI’s What You Know triumphs as a showcase of producer Toomp’s compositional skill and production mastery. This hit song sets fire to the eardrums of its listeners with devastating assaults of brass, bass, and seasoned producer savvy. As with all hits covered on Hit Talk, we outline the song’s format, frequency separation, and mix. Then, we discuss the song’s music production including the hit’s strongest production element. The full Hit Report, which can be purchased at the bottom of this post along with VIP samples, includes Hit Talk’s Melody Map, Chord Progression Map, and Song Arrangement Map, plus our step-by-step instructions. All these reveal production insights that will help you build your skills toward producer excellence. Close examination of What You Know reveals Toomp’s brilliant balancing of brass and bass, crafty separation of high frequencies per track, and expert arrangement of vocal recordings. Hit Talk tells all. Read on.
Mix and Frequency Separation
What You Know boasts a sizzling mid and treble range. As you can see in the frequency chart, many of the mix elements occupy the lower treble range of the frequency spectrum. In the hands of an inexperienced producer, this mix might have been a disaster, piercing and unlistenable, but Toomp’s wizardry has turned it into platinum. The track’s prominent mid/treble frequencies come from several sources: vocals, brass samples, the synths that play the treble hook, and even the bassline.
That’s right, even the bassline contains treble frequencies. Let’s talk about that bassline. Does it sound familiar? If it does, it’s probably because it’s an excerpt of the bassline from Roberta Flack’s version of Gone Away (It may also sound familiar because it contains the same musical cadences as Hey Joe.)
In What You Know, the Roberta Flack bassline is performed using two tracks: the first track is a standard, smooth sine wave sub-bass (bass); the second is a brass sample from the ModernBeats’ Brass Elementz library (be 1 and be 2). Using Brass Elementz produces a stunning modern re-interpretation of that classic Flack bassline, originally performed on the upright bass. With a low Eb, the bass notes of the melody stretch right to the bottom of the frequency spectrum. You can see the range of the bass root notes (bass) and the tenor harmonics of the Brass Elementz patch (be 1), but that delicious sawtooth-like crackle of the Brass Elementz patch - occupying a treble range of frequencies that plays the melody of the bass verbatim (be 2) - is what gives the bass timbre it’s grittiness.
These two tracks compliment each other perfectly: one occupies the bass range of frequencies, the other occupies the mid/treble. Dividing the frequencies of one melodic part by using multiple sound sources is a cornerstone of production technique. Once you understand the technique, you’ll find it in nearly every nook and cranny of music production. The frequency dividing and instrument layering technique results in a bassline that’s prominent in the mix at all frequencies, as well as sounding balanced at all frequencies. If this technique seems unimportant still, just consider the contents in the rest of the mix. Since there are many other treble parts of the mix, there is a significant risk of saturated treble timbres stemming from the Brass Elementz track conflicting with the other treble tracks. There’s the vocals, the marcato strings (string), the high-pitched tremolo string accompaniment (s2), the treble percussion tracks, and then there’s the main synth hook (syn 1, syn 2). Let’s look closely at the treble range of the mix and and explain how Toomp’s skill has prevented it from becoming a piercing mess. First, the hi-hat (hh), high vocal overtones (voc 3), treble synth overtones (syn 2) and treble bass overtones, all occupy the same frequency range - so why has Toomp been able to avoid frequency conflicts?
Here’s the first reason: the treble overtones of the bassline - the crackle that we explained above with reference to be 2 - are timbrally distinct from the treble overtones of the vocals, synth and marcato strings. How can timbre distinctions make that much of a difference? Well, think of it this way: If two musicians are playing the same melody on trumpets, and a third musician joins them … is it easier to hear that musician if he’s playing a trumpet, or if he’s playing a saxophone? Timbral difference creates separation: simple as that. Toomp recognized that he could get away with a heavy treble-laden production as long as the tracks he arranged together were timbrally distinct from one another, regardless of those tracks sharing similar frequency ranges.
The second reason is Toomp’s careful balancing of track levels and equalization. The lead synth track (syn 1 and syn 2) is equalized to emphasize the higher harmonics rather than the root notes of the melody, thus reducing competition with the vocal tracks. Though there is conflict where the synth overtones (syn 2) coincide with the marcato strings (string) as well as the tremolo string (s2), Toomp has mixed the latter two tracks at a lower volume, and has moved the tremolo string track into the background with a hint of reverb. The conflict is greatly reduced. Even though it’s hard to distinguish the synth from the marcato strings from the tremolo string as due to each possessing similar timbres and playing simultaneously, Toomp makes it all blend harmoniously with mixing and equalizing skill, and it sounds wicked.
What You Know is full of catchy melodic hooks. The main hook played on the treble synth is quite easy to play because it all happens on the black keys. By the way, here’s a secret: if you don’t know how to play keyboard, you can fake it by playing the black keys only - provided you’ve got rhythm and nuance. Even if you lack those last two skills, playing only black keys will prevent you from hitting a wrong note. That’s cause the black keys follow an Aflat pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale is one of the golden keys to the gate of improvisation. The definition of pentatonic is simple: penta = five, tonic = tones; a five tone scale. So why are we tellin’ you this? Well, the next time you hear What you Know - and you happen to be close to a keyboard - try playin’ the black keys. To your surprise, you will find that you can solo and improvise over the whole track: all you have to do is invent patterns. Using the black keys will also acquaint you with the notes played in the synth hook. But there’s much more to the hooks in Toomp’s hit. Included in the full Hit Report, we give you not just the novice trick of using the black keys (useful at least for impressing friends), but we give all the skills and knowledge you need to understand exactly how this song is played. (A full account of all the catchy melodies in this song, as well as finger positions and scales using Hit Talk’s Chord and Melody Maps are available for purchase at the end of this post):
The root note of this 4-bar pattern is Eb. As you can see from the positions of the notes on the piano roll, the melody occupies the black keys only. The bassline sets the root notes: B, F#, C#, Ab, Eb, that is to say, if you played them in sequence every half note starting from the beginning of the track, you’d have the note that the melodies and chords of the song are based on. It’s easy to improvise over that note sequence using the Ab pentatonic scale; Toomp’s synth hook jives perfectly with that progression of notes. Why is that? We won’t explain every detail of why. What we will explain is that each bar of this 4-bar hook combines with the root notes listed above to form an unresolved phrase, until the very end when the Eb of the synth hook resolves along with the Eb of the bassline. We give more details on evolving phrasing in Hit Theory, and we give more details on these melodies and their corresponding chords and scales in the full report. For now, try your musical intuition on the black keys and see where it takes you.
On top of the song’s bassline, the root notes are filled out with an entire orchestra including violins playing a staccato sequence of chords. That’s one of the best lessons to take from What You Know: whenever you want to push a mix to hit the charts, you gotta make it epic. Do it accurately, with proper keyboard technique and producer wisdom, and success will be yours.
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|What You Know Song Format Map! (View All)
What You Know Frequency Separation Map! (View All)
What You Know Chord Progression Map! (View All)
What You Know Song Arrangement Map! (View All)
What You Know Melody Map! (View All)
What You Know Bass Production Step-by-Step Report!
What You Know Hook Production Report!
What You Know Vocal Production Report!
What You Know Song Arrangement Report!
What You Know Chord & Scales Report!
What You Know Mix & Frequency Separation Report!
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