This month Rolling Stone and Kanye West’s Blog are going all bats**t over Producer, The Dream‘s claim to be producing some of the biggest hits around in either 20 minutes or an hour. I want to discuss some of the disconnects with reality that this assertion makes. While his claim may be partially true, it is not the whole truth.
So why are my panties in a ruffle over The Dream‘s proclamation of writing these hits in no time whatsoever??? It isn’t the whole truth! I also know many people are thinking they can do the same, which is another falsehood.
The Dream brags he wrote Rhianna’s “Umbrella” in just 20 minutes. One of the first things we need to discuss is context. The current zeitgeist of Hip-Hop happens to be very minimal arrangements. Tracks like Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop”, T.I.’s “Live Your Life”, etc. could not be more minimal. Gone are the days of Public Enemy “Don’t Believe The Hype” sound collages with numerous changes and layers. When played in context next to one of today’s hits, like “Right Round” by Flo-Rida, the tracks are dramatically more simple (not that this is a bad thing, but I am trying to show context). Hip-Hop, in many cases, has been simplified down to a Lowest Common Denominator approach to arrangements. “Umbrella” incorporates a few simple loops, only two preset Garageband drum beat loops (with no real variation in them), and barely a bassline to be had. I will not doubt that many a songwriter could come up with something as simple as this in 20 minutes. However, his talent lies in the fact that the track doesn’t get in the way of what makes this song great: the vocals! What did not take 20 minutes to write is the true genius of this song – two of the best vocalists in the game, giving great performances on a track. Anyone who has seen the genius that is Jay-Z at work in Fade To Black, knows the man does work quick, but he also pushes himself hard and refines his work as he goes. I have no doubt The Dream may have written Rhianna’s vocal lines, but as someone who has recorded many a vocal, I will assert that performance took more then 20 minutes to tweak out, write and then edit. When discussing a song as vocal based as this one and saying it was written in 20 minutes, is to say you cooked a turkey in an hour and neglect the time it took to prepare an amazing stuffing.
Now we come to the video, where The Dream makes his claim of writing two hits in under an hour. Yes, it seems the bare bones of the song are written in the one hour, but what makes these songs great are the tweaked and perfected vocal parts. We do not see Mariah Carey record her vocals in this video, which is one of the big hooks of the song. As well, anyone who has ever been around a professional mixer at work, knows the wonders they work on a arrangement and the energy they bring to a track. This video neglects these details, in addition to the all-important tweaks you make when laying down and revising a Vocal to a Pop Song. These little details are often what makes and breaks a Pop Song.
Why You Are Probably Not Living The Dream
Despite the hype, the main reason The Dream is able to make these “marathon hits” is the talent he employs on the mic (himself included). Most likely, you will not be around this level of vocal talent to fall back on. The Editors, Mix Engineers who make a track like this great, are expensive and when you are trying to get noticed they won’t be there to help without a trust fund. The strategy of getting a song done as fast as possible, and employing minimalist arrangements are something for you to do after you have achieved access and success. If you think you are going to be the next songwriter to “Live The Dream”, I would not recommend trying to imitate The Dream‘s model until you have some talented people to fall back on.