"Mute Button" Technique & False Lyrical Beginning & Ending
Drake knows how to get in people’s heads.
Just ask Meek Mill – last year Drake burned the man so badly with two diss tracks that Mill publicly apologized for having started their beef.
Drake didn’t stop there though. The same day those two tracks dropped, so did the massively successful Hotline Bling. The song has since cracked the Top 10 on over 20 charts worldwide.
While Hotline Bling’s video and Drake’s unique, widely parodied dance moves certainly helped expose the song to the masses, it was the strength of the song itself that kept people listening. When you dig down deep, you’ll find that it contains a host of clever composition and production techniques that put it over the top.
In this article, excerpted from our Hotline Bling Deconstructed Report, we examine two of them – the “false” lyrical beginning and ending, and the strategic use of the “mute button technique.”
Many songs that chart in the Hot 100’s Top 10 conclude with a “false” (abrupt) ending, which is a psychological tool that leaves the listener hanging and wanting more. This is usually employed by abruptly cutting off the backing instrumentation.
Hotline Bling features a unique spin on this concept, using it at both the beginning AND the end of the song:
The intro features a partial tease of the first line of the chorus that follows:
“You used to call me on my…”
“You used to, you used to…”
Its incomplete and disjointed nature keeps the listener hanging on in anticipation of the resolution/payoff that follows in the chorus:
“You used to call me on my cell phone”
The same technique is employed at the end of the last chorus. Here, Drake teases the listener with the the line that begins every verse:
“Ever since I left the city”
However, an additional verse/new narrative material never comes. The listener is left hanging as the accompaniment abruptly shifts to the instrumental sample that leads the listener out.
Unlike many songs that chart in the Top 10, Hotline Bling doesn’t possess a great deal of variety in the accompaniment or vocals throughout the song. Additionally, the chorus and verse section groupings (waves 1 and 2 in the graph below) don’t possess pronounced fluctuations in their respective Energy levels.
In order to help keep the engagement factor of the song at a high, variety and contrast are cleverly imparted via the strategic use of the “mute button.”
Pronounced energy level shifts are instituted on the first line of each section save for the intro, as well as on the first line of the second stanza in each verse section. This is put into effect by the accompaniment being pulled out from under the vocal:
Blue font: Accompaniment is removed
Red font: Accompaniment is reinstated
- Chorus 1 (Part Y) into Verse 1 (Part X): “Ever since I left the city you”
- Verse 1 (Part X) into Verse 1 (Part Y): “’Cause ever since I left the city you”
- *Verse 1 (Part Y) into Chorus 2 (Part X): “You used to call me on my cellphone”
- Chorus 2 (Part Y) into Verse 2 (Part X): “Ever since I left the city you-you-you”
- Verse 2 (Part X) into Verse 2 (Part Y): “’Ever since I left the city you”
- *Verse 2 (Part Y) into Chorus 3 (Part X): “You used to call me on my cellphone”
- Chorus 3 (Part Y) into Bridge (Part X): “These days all I do is wonder”
- *Bridge (Part Y) into Chorus 4 (Part X): “You used to call me on my cellphone”
- **Chorus 4 (Part Y) into Outro (Part X): “Ever since I left the city”
The accompaniment is reinstated on the last lyric of each line save for chorus 4, which thrusts the energy level back up. Notice that the repetitive nature of this technique functions as a hook in its own right (i.e. arrangement hook), considering that it’s in effect throughout the song and takes the song’s infectious and memorable nature to the next level.
*These solo vocal pickups are followed by a partial return of the accompaniment in (i.e. percussion and organ sample +/- sub bass). The full accompaniment returns in part Y that follows.
**No vocal follows. Instead it goes into the sampled percussion and hi-hat/cross stick.
I=Intro, A=Verse, B=Chorus, C=Bridge, O=Outro, X/Y=First/Second Half of the Section, PU=Pick Up
Considering that all four choruses in the song possess an almost identical nature, an arrangement shift is instituted at the beginning of each in order to prevent cookie-cutter monotony from occurring.
This is cleverly achieved by muting certain instruments at the beginning of each chorus. As a result, each subsequent chorus save for the last begins in a sparser manner than the one that precedes it.
Chorus 1 (B1): The first chorus features the full accompaniment right from the get go (accompaniment type 1a)
Chorus 2 (B2): The electronic drums and hi-hat + cross-stick from the first chorus are muted in the first half (part X) of the second chorus (accompaniment type 2a). The full accompaniment returns in the second half of the section, part Y.
Chorus 3 (B3): The electronic drums and hi-hat + cross-stick PLUS the sub bass (accompaniment type 3a) are muted. This occurs in the first half of part X. The sub bass is reintroduced in the second half of part X, followed by the full accompaniment returning in part Y.
Chorus 4 (B4): The last chorus in the song features the same arrangement characteristics as chorus 2.