Natural as Breathing Air: The Role of Production and Illenium’s “Crawl Outta Love”

In which Daniel’s bootyhole is a steel trap of death.

Crawl_Outta_Love

To my dear reader,

A big reason that I love composing and writing is that I’m a control freak with an anus tighter than steel. Tighter than… I don’t even know, what’s really tight? Pro life tip: don’t go googling “tight stuff” in public – the answers are not the ones you’re looking for. I mean, they’re pretty funny… so maybe you should… but I digress.

Let’s put my anus aside for a moment.

When studying composition in college, my favorite classes were Counterpoint – the study of how harmonically interdependent melodies interact – and Orchestration – the study of the ways to use instruments for different musical effects. This was because they gave me tools to control very small details within the music to get much bigger results. Changing the way that a descant harmonizes with a primary melody might give it a haunting feeling; writing the descant for a clarinet rather than a flute might give it a mischievous feeling. Such details are so richly delicious to me, I lap them up [insert mental image of me sticking out my tongue and making rapid, off-putting licking motions].

For most of musical history, and indeed for most music making today, music has been made by the masses in a relatively liberal way. People learned songs by ear and sang or played them how they remembered them (often imperfectly), feeling free to alter them how occasion necessitated. There has only been a very small window, in the middle and upper classes of the West from the Renaissance up until the mid-1900s, that composers were considered god-like in their imperative to dictate every detail of their music (from its instrumentation to its dynamics to its articulation).

With much contemporary popular music – especially the world of electronic music – the mantle of the composer has been taken up by the producer. Australian singer/songwriter Sia Furler may have written “Pretty Hurts,” but it was Ammo Knowles’ production and Beyonce’s powerhouse voice that gave the song its particular, ferocious sonic quality. Many producers, however, now both write and produce their own material, promoting their production style as a brand and releasing music under their name with others singing on the recordings. In doing so, they echo Western art music composers, who would be the ones considered “responsible” for their music regardless of who performed it, unlike much popular music, wherein the performer is considered “responsible” for the music regardless of who wrote or produced it. Producers using their own songwriting and production style as a brand has, in turn, led to increasingly more innovative and individualistic production and arranging styles, and a small but notable example is that of American DJ Illenium’s song “Crawl Outta Love,” sung by Annika Wells.

While this raucous power ballad of ill-fated love is not dramatically or lyrically innovative, several things make it distinctive musically and sonically. Most broadly, the ballad swings between quiet, low-sung piano-ballad verses and explosive choruses laden with different, highly-processed vocal lines. Each pre-chorus introduces percussion to lead into a soaring drop that literally sounds like leaping from a musical precipice. What is most distinctive, however, is the way that the titular line is echoed in the post-chorus, processed to come out like some sort of high, bizarre bird squawk. While I initially found it off-putting and a little laughable, I grew to like it, and have found it a distinctive and enjoyable part of the song each time I listen to it. Each of these notable traits are ones for which I have Illenium the producer – and not Illenium the songwriter – to thank. He is one of many examples of the way in which I – as a popular music songwriter – have to step up my production game, not just my songwriting game, if I want to be the one really calling the shots.

Which I do.

See for reference: my anus.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

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