Pitched to perfection – the emotional effects of production and mixing

Image Credit: Nurina Iman Nizam

“Slowed and reverb”, “pitched to perfection”, “639Hz” – Andrew Nolan looks at how select methods of mixing can impact a song’s emotional significance.

Low-mood music is by no means a new trend. Music has been used as an expression of emotion for generations. With time, though, things naturally evolve. As more bouncy pop music came to the forefront, low-mood songs became an important counter and variation to charts otherwise filled with more breezy content. This is no different in modern times, as artists from sub-genres such as emo-rap see significant success. In an interesting turn from the norm, a newer method has seen increasing popularity these days – slowed and reverbed remixes. What this boils down to is pitching the song down and drawing it out for a more serene, melancholic effect. With these mixes becoming a more frequent commodity, what purpose do they serve in today’s music scene?

Do they carry significant merit, or are they nothing more than the whiskey-drinking gloomy cousin of the Nightcore trend that plagued YouTube for much of the 2000s?

Having seen a rise in popularity in recent times, it’s important to look at the original mixes that saw the trend blow up. Going from YouTube uploads, some of the earlier examples of these mixes gaining traction came from artists like Juice Wrld, Lil Peep and Lil Uzi Vert. It was rarely their upbeat releases that were given this treatment, with such mixes more reserved for more emotionally heavy tracks. Listening to this version of an already depressing song is certainly an experience. With a lowly intention from the off, there is no reliance on the mix to add anything – only accentuate what has already been written. What this creates is a much more visceral, gutting listening experience where heavy notes hit harder. Though, this process isn’t one reserved solely for already-sad music. A quick online search would yield results for a breadth of genres being mixed, even going as far as otherwise fast-paced metal tracks to beef the sound up further. For me, the most interesting is the mid-2000’s R’n’B/Pop. Artists such as Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, Kanye West, Ne-Yo and Nelly Furtado all yield popular results when searched for. What makes these editions so interesting is how they unlock a quality within familiar songs that could otherwise have gone unchecked. Relistening to a once lively 2000s classic that has been pitched down highlights a nostalgic underpinning that, while already present revisiting previous favourites, is dialled up a notch by these changes. Such feelings that stem from these versions are not hidden knowledge. There is a prevalent association with songs of this nature and those that self-identify with a very reflective, longing lifestyle. You need only search any vaguely sad song, followed by ‘Doomer Edit’ to see evidence of this.

The overall presentation highlights the nostalgic potential of the music, with the imagery supplementing this with a feeling of otherworldliness, providing excellent potential for escapism.

Another key aspect of slowed and reverbed songs is the visuals. These mixes are often accompanied by an animated loop, commonly from The Simpsons or a collection of anime. These clips are edited to fit a very Lo-Fi image, usually sprawled with VHS effects or other alterations to give off a vintage/80’s feeling. The key element of this package is the music, of course, but the imagery used goes some way to fill in a bigger picture. The overall presentation highlights the nostalgic potential of the music, with the imagery supplementing this with a feeling of otherworldliness, providing excellent potential for escapism.

Apologies in advance to the music purists among you, but I would nearly argue that this style of editing is the natural heir to the ‘unplugged’ variant of music from times passed. It is not necessarily a replacement, of course, as acoustic-style musicianship still occupies a broad space in today’s scene. Rather, it is an alternative and is more viable for genres dominating the forefront today that may not translate so well to a six-stringed rendition. With the increasing availability of quality production tools today, seeing an increase in electronic-based tracks, pitching the song down fits as a suitable workaround. It is a method that isn’t terribly hard to execute, manages to portray the same intimate, personal editions often found in acoustic versions, and has already amassed a wide listener base. Artists like DJ Screw highlight that this style of production is not a new one, and given its recent attention, it seems probable that interest in the style will only grow.

Given the direction popular music has gone in, it’s really intriguing to see how changes in production can allow for meaning to be conveyed through a fresh perspective. With a dedicated community working on songs from popular artists within the hour of release, it seems like the slowed and reverb method could become a musical mainstay. And as production tools evolve and more people become involved, it could evolve in a plethora of other ways.