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Lessons from Graveyard by Halsey and Jon Bellion

Graveyard uses an unconventional arrangement and the incredible songwriting of Jon Bellion (and co.) to talk about love.

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Jon Bellion, Louis Bell, Ojivolta, The Monsters & Strangerz

Key Takeaways

If you don't know, Jon Bellion is one of my favorite producers/songwriters. In addition to today's song he also wrote Ghost (#1 on US Pop Radio 2022) and All Time Low.

Today I've got several takeaways from Graveyard, performed by Halsey, produced and co-written by Jon.  

🔄 Arrangement

  • Genius arrangement technique in this song. They end each verse with an abbreviated section of the chorus. So the song goes: Verse > Chorus (teaser) > Pre-Chorus > Chorus... Listen to 0:25-1:18 to hear what I'm talking about. This is a brilliant way to introduce the hook within 30 seconds, without giving listeners the whole thing. It's a brilliant retention tool.
  • The oddest part of the song is a 3-bar verse at 2:30-2:37. They use the same melody as the verse to create a short 3-bar verse then skip the pre-chorus and go right back to the chorus. Break the rules sometimes to keep people interested! Your verse doesn't have to be 8 or 16 bars every time!
  • Backing vocals buried under some massive reverb come in during V2. Add new layers subtly thru your song so that people’s ears don’t get bored.

🎹 Chords

  • Intro: 4M - 6m7 - 1maj7
  • Verse: 4M - 6m7 - 1maj7
  • Chorus (Teaser): 4M - 6m7 - 1maj7
  • Pre-Chorus: 4M(2) - 5M - 6m7 - 1M(2)
  • Chorus: 4M(2) - 5M - 6m7 - 1M(2)
  • Bridge: 4M - 6m7 - 1maj7 - N.C.

🎶 Melody

  • The highest notes in the melody are actually in the pre-chorus. Normally I would recommend saving the highest notes in a song, but (1) I don't know any better than Jon Bellion and Halsey, and (2) it works really well for this song because the chorus has a very fast rhythm during the chorus ("Oh, 'cause I keep diggin' myself down deeper..."). Harmonic rhythm (technical term for how fast the note changes/word changes happen) is another tool in your songwriter's tool belt that can stretch out words, slow them down, or say a lot of words really quickly at one time like this to add urgency and energy. I like how they added urgency to the words "I keep diggin' myself down deeper...".

🔊 Sound Design

  • Multiple different bass sounds are used throughout the song (chorus and V2)... This is a clever way to keep the low-end energy throughout the song without boring listeners or making the song have zero dynamics.
  • The beautiful bell sounds in the pre-chorus sound just like Simple and Sweet. Well played, Jon.

🎛 Mixing

  • Notice just how loud the main bell sound is in this song. It's very very loud but it really works. I love how clean and simple this production is, and the mix is really simple.
  • The lead vocals are actually fairly dry throughout the verses, but they add a lot of reverb in the pre-chorus. This is a great way to tell a story through the reverb and vocal effects.
  • The claps that are present in the background of the verses are a lot louder in the chorus. They do a great job throughout this song of recycling the same sounds and musical ideas, tweaking them slightly, and reusing them at different parts of the song. It's very creative but also economical. It makes me want to trust my own ideas more, and expound on them.

One bonus note: You can actually listen to a demo of the song by producer/songwriter Jon Bellion below. It's cool to hear an earlier demo of the song and see how it changes when Halsey takes it on.

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