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8 Production Lessons from A Hidden Gem

MIA uses one single chord, vocal manipulation, manipulation of stereo space, and collaboration to wake up America.

Jon Bellion
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F Maj
Ian Kirkpatrick, Jason Evigan, Jonathan Bellion, Mark Williams, Volta

Key Takeaways

You know the feeling when you're listening to a song, it ends, and you can hear the start of the one in your mind before it even starts playing? That's the feeling you get when you've spent years with an album, listening to it over and over.

That's the same feeling I get when I listen through any song on Jon Bellion's best album to-date, The Human Condition. To my knowledge Morning in America was not his most commercially successful song on the album, but I think it's a bit of a hidden gem. The message of the song is something our world needs to hear, and the production is a brilliant case study in simplicity and repetition.

Let's dig into what makes this song work.

Key Takeaways

  • Build tension by droning a single chord: The majority of the song is a single chord: 1 (F Maj). They loop this chord over and over and let the melody and high-energy rhythm carry the song forward. But as the song progresses they introduce you to a full chord progression which makes it feel even more special in contrast to the flat single chord progression that they use the rest of the time.
  • Creating scale with perspective and volume: This song is a great example of how to create the illusion of a "massive" sound by turning things down. There are tons of subtle layers in the mix, and several very loud elements (like the snare in the choruses) that contrast each other to create a very spacious and impactful listening experience.
  • Vocal Performance: Notice how calmly and softly Jon is singing, especially in the verses. There's passion and energy in the vocals, but he's very calm and controlled with each word. He's not yelling into the mic or raising his voice, just calmly sing-talking each line. This contrast helps the chorus vocals stand out even more since they are louder and higher pitched.
  • Tell a story through your production: The way they build layers onto the song from the beginning to end expands the story with each section. They do this by adding new chords slowly and consistently throughout the song, introducing new sounds (like the electric guitar in the drops), and adding more reverb and backing vocals into different sections (2:40-3 mins).
  • Vocal manipulation: Use your voice as an instrument by manipulating it with Autotune, doubling and stereo widening, layering, reverbs and delays, and compression and EQ.
  • Manipulate the stereo image: Notice how they start the song with a mono (centered) vocal sound but as soon as the verse starts they widen it into a doubled stereo sound that fills out the speakers and opens up space for Jon's voice to sit right in the middle of the mix.
  • Enhance your ideas with collaboration: The drop of this song ("ohhhh... It's morning in America") is sung by a featured artist instead of Jon. This makes the song feel even bigger, more interesting, and adds variation which keeps people interested.
  • A/J Production: I have this developing theory that great production exists whenever two contrasting ideas or polarizations are combined into one song. The high falsetto contrasted against the heavy bass during the one-measure transition in this song is a perfect example. I'd compare this idea to Seth Godin's famous concept of A/J testing. When in doubt, make the bold decision, not the subtle tweak.

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