Deconstructing 'Sing" By Ed Sheeran (Co-Written & Produced by Pharrell)

If you've not heard the track "Sing" by Ed Sheeran, you are doing yourself a disservice because it's a very well composed jam, and quite the departure from his original singer/songwriter/folky material in my opinion (Ed Sheeran fans, you can send hate mail here). Perhaps this is partly due to it being co-written and produced by Pharrell (which you can immediately tell in the drum tones), largely inspired by JT, or perhaps because he wants to appeal to a different audience in efforts to continue his successful career.

Regardless, when you have about four free minutes, go check out this track on Spotify, Youtube or Rdio (or watch the video below) because it'll get your blood flowing and I guarantee you'll subconsciously be singing the hook by the end of the two minute mark...by utilizing a simple scientifically a proven method, no joke. You can find the lyrics here.
 

Ed (yes, I now feel that we are on a first name basis after writing this long ass song breakdown) released "Sing" digitally on April 4, 2014 and performed it live on SNL on April 12...which is where I heard it for the first time. Not being an Ed Sheeran fan (not due to talent or the fact that he's written songs for successful artists, but more due to the genre he came up in), I decided to work on a few other things while having the TV on for noise in the background.

However, once I heard the drums and the funky strumming of his signature acoustic guitar, I Immediately thought, "Hold up, this is Ed Sheeran?" I then quickly searched for more information on the track, and found out that none other than Pharrell collaborated on it (as though his comeback last year wasn't strong enough already being on more than a handful of #1 hits).

Overall, this is a very well constructed song with minimal elements and HUGE groove. The only complaint I have is that it is immediately identifiable to a Justin Timberlake track ('Like I Love You' anyone?)....but when trying to keep afloat in this new modeled "streaming only", while charging more for concerts and merchandise industry, recycled material is the norm and has been for quite some time now.

So enough of my opinionated back story, let's get to the good stuff.

The purpose of this post is to break down the production of the track to somewhat of a micro level. As being a producer and composer myself, it's rare (from what I've found, but I'm a lazy internet surfer so you might have had more luck) that you'll find a blog online that solely focuses on the instrumentation and production, as opposed to the lyrics and all that other shit that is second nature to the way I work.

Example, when listening to this track for about the 50th time, my wife says,"Did he just say something to smoke? I didn't know he was that type of dude!" While I replied," What a clever use of a short break to jarr up the groove and have the bass lead in with the pick up...do you hear that phasing effect on the funky guitar line?" You can imagine how quickly that conversation came to an end. So here we go.

To keep things trackable I'm going to break down the song into it's various sections:
 
Sections Time (min:sec)
Intro  0:0 - 0:8
Vs 1 (A)  0:9 - 0:25
Vs 1 (B)  0:25 - 0:41
Chorus (A)  0:42 - 0:57; 2:02 - 2:18
Chorus (B)  0:58 - 1:14; 2:19 - 2:33
Chorus (C)*  1:15 - 1:29; 2:34 - 2:49; 3:22 - 
Vs 2  1:30 - 2:01
Bridge (A)  2:50 - 3:05
Bridge (B)  3:06 - 3:21

*The last time Chorus C comes in, it's "ooh" melody is overlaid over the lyrics and lyrical pattern of Chorus (A) & (B), a very typical technique used in pop-music.*
 
The Intro
  • The standard 4/4 time signature is introduced, as is common to mostly every up-beat song in the Pop genre.
  • Acoustic guitar (panned hard left/right) is EQ'd for a very bright and "light" string sound. No real "body" to it so that when other instruments are introduced, it sits well in the mix.
  • This section has the simplest guitar strumming pattern of the whole song, and are all essentially down-strokes.
  • Kick, snare and hat (which sound like they are sampled and are quickly identifiable if you listen to older hip hop) with a very simple kick-snare pattern to allow room for the funky strumming patterns we'll talk about shortly.
  • A "crackle" vinyl sound, which again, gives it's that hip hop feel right off the bat and is somewhat "breathing" (i.e. - cutting in/out) which again, leads me to believe that the drums are sampled or gated.
  • A female breathing sample and another voice sample, with some short delay.
  • Pitched MIDI "toms" or "electric-toms" (panned center), accenting the groove and are typical in Pharrell's arsenal of production tools.
Note that this arrangement comes back in the bridge, and the use of the female breath gives it somewhat of a subliminal "sexiness" feel, relating to the lyrical content.

VS 1 (A)
The lyrical pattern has a pick up (beats 3 and 4 of the last Intro measure) and paints the mood nicely..."It's late in the evening...". Then the mojo, or funkiness if you will, begins!
  • All drums and percussion drop out.
  • The acoustic guitar strumming changes to a very rhythmic pattern, and it sounds like two separate takes. One of the takes becomes just slightly left panned (~5-10%), to give room for the bass and vocals to sit well in the mix when they come back in. While the other take sounds about 40% panned to the right. The strumming pattern of the right panned guitar, although in theory the same as the slightly off-centered take, sounds like it has a tad of delay (most likely humanly created and not via a plug-in), with some of the main pattern's hits removed.
  • The electric guitar is introduced, with a duller tone so that the bright acoustic guitar tone can cut thru better in the mix. It sounds like it has a slight chorus effect on it, and if you listen carefully, pans from side to side with the tempo of the track, never staying in once place which is most likely caused by either automation or utilizing a flanger effect.
  • For the most part, the acoustic and electric guitar have the same strumming pattern (with the acoustic being more consistent), but do accent their hits together, at the end of each measure, for cohesiveness.
  • The bass is introduced, and has more of a "lead" sound (more high end and definition) to it as opposed to a traditional (more low end) "feel" to it. Which works well for the funky feel of this track.
  • Notice that when the guitar chord progression changes, the bass line changes as well and goes from a descending bass line to an ascending line.
  • The second half of each measures' bass line also follows the acoustic and electric guitar hits, again...creating cohesiveness and giving the listener the resolution we subliminally long for as listeners.
  • The e-toms are introduced in the 3rd and 4th measure of VS 1 (A), which signals that a change is coming.
VS 1 (B)
  • Now the drums come back in, and notice that every other time the bass line repeats it's A|B pattern, there is now a short slide introduced. The purpose for this? Don't know, but it sounds rad and adds character to the section.
  • There is an electric sound effect panned about 25 L/R, followed by a rising siren sound, which helps build up to the chorus.
Chorus (A)
  • Everything drops out except for the acoustic guitar and vocals. So think about it, we have a build up, and then a drop...sound similar to an EDM track? Yep, dynamics folks, it's what makes songs interesting.
  • The acoustic strumming pattern and chord progression changes.
  • The vocals are doubled and panned hard left and right (both 50%) which make them sound bigger, and there is a slight delay effect placed on these vocals.
Chorus (B)
  • Everything stays the same as in Chorus (A) but there is one HUGE difference...can you guess it before you look down?
  • We finally hear a backing harmonies! Yep, they are stacked, sound huge, and are mainly panned down the center, as well as hard L/R (hard panned).
  • To add some more excitement to these harmonies, the level of the center harmony is brought down dramatically at the end of each line while the hard panned melodies are maintained.
  • We then hear the same sound effect that lead us into Chorus (A) as well as Pharrell's signature voice kick us into the full-on Chorus (C) yelling "SING!", which is also the name of the track and one of the most significant things you'll remember after that very first listen (Coincidental? I think not!)
Chorus (C)
  • Now we've hit the "climax" and all instruments are back in the mix.
  • However, note that there are no vocal lines in this first chorus, just an "oh-oh-oh" pattern, and Pharrell yelling "Sing!" & "Louder!" Which is interesting...yet pretty damn genius at the same time because hey, let's be honest, after the first few listen's you're probably not going to remember the exact chorus lyrics (unless maybe you've got an amazing memory), but you sure as hell are going to be humming along with the melody, so why throw off your reiterative humming session with lyrics?
  • Listen carefully, the snare sample has changed, and it's got a short reverb tail panned hard right.
  • What I find interesting, is that there is no cymbal hits to introduce this part, which I guess is not needed (or really noticeable) due to the drum tone. However, I'm willing to bet they do the cymbal hits when it's played live.
  • There also MAY be a shaker pattern following the end of the each guitar measure, panned slightly right, maybe 10%, but really can't tell if it's just the acoustic strumming pattern...which is just so...damn...ill.
VS 2
  • Now the lyrical pattern has changed, most likely to keep the energy of the chorus going. Again, we see the lyrical pick up on notes 3 and 4 of the last chorus' measure.
  • However, as I mentioned before, at 1:38 there is a short instrumental break (with the bass line lead in) and sound FX to accent the lyrical line "...something to smoke", again, dynamics in tracks are key.
  • The bass line also keeps the slide at the end of every second measure.
Chorus (A)
  • This time around, everything is essentially the same as in the first Chorus (A), but now we have some of the the additional harmonies and effects introduced in Chorus (B). 
Chorus (B)
  • Everything is the same as the first time Chorus (B) appeared in the track.
Chorus (C)
  • Again, everything is the same as the first time Chorus (C) appeared in the track.
Bridge (A)
  • The acoustic strumming pattern, panning, snare tone and female breathing from the intro have been brought back.
  • The bass has been removed (which is why it feels like the low end drops out), but the tom pattern is still there.
Bridge (B)
  • The acoustic strumming pattern and panning maintain, but now a lead line, somewhat in-between strums is introduced.
  • The e-tom pattern maintains.
  • The sound effect is back, indicating that the chorus is coming!
Chorus (C)
  • Again, we "climax", with all instruments all full blast... BUT now Chorus (A) AND Chorus (B) vocals are integrated with the "oh-oh-oh's", bringing everything to resolution.
  • What's interesting, is that all the lead vocals are still hard panned L/R. I'm sure there is an image of these vocal lines panned center with some reverb to create presence, but barley noticeable in the mix.
  • The second time thru this last chorus, the harmonies are now brought in.
  • The sound effect comes back, signaling the outro.
And that's about it. Even though it looks like a lot when broken down into sections, this is a great example that  a "hit" song can be written with minimal instrumentation, as long as you've got the groove. Questions or corrections? Hit me up. ~AE|Beats

P.S. - Here are two awesome Youtube videos by Shawn Parrotte, which show you in real-time, how to play the guitar and bass lines for "Sing". Subscribe to his Youtube channel NOW!
 

4 comments

  • Jeff

    Jeff Sydney Australia

    Seen a few vids on this song but your one is the only one that truly makes sense. Fantastic job!! Only thing is that Ed does not seem to use a plectrum. How would he play it otherwise?

    Seen a few vids on this song but your one is the only one that truly makes sense. Fantastic job!!

    Only thing is that Ed does not seem to use a plectrum. How would he play it otherwise?

  • Alexander Ellis

    Alexander Ellis

    Hi Jeff, thanks so much for the kind words! From what I can tell in watching various studio and live videos of Ed, he uses a hand strumming technique where his thumb hits the bass notes on the acoustic, and his fingers fill in the rhythm. It takes some practice to get to the point where your thumb/fingers can play what you hear in your head at tempo, but once your hand muscles are trained, it's quite a fun technique to play around with rhythmically. I found this video for you that is quite a good example to get you started: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rglo0qMdmxs Cheers! ~AE|Beats

    Hi Jeff, thanks so much for the kind words!

    From what I can tell in watching various studio and live videos of Ed, he uses a hand strumming technique where his thumb hits the bass notes on the acoustic, and his fingers fill in the rhythm. It takes some practice to get to the point where your thumb/fingers can play what you hear in your head at tempo, but once your hand muscles are trained, it's quite a fun technique to play around with rhythmically.

    I found this video for you that is quite a good example to get you started: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rglo0qMdmxs

    Cheers! ~AE|Beats

  • Tyler Conde

    Tyler Conde USA

    [url=https://wwww.google.com]thanku[/url]
  • Alexander Ellis

    Alexander Ellis

    Hi Tyler, No problemo! I hope it helped. Have a great week. Best, Alex

    Hi Tyler,

    No problemo! I hope it helped. Have a great week.

    Best,
    Alex

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