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The Cold Water that hit #2 on Billboard Hot 100

Cold Water uses repetition, layered sound design, and tons of ear candy to craft a summer hit.

Major Lazer
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Overview
Duration:
Key:
Tempo
Genre: 
Producers
3:05
A Maj
93
Pop
Diplo, Benny Blanco Jr., Blender, King Henry

Key Takeaways

The origin story of Cold Water is a bit messy and unclear.

The song came out in 2016 after Justin Bieber expressed interest in the song to Diplo. At the time they apparently didn't even have each other's numbers, so Justin DM'd Diplo on Twitter.

Here's what Diplo had to say about the song: "I had been trying to link with Benny Blanco and Ed Sheeran for years to find the right song we could all work on together and the moment I heard this one, I knew that it was the one. The timing was perfect and when we approached Justin, he was also in love with the song we all had written. I thought it would be interesting to incorporate another vocal and seeing she's family, I reached out to Mø and we decided to try our best to make something fresh and interesting as Major Lazer." - Diplo on recording Cold Water

The song hit #2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for "Producer of the year" in 2017. That's not too bad for a song that Ed Sheeran doesn't really remember writing.

Now let's dive into what we can learn from the production of Cold Water.

🔄 Arrangement

  • Since this is a Major Lazer song it fits the traditional EDM/Dance music arrangement style of a pre-chorus building into a drop/chorus.
  • The pre-chorus is oddly nine measures. They add one extra measure to create a special transition into the drop/chorus. Add one to two bar sections to your songs to give them extra breathing room.
  • The majority of the song is made of two pre-choruses and three drops/choruses. The verses and bridge make up a much smaller part of the song. Experiment with shorter verses and move people forward to the chorus.

🎹 Chords

This is a classic pop chord progression. It's a comfortable mix of minor and major chords that makes up an incredibly catchy loop I could personally listen to all day on repeat.

  • Intro: 1sus(no5)
  • Verse: 6m - 1M - 3m - 4M
  • Pre-Chorus: 6m - 1M - 3m - 4M
  • Pre-Drop: 5M
  • Drop: 6m - 1M - 3m - 4M
  • Bridge: 6m - 1M - 3m - 4M
  • Outro: 6m - 1M - 3m - 4M

🎶 Melody

  • Don't be afraid to reuse your melodies throughout the same song. It helps listeners sing along more quickly and brings coherency. Both verses use the same melody, then the pre-choruses and choruses also use the same melodies each time.

🔊 Sound Design

  • What impresses me about this song is that every time I listen through it I find a few new percussion sounds or random vocals samples sprinkled into the background that I didn't notice. There are probably 100-150 tracks on this song, easily. Don't be afraid to add layers and small details that people won't notice, until they do.
  • 0:21 - There's a very wet bell sound that perfectly personifies the "cold water" that Justin's singing about. Look for ways to bring the lyrics of the song to life through the production.
  • Add a subtle vinyl crackle layer overtop of your song to create some texture and give it that record feel.

🎛 Mixing

  • Justin Bieber's lead vocals are very heavily compressed and bold in the mix. Each word stands out clearly and has a very even volume. Use compression liberally to flatten out your vocals to make sure each word is crisp and clear.
  • They mixed in a ton of tiny percussion sounds and ambient things into the background. Use contrast as a tool by turning things down really quietly, panning them hard, and using reverbs to push sounds back behind the headphones/speakers to create the illusion of depth.

🔑 Key Takeaways

  • Add one to two bar sections to your songs to give them extra breathing room.
  • Experiment with shorter verses and move people forward to the chorus.
  • Don't be afraid of simple ideas, like that electric guitar loop that is the backbone of this song (6m - 1M - 3m - 4M).
  • Don't be afraid to reuse your melodies throughout the same song. It helps listeners sing along more quickly and brings coherency.
  • Don't be afraid to add layers and small details that people won't notice, until they do.
  • Add a subtle vinyl crackle layer overtop of your song to create some texture and give it that record feel.
  • Use compression liberally to flatten out your vocals to make sure each word is crisp and clear.
  • Use contrast as a tool by turning things down really quietly, panning them hard, and using reverbs to push sounds back behind the headphones/speakers to create the illusion of depth.
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