So Sick - Learn Hook, Effects, Mix

  January 1, 2016

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Ne-Yo singles mesmerize listeners with the sheer power of their emotion. What’s Ne- Yo’s secret, why are his songs so captivating? Because they are built with class, with production elements implemented so well they instantly warrant Billboard placement. In Ne-Yo’s hit song So Sick, the tightly interwoven song elements are a testament to the prodigious and elite production style of Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen of Stargate. As with all hits covered on Hit Talk, we first outline the hit’s song format, frequency separation, and mix. Next, we discuss the hit’s chord progression, music production, plus the strongest production elements that made the song a sparkling success. A full Hit Report containing Hit Talk’s Melody Map, Chord Progression Map, Song Arrangement Map, plus VIP samples can be purchased at the end of this post. Let’s get started…

Mix & Frequency Separation

Carrying So Sick to the charts required a crafty, well-implemented foundation of kick, bass and toms. The kick drum occupies most of the 50 to 200 Hz range. The bassline shares that frequency range except in the song bridge, where the bassline climbs, with clever improvisation, into the tenor range. The toms have the potential to conflict with both the bassline and the kick drum, but they’ve been reserved for the off 8th notes, thereby avoiding both bassline and kick.

Naturally, all bass-laden channels are vital in an R&B song such as So Sick, and it’s crucial that no low end from one channel conflicts with another. Layering bass channels is precarious, because if done carelessly a frequency clashing nightmare could result, filled with nasty beat oscillations, saturated standing waves, and dead spots where one wave cancels another.

The overall warmth and low end of a song come from its bass channels, but that warmth can be destroyed as more bass channels are composed and layered together, increasing the potential for frequency conflicts. In So Sick, the only bass channels layered together are the kick drum and the bassline; however, they compliment rather than conflict with each other because the kick has been carefully tuned and carved to integrate with the bassline. Identifying and managing fine production details such as the proper tuning and frequency carving of kick and bass must be second nature to a successful producer.

In Hit Talk’s Frequency Separation Map above, S-1 and S-2 represent both the fundamental and higher frequency harmonics of the synth line that plays starting in the second hook. Since the upper frequencies of the mix are sparse, the synth’s level does not have to be loud to be heard. Furthermore, because the synth’s higher harmonics occupy that gap in the mix around the 5k range, the synth timbre’s distinctive characteristics are easily noticed. The same goes for the distant sirens in the right channel. As with every Hit Talk Frequency Map, voc 1, voc 2, and voc 3 represent the vocal’s root notes, vocal overtones, and sibilant consonants respectively. Each vocal channel needs a prominent level in the mix for the vocal performance to shine through. Occupying most of the same frequency range as the vocals are the instruments of So Sick’s hook. Let’s look at them in more detail.

The hook is played using a multi-sampled, multi-layered harp patch. Being both multi-sampled and multi-layered, the harp patch is programmed using multiple harp samples across the keyboard, as well as using multiple velocity-controlled samples per keyboard note. What’s the result? A superb emulation of organic harp timbres mixed with a modern R&B sequencing style. The harp in So Sick is a true inspiration to its listeners, charging the hook with an engaging realism. To top things off and make the harp even more captivating, Stargate has added a short 16th-note, highpass-filtered delay to the harp eliminating all but the highest frequencies in the delay’s wet signal. This final touch of silky, highpassed delay delivers an almost magical, dreamlike quality that fits perfectly with So Sick’s wistful melancholy. (Step by step instructions for reproducing this effect are available for purchase along with VIP samples at the bottom of this post).

Hook Design & Production

The diagram at left is a midi re-creation of So Sick’s hook. (Hit Talk’s Melody Map, complete with correct finger positions, and detailed instructions on playing the hook is available, plus a chord chart that explains some of the theory behind these note progressions, as well as advanced keyboard technique is available for purchase in the Pro Hit Report along with VIP samples at the bottom of this post.) The midi notes in the diagram are separated into three parts using FL Studio’s convenient color coding. Separating the notes into their logical parts makes it easier to understand how the hook might be played on a sampler’s keyboard or on a midi controller. In the diagram, the purple notes are easily played by the right hand. This is the lead line - the primary melody if you will - of the hook. A harmony, marked in green, can be played by the left hand at the same time, or it can be played on an overdubbed track. The harmony part contains a subtle, yet well-conceived evolution in the 4th bar of the hook. An Ab note, (the last green note to occur before bar 5) is played a 16th note earlier than it was in 2nd bar. A small, yet essential compositional detail that combines with the lead melody to form a catchy rhythmic variation. Finally, the tenor part of the hook, marked in blue, is an overdub, and plays the lowest notes of the hook.

The most noteworthy aspect of this hook, apart from being well-composed, is how it resolves. The final two bars of the hook where Ne-Yo sings “Why can’t I turn off the radio?” resolve in a 16th note pattern. The harp sample plays two C# whole notes (blue) underneath the 16th notes (purple). Though the hook sounds good on its own, the bassline, mimicking the 16th notes of the main hook with a steady staccato C#, makes it golden. It’s this tight fusion between instrumental parts that gives this chart-topping hit its unique signature and strong appeal.

Order the full “So Sick” Hit Report & Get it all…

So Sick Song Format Map! (View All)
So Sick Frequency Separation Map! (View All)
So Sick Hook Melody Map! (View All)
So Sick Chord Progression Map! (View All)
So Sick Song Arrangement Map! (View All)
So Sick Song Arrangement Step-by-Step Report!
So Sick Hook Production Step-by-Step Report!
So Sick Hook Melody Report!
So Sick Chord Progression Report!
So Sick Bass & Vocal Production Report!
So Sick Mix & Frequency Separation Report!
Super Bonus: VIPKIT#18, 130+ Samples, $30 value!
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Submit Music Production Questions or Comments

5 Responses to “So Sick - Learn Hook, Effects, Mix”

  1. William Pittman on February 27th, 2009 12:52 pm

    Hi, I would like to know is this product for producers only? I’m a songwriter that’s looking forward to writing hits. Thank You. From:William

  2. Hit Talk Staff on February 27th, 2009 4:28 pm

    Hey William. Good question. We try to cover aspects of songwriting and production since many people do both. Primarily they’re for music producers, since that’s the majority of the content. But, a songwriter can still learn a lot from the arrangement maps and, esp if you’re a keyboard player, chord maps.

  3. Gene on April 7th, 2010 7:06 am

    In so sick by Neyo, are the chords for the bridge accurate? I want to learn stargate bridge progressions that modulate.

  4. princess dube on January 24th, 2011 5:14 am

    is it possible for one to become a music producer,without knowin hw to play a single insrument?.

  5. Hit Talk Staff on January 24th, 2011 10:47 pm

    It’s possible. It’s also possible to work at an icecream parlor and never sample any of the flavors. ;) You could do it, but why would you want to?

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