Song Analysis: Porter Robinson & Madeon – Shelter

The world is a strange place.

The first song analysis that I published two weeks ago was on Porter Robinson’s Divinity. The second? Pay No Mind by Madeon ft. Passion Pit.

No more than two days after posting the Madeon analysis, a collaboration between him and Porter Robinson comes out.

I had at least three people tell me that that had to be the next song analysis. It’s only fair.

So, this week, we’ll be looking at Porter Robinson & Madeon – Shelter. It’s a brilliant tune.

Take a listen…

Arrangement: Step-by-step

Here’s the overview. You can check out the Google Sheet here (make a copy of it yourself if you want to edit it) or click the image below to enlarge it.

This is not complete, as I couldn’t have realistically included every little detail. But the main elements are there.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Bars 1-8 (Intro)

The intro is a slimmed-down version of the drop. It uses the same chord progression, which is first played by sustained pad before being overlaid by a pluck sound.

The pluck sound, playing rolling 16th notes, sounds like it’s a closed version of the main saw synth used in the drop.

The intro can be split up in to two sections. The second section (bars 4-7) is a mini build-up, and in terms of energy, it’s about halfway between the drop that follows and the first four bars 0f the intro that precedes it. This bridges the gap well.

During this section section, we hear:

  • Drums: namely, a tonal snare and hi-hat (you can also hear a ride cymbal near the end). A kick is played on the first beat of bar 5.
  • The vocal chops play in full (during the first four bars, the vocal chop melody sounds slightly distorted and possibly low-passed a little).
  • An arpeggiated pluck playing in the background.
  • A filtered version of the drop instrument (pluck/supersaw)

Bars 9-16 (Drop 1)

The first drop is identical to the first 8 bars of the second drop. Because of this, I would not call it part of the intro.

However, it’s similar to the intro, because, like I said, the intro is just a slimmed-down version of the drop. The chord progression remains the same. The vocal chop melody is still there. The difference is that there’s drums, a bassline, the full, open synth and a crash cymbal added every four bars.

There are some minor elements which are harder to pick out: a short flute stab that plays on bar 13, and a “whiney” sound that plays on the last beat of the same bar. A legato square-wave synth plays exactly one bar later (on the last beat of bar 14), and leads nicely into the last two bars.

Note: The hi-hat pattern is different in the drop compared to the second half of the intro. You can hear it rolling in certain places and playing eighth notes occasionally. A similar pattern (or the same?) plays during the second half of the verse following the drop.

Bars 17-24 (Verse 1)

The energy drops completely. The vocal chop melody disappears and we’re introduced to a heavily-processed vocal (not sure exactly what’s on it but I’m pretty sure there’s a phaser at least).

An electric organ/piano sound plays the underlying chord progression which can be heard in isolation before a muted guitar is introduced along with some basic drums, providing a strong rhythm.

Two bars later, the verse starts building up. The rolling hi-hat fills out the high-end along with a gritty bass sound playing rolling 16ths.

Bars 25-32 (Chorus 1)

The drums disappear. A strong pad is layered on top of the e-piano, and the chorus lyrics come in.

A pluck sound (with a ton of reverb) plays on beats 2 & 4 to add tension. If you listen closely, you can hear that this is layered with a cymbal. This pluck sound also plays in the background during the second half of the verse.

The second half of the chorus (bars 29-32) is similar to the second half of the intro. We hear a tonal snare come in, but this time it has a short ping-pong delay on it (and it sounds like it’s a different sample entirely). An arp also plays over the top, but it’s more prominent than the arp in the intro.

The removal of the snare, and the filter automation on the pad help ease the transition. The snare roll during the last bar builds nicely into the drop.

Bars 33-48 (Drop 2)

The first half of the second drop is the same as the first drop, so there’s not much to talk about there.

The second half is slightly different. When a 16-bar chorus that contains two of the same 8-bar phrases, it will almost always “lift” during its second half to add more energy. Shelter is no exception.

So how does it lift?

There’s really only one major change, and it happens during the first four bars of the lift section. The chords and bass play continuously rather than stopping on the last beat.

If you listen to the first half of the chorus, you’ll hear that the chords and bass abruptly stop on the last beat of the first two bars of the progression. But during the second half, this doesn’t happen until bar 45.

Key takeaway? You don’t have to change or add much to lift a chorus. Something as simple as an extended pattern can suffice.

Bars 49-56 (Verse 2)

Verse 2 differs from verse 1.

It uses the same e-piano/pad combination, but plays a different chord progression.

I unfortunately didn’t have the patience to work out what the chord progression consists of, but there is something interesting about it.

You’ll hear that it descends during the first two bars. It’s going down, right? Now, compare this to the chorus that follows. The chord progression during the chorus ascends. It’s going up. This contrasts nicely with the verse.

Bars 57-64 (Chorus 2)

It’s worth noting that both the second verse and chorus have less energy than the first verse and chorus.

This second chorus seems to have one less vocal layer, or something. I can’t exactly tell. It lacks the same depth the first chorus does.

It also doesn’t feature the tonal snare or arp we hear during the first chorus. (Actually, the arp be there in the background.)

Of course, it doesn’t need to feature any of the tension-building elements the first chorus contained, because it’s not the section building tension into the drop. As we’re about to see…

Bars 65-72 (Pre-Drop)

I didn’t know what else to call it. Pre-drop sounds cool.

This section is again, a slimmed-down version of the chorus, similar to the second half of the intro but with obvious differences.

The vocal chops and chord/bass progression both have phasers and/or flangers on them, contributing to the “thin” sound.

The hi-hats continue playing in the background alongside the same tonal snare we hear in the intro.

Bars 73-80 (Drop – Final)

The final drop is similar to the lift drop (bars 41-48) but the bassline is slightly different. Compare bar 75 with bar 43 and you’ll hear it.

Bars 81-92 (Chorus – Outro)

The final chorus is awesome. It keeps everything going: the drums, synths and bass, but plays the chorus chord progression and brings the vocal back in.

The rhythm is broken up starting bar 85, which signals the song coming to an end.

The outro itself doesn’t feel concluding. The lyrical phrase doesn’t complete (it ends on “until….” and you never hear “your gone..”)

It still sounds like an ending, but it doesn’t sound quite complete, which makes me think it’s part of a bigger project (and leads into another song).


Key Takeaways:

#1: Feature the drop early

It’s normal to have an early drop/chorus in pop music. Most listeners have short attention spans.

You can use this to your advantage. An early drop keeps new listeners engaged. If you take too long to build to the main part of your track, the part where you let everything loose and impress the listener, then they’re going to skip your song and listen to something else.

Of course, this can’t apply to all genres. If you’re making trance or a more progressive style of music, it’s a given that your track will “peak” later in the arrangement. With that said, think about how you can engage the listener from the beginning, and have some sort of high-energy section early on.

#2: Vocal as melody

The vocal chops in Shelter sound like they come from the recorded vocal. These vocal chops make up the primary melody in the drop.

If you’re making a vocal track, why not try making a melody from the existing recording rather than picking a synth? Vocal chops generally sound a lot more interesting than a simple pluck or lead sound.

#3: Pre-drop/fake drop

Song too short? Need a better way to transition into a chorus or drop? Do the same thing Porter & Madeon have done before the final drop. That is, add a pre-drop.

Take the elements in your chorus or drop, slim them down, chuck on a bunch of effects to thin it out, and use it to build into your drop. This is not a new tactic, plenty of artists do this.

Hope this analysis helped! And please, that’s enough Porter and Madeon for now. I’ll pick something that us mere mortals can emulate next time.

Comment below with your thoughts! 

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