Decoding: Jacknife Lee – “Hit the Bell”

With our current “Hit the Bell” remix challenge, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at the original track to see what makes it tick and bring you remixers some tips from the Soundation team. 

Jacknife Lee is an Irish music producer who has worked with artists like R.E.M., Katy Perry, Crystal Castles, The Killers, Bloc Party and The Cars, to name a few. With the wide variety of styles, it’s no surprise that his solo works are a mishmash of different genres, and “Hit the Bell” is no exception. The mix of afrobeat, electronica, and hip hop is hypnotic, effervescent and easy to dance to.

Arrangement

The arrangement of “Hit the Bell” follows a common structure of intro, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, breakdown, chorus.

The second verse subverts expectations by being 4 bars shorter than the first one. It also uses less percussion and takes out the lead synth. This keeps it fresh and moving forward. Throughout the track, Jacknife does a good job of adding and removing parts to keep the listeners on their toes. Having small fills here and there is also a great technique for that. The breakdown breaks the routine of the track and changes it up every 4 bars. 

When you’re remixing, you’re free to move around all these different parts and create your own arrangement. There is no right or wrong way to do it. You can even create your own sections, like adding build-ups and drops. 

Everything seems to be in constant subtle motion, which makes us believe there is a lot of automation going on. If you want to use automation to add movement to your remix, get Premium. A very common thing to automate is the cutoff of a filter to make it sound like the sound is growing.

Instrumentation

The track is fairly minimal, focusing on the groove and the rich sound design. The main instruments are drum machines, hand drums, synth bass and synth leads.

The synths are drifting around in pitch, which makes them sound a lot more organic, as live instruments are rarely tuned or played perfectly. They are also quite percussive, blending with the drums and adding to the rhythmic groove. 

You’ll probably want to add your own music in the remix, and there are a few different options. One way is using virtual instruments. We recently added some great new synth presets and drum kits for the SPC. Another way is by using loops and samples, which you can find plenty of in the library. If you’re a musician, recording live instruments can be a great compliment to all the synths in the original. 

If you want to record/import audio or access more samples in the library, make sure to upgrade to Premium, free for 1 month.

Vocals

The verses are energetically delivered by Canadian rapper Haviah Mighty, and the choruses are beautifully sung by Sneaks. Both vocalists have adlibs (extra vocal takes) to accent certain parts or for decoration. Sometimes these get heavily treated by effects like distortion, tuning and reverb to make them stand out. 

The vocals are usually the most important to keep in the remix, but you don’t have to keep everything or leave it untouched. Feel free to chop them up and remove what doesn’t fit your vision. You can even record your own rap verse or vocals!

Rhythm

The tempo is 93 BPM in 4/4, which is perfect for hip hop, chillout, downtempo and electronica. It’s best to stay in this tempo unless you know what you’re doing. Below, you will see the rhythmic pattern with orange marking the kick, green marking the snare and with cyan representing the other components.

Original Rhythm


If you want a faster feel, you can go double-time. Even though this sounds like 186 BPM, we’re still in 93 BPM. This could be good for drum and bass, drumstep, neurofunk or hardcore.

Double-Time Rhythm Example


You can also go half-time for a slower feel well-suited for ballads or breakdowns.

Half-Time Rhythm Example

Harmony 

The key is E Mixolydian. If that sounds like gibberish to you, all you need to know is that the scale notes are E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, and D.

If you’re feeling brave, you can use other similar keys. A major and F# minor both use the exact same notes and E major only has one different note, a D# instead of a D. These are more common keys, so if you want to search the library for loops and samples, you can try any of them.

Rap is not tonal, so if you take out all of the music, you can virtually choose any key to back up the verses. It’s a different story for the sung choruses that have a clear melody. 

There are no clear-cut chords, but the song is anchored with a constant E-note played by the kick and bass. The ambiguous nature of the harmony makes it very malleable. You can use your own chords to take it wherever you want. 


Here are a few chords you could try that theoretically will sound great with the song:

E major

B minor 

A major 

D major 

C# minor 

F# minor 

For example, here is a chord progression using B minor, A major, D major, E Major, and C# minor.

The main melody is playing the notes D, B, E, G#, and C# in a syncopated pattern, which means it’s mainly played between the solid 4/4 beats.

Collaboration

“Hit the Bell” is a collaboration of three different artists that are mixing their styles. By remixing the track, you’re part of that collaboration. To further this collab-ception you can use Collab Live to work on the remix with friends. Download the stems (audio files) from the remix page, import them into a collab project and invite whomever you want!

Mix

When you finish your remix, don’t forget the basics. The most important things to check are the volume and pan of each channel. Ensure that everything sounds balanced, nothing sticks out too much or is buried beneath everything else. And use the stereo field to give the mix width but also stability in the middle. Kick, snare, bass, and vocals are often centered while everything else can be panned. 

The original mix is very heavy on the sub-bass and has a vintage warmth to the treble. This makes it have power and thickness and the vocals remain super clear without having to be so loud. A tip for shaping the tone is to use the Parametric EQ to carve out the frequencies that cloud the mix. Upgrade to Premium to use it.

The mix is fairly dry, meaning it’s using minimal amounts of effects like reverb and delay. This makes it sound very clear and defined. Because of its dryness, you are able to add effects to your liking. It’s a lot easier to add effects than to take them away. 

Delay and reverb are used in excess for certain small parts to add drama. The contrast between the dry and wet will grab the listener’s attention. It can be a good idea to automate the dry and wet to get the same effect in your remix.

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