The goal is not to make an exact duplicate of the piece. The goal of this experiment is to learn about a piece of electronic music by remaking it. The assumption is that whatever is most difficult to imitate probably represents something unique and interesting.
Clarity was released by Interscope records on October 5, 2012. Stache is track seven, and I never heard it on the radio. It’s written in the key of G minor at 128bpm. It lasts four minutes and two seconds.
Here’s a waveform of the piece.
The form could be called theme-and-variations if you want to attach a traditional label to it. It employs two riffs that are repeated and varied. It employs two chord progressions that are repeated and varied. In both cases, variation is primarily timbral. The piece never modulates to another key, but the synthesizer patches are constantly evolving.
The piece is definitely not in a verse-chorus form that is typical of pop music. There are no contrasting A and B sections, and certainly no repeated chorus.
It also fits with a form that I know colloquially as DJ-mix-form. Basically this label applies to repetitive, layered music where layers are built up several times. In three places it breaks down then builds back up.
This annotated waveform shows how I broke down the form (click for larger).
The first riff is an eighth-note arch pattern that lasts for a single measure. The first appearance of the first riff occurs over a pedal bass G. Then it is varied over the initial chord progression of Gm | Bb | Eb | F.
A second riff is introduced around 2:45. It is a syncopated pattern that lasts four measures. It is played over the second chord progression of Gm | Bb | Edim7 | Eb F.
The piece opens with a yell. Outside of drum samples, that seems to be the only sampled audio.
Then a hard beat kicks in with a simple bassline on G, and the first riff. Throughout most of the piece there is not much use of the stereo field. Everything seems to be panned center unless a section is being emphasized. At one point the bass begins bouncing back and forth between the left and right speakers, and from then on the stereo field is used as an effect.
The lead synth sounds almost like a distorted electric guitar. Using filters and other effects, the sound evolves over the course of the piece so that it is never exactly the same.
Differences and Challenges
Remaking this track was difficult. I only wanted to spend ten hours on it, but I almost certainly went over that. Why did it take me so long? Zedd clearly knows every trick in the book. The synths are programmed meticulously. The dynamic processing is perfect, and doesn’t reduce the range or impact of the sounds at all. This took me a long time because I am not as good with a DAW as Zedd.
One of the major differences in my imitation, which you will hear immediately, is the frequency content of the result. I was unable to get such a clear tone from my sounds while squashing the dynamics the way he is. After fiddling with the dynamics processing for hours, I came to the conclusion that he is using a compressor, limiter, and exciter on the main mix, as well as on some submixes. But he has different plugins than I have, and he knows how to use them better than I do.
Another major difference between my imitation and the original is the complexity of the synths and sounds. His hits are all multilayered. It sounds like he is layering cymbal crashes with white noise. Many of the synths are also multilayered. I tried to create single patches to roughly match his patches, but I couldn’t get quite there. You can hear the synth layers in the attacks on some synths, such as the bass that comes in at 1:30. I didn’t have the time to fully recreate the layered sounds.
This piece is built around a pretty conventional formula. A very small amount of melodic and harmonic material is layered and transformed using synthesizers, samplers, and sequencers. Then, at three spots, he drops all the loops out except one or two, and layers up again. The variation is continuous. There are no sections that are repeated exactly as before.
A little bit after the middle of the piece, he significantly varies the melodic and harmonic material. He adds a diminished chord to the chord progression, which sounds odd in EDM, and he starts leading with a new riff.
Into this conventional form he adds some very unique moments. At key points, a unique synthesizer, loop, or sampled sound jumps out of the mix. For instance, the piece opens with a sampled yell that doesn’t occur again. This propels the listener into the first riff and chord progression. After the listener hears several variations on the initial material, a single unique bass loop takes over around 1:30. Then a new and different synth briefly takes over again at 2:30. These moments are tentpoles that support the craftsmanship of the rest of the piece. They break up the varied repeats of familiar material to give the listener a sense that the piece is moving forward.
- Conventional layered EDM form
- Gm | Bb | Eb | F
- Unique sounds/loops at key moments
- Cymbal hits layered with white noise
- Extremely tight dynamics processing and drum programming
Source Files and Presets
Here are the audio files and presets I used to make this track. This zip file includes several Massive presets, a Battery preset, and a couple audio files. It doesn’t include the Drumatic preset I layered into the drums.