+ This video lesson is excerpted from Grammy-winning pop artist, Kimbra’s Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production course on Soundfly.
“‘Madhouse’ was a really fun song to work on. It started with Thundercat just warming up on the bass, and he just kind of went ‘blooblidobloop, blooblidobloop…” ~ Kimbra
Kimbra’s “Madhouse” is a song that evokes, well, madness, and the hypnotic sweaty atmosphere of a party dance floor that draws us all in.
The vocal character she occupies and plays here is our vehicle into and through this story, and it all starts with a creepy vocal tone bed, drenched in phase effects.
This is something she talks about in a variety of ways in her exclusive Soundfly course, Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production. In this video borrowed from the course, Kimbra discusses how “Madhouse” came together based on jam sessions with friends, including Thundercat. Here’s the song:
“Madhouse” started with her and some friends jamming on a cool-sounding bass line. Kimbra started experimenting with and looping some vocal harmonies to create a background bed on which she could start to build. From there, she began singing little phrases without real words, with effects on her voice to help her get into it.
The first “feelings” she started to get from the song were creepiness and eeriness, so she kept pushing in that direction. She loved a specific “ooor” sound she was making, so turned it into the word “more,” and began to move the song toward a theme of greediness.
The entire process of writing the song is a great example of how every part of Kimbra’s process informs the other parts. The melody helps push the lyrics, which then inform the production, which then reflect back on the melody again, and so on. This is a theme we see throughout Kimbra’s course, and she dives deeper into the multiple approaches an artist can take to create song and music.
Here are the lyrics to “Madhouse:”
One of the best ways to learn more about melody is through transcription. Figuring out what pitches and rhythms are in a melody can help you you analyze it, understand it, and make practical observations about it that you can use in your own writing.
“Madhouse” contains a number of interesting melodic phrases, including:
- The main verse melody that starts at 0:18,
- Lots of background fills and countermelodies throughout played on synths or vocals,
- The pre-chorus at 0:52,
- The chorus melody, which starts at 1:00 or so,
- The bridge melodies that start around 2:18 or so,
- The post-chorus melody at 2:36 or so.
Do you have any favorite melodic moments in the song? If so, pick one or two and transcribe them. Figure out what the notes and rhythms are. If you’re comfortable with music theory, think about how the melody is interacts with the song’s harmony as well.
Don’t stop here!
Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with artist-led courses by Ryan Lott, Com Truise, Jlin, Kiefer, and Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production.