What Makes This Song Great?: Producer Rick Beato Breaks Down the Greatness of Classic Rock Songs in His New Video Series

Last night I had din­ner at a local restau­rant that hap­pened to have a playlist on of great songs from my high school years. As one after anoth­er came on I thought, “wow, I for­got how good these songs are.” But after a while I real­ized I couldn’t real­ly sep­a­rate the songs them­selves from my mem­o­ries of lis­ten­ing to them back in the old days. Nos­tal­gia, as we know, plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in how we respond to record­ed music. But as to the ques­tion of what makes a song great to begin with, what sep­a­rates it from thou­sands of oth­er songs released around the same time… this is much more dif­fi­cult for many peo­ple to answer.

We might pull out one or two musi­cal elements—“this beat is amaz­ing” or “those heavy gui­tars are awe­some” or “her voice is just so powerful”—before falling back on sub­jec­tive cri­te­ria about how the song makes us feel and what we think of when we hear it. Most peo­ple can’t iden­ti­fy with pre­ci­sion how and why cer­tain songs sound like they do because devel­op­ing such an ear takes years of train­ing. It’s a skill learned by study­ing the­o­ry, record­ing, and musi­cal tech­nique, and by lis­ten­ing crit­i­cal­ly to lots and lots of music. Ask a musi­cian, pro­duc­er, or engi­neer what makes a song great and you might get a sem­i­nar on its mix­ing, arrange­ment, chord pro­gres­sions, and use of stu­dio effects.

That’s what we get in the YouTube series What Makes This Song Great?, cre­at­ed by musi­cian and pro­duc­er Rick Beato. Here, as Metafil­ter writes, he “breaks down the musi­cal struc­ture and pro­duc­tion tech­niques in pop­u­lar songs. Work­ing from the stems [pre-mixed group­ings of drums, gui­tars, vocals, keys, etc] of each song, he dis­cuss­es every­thing from Sting’s Lydi­an mode bassline, to the use of Neu­mann mics to cap­ture the inten­si­ty of Chris Cor­nel­l’s vocals; from sidechain com­pres­sion in an Ari­ana Grande song, to the use of a flat 6th to intro­duce a melan­choly air into the vocal melody of a Tool song.”

Now, everyone’s enti­tled to their tastes, and you might find your­self look­ing over his choic­es and think­ing of some of them, “this song’s not great!” And, well, fair enough. But give it a chance any­way. Because you can gain new lev­els of appre­ci­a­tion even for music you don’t sub­jec­tive­ly enjoy, just by learn­ing how that music was con­struct­ed. When I first began to learn about the skill and effort that goes into writ­ing, record­ing, mix­ing, and mas­ter­ing stu­dio-qual­i­ty music, the expe­ri­ence was quite hum­bling, and I found myself lis­ten­ing to songs I didn’t love, exact­ly, but could very much appre­ci­ate from a tech­ni­cal point of view.

I also found my tastes expand­ing, even to include some pop music I had dis­missed as mean­ing­less fluff. Because I could hear inter­est­ing uses of reverb, or stereo pan­ning, or delay, or chord voic­ings. In short, with care­ful, informed, lis­ten­ing, you can learn to appre­ci­ate the archi­tec­ture of record­ed music, rather than just the choice of exte­ri­or paint col­ors or obvi­ous dec­o­ra­tive ele­ments. And songs don’t always need to land emo­tion­al­ly to still tick­le your inter­est. Does that mean that I’m now a fan of Blink 182’s “All the Small Things” (top)? Well, no. But instead of rolling my eyes when it comes on, I can hear the small things (see what I did?) Beato points out and think, okay, that is actu­al­ly kin­da cool.

The lit­tle hook in the intro, that one mut­ed chord in the open­ing pro­gres­sion, a sus4 chord thrown in for a dis­so­nant instant. Maybe it also helps that, with the vocals stripped out, this could be anoth­er three-chord punk song and not that song, but, hey, it’s a learn­ing process. Many of the oth­er songs in the series might be more uni­ver­sal­ly acknowl­edged as “great” for their musi­cian­ship and songcraft. But that doesn’t mean we can’t glean some­thing from all of Beat­o’s videos. Get­ting expert per­spec­tives like his can expand our appre­ci­a­tion for any kind of music, and the best pro­duc­ers and musi­cians tend to have the most eclec­tic tastes.

Fur­ther up, see Beato’s videos on The Police’s “Every Lit­tle Thing She Does is Mag­ic,” Steely Dan’s “Kid Charle­magne,” Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of,” and, just above, Tom Pet­ty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” And check out all of the videos on his chan­nel here.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Made John Entwistle One of the Great Rock Bassists? Hear Iso­lat­ed Tracks from “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Baba O’Riley” & “Pin­ball Wiz­ard”

The MC5’s Wayne Kramer Demon­strates the Cor­rect & Offi­cial Way to Play “Kick Out the Jams” on the Gui­tar

Hear Mar­vin Gaye Sing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” A Capel­la: The Haunt­ing Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Fallen says:

    Hel­lo Rick.
    Sebuah kehor­matan jika pesan ku bisa sam­pai kepad mu.
    Saya hanya ingin sedik­it mem­inta, apakah bisa dije­laskan ten­teng How to devel­op The worlds great­est ear in to indone­sian lan­guage please..
    Thank you

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