At a Glance
Primary Instrumentation, Tone & Mix
Hit Factor Assessment
Why it’s a Hit
Artist: Linkin Park
Song/Album: The Catalyst / A Thousand Suns
Songwriter(s): Linkin Park
Week on BB Chart: September 4, 2010
Chart Position: # 1 Billboard Rock Song
Sub Genre: Hard Rock/Synth Rock
First Chorus: n/a
Intro Length: 0:32
Outro Length: 0:25
Primary Instrumentation Type: Synth
Lyrical Theme: The impending destruction of society
Primary Lyrical P.O.V: 1st person
Section Length (Length of each individual section within the song)
Here it’s easy to pinpoint the two focal points within “The Catalyst.” First, the longest section of the song occurs in the bridge, at 1:25. This is not a surprise, since the song does not have any “B” sections, so a long departure from the “A” sections is definitely needed to provide the listener with some sort of “payoff”. Second, we have two “A” sections that both clock in at 0:57, comprising the crux of the song.
Structure Timeline (Shows when each section hits within the timeline of the song)
Total Section Analysis (Total time consumed by each section and its percentage of the total song)
“The Catalyst” differs from the vast majority of other current hit Rock songs in the sense that there is no proper chorus. The song is comprised primarily of the verse and bridge, totaling 67% of the entire song.
Momentum/Intensity Factor (Evaluation of the intensity of each section within the song timeline on a scale of 1 – 10, 10 being the most intense)
What’s great about “The Catalyst” is the way that the momentum and intensity keep building throughout the song, which in turn keeps the listener engaged especially in the absence of any chorus “payoffs.”
The song starts off serine before kicking in with the electronic drums and additional synth. The intensity continues to build during the 1st verse, first with the vocals, then followed by the introduction of the bass line, and ultimately followed by the vocal intensity growing toward the end of the section.
The turn-around then kicks things up a notch, and then blasts into a more energetic second verse, characterized by a frantic electronic drum beat, lead synth line and distorted electric guitar. The momentum is carried through the solo and the partial verse that follows, finally subsiding during the turn-around that leads into the bridge. Here once again the momentum and intensity build throughout the section, climaxing at the end right before the partial verse and outro section.
The intro does a very nice job of setting the tone and prepping the listener for the sonic journey that lies ahead. The synth and organ, followed by the snare / hat rhythm lead the listener seamlessly into the first verse.
Since there is no proper “B” section within the structure of “The Catalyst”, the “A” sections need to really deliver, and do it in a way that keeps the listener engaged throughout. “The Catalyst” pulls this off very well, though the use of momentum/intensity shifts, the addition of new instrumentation that creates a more interesting sonic pallet and lyrical content that is both well phrased and makes good use repetition (i.e. “God bless us everyone…”). In a way, it’s like having a verse and chorus fused into one throughout the song. The bottom line, and true mark of a well constructed song, is to keep the listener engaged. These verses definitely achieve that.
There is nothing spectacular about this synth lead solo, but it does work perfectly within the context of the rest of the song, leading the listener seamlessly into the partial verse right before the bridge.
As with the verse, the bridge also does a fantastic job of engaging the listener and taking them on a sonic journey. The momentum builds throughout, with the intensity being fueled by additional instrumentation, more intense vocals, and live drums. The lyrics are repetitive and well phrased – making the section very easy to remember. It builds to a great climax, before “letting the listener go” during the partial verse through the outro.
The instrumentation and vibe during the outro does a great job in “summing up” the song, placing the listener gently back on the ground after a very intense sonic ride.
As with the vast majority of current hit Rock songs, Linkin Park’s “The Catalyst” is ultra compressed for maximum sonic impact. There is a bit of breathing room from the intro through the turn-around into the second verse, as well as during the first part of the bridge. Other than that, it’s as loud as it can get without totally distorting.
Compares the song being analyzed to all Rock songs that have entered the Billboard Rock top 10: Q1 through Q3-2010.
The key elements present in “The Catalyst” are in-line with all year-to-date top 10 Rock hits EXCEPT:
- The song structure is completely different than the majority of top 10 Rock songs, most notably in the sense that it does not contain a chorus.
- The song length is 1:42 longer than the average.
- The primary instrumentation features a synth, as opposed to electric guitar in the majority of top 10 Rock song.
- The lyrical theme deals with the impending destruction of society. This differs from the majority of top 10 Rock songs, which deal with a personal development or love/relationship theme.
Does the song flow in a cohesive manner? Each section within “The Catalyst” flows seamlessly into one another, using shifts in momentum and intensity to take the listener on a sonic ride. This is done very well, and as a result the listener is kept engaged throughout.
How does the production stand up in maximizing the songs impact? What I like about this song is that the production really accentuates the intense raw vibe of the music. It’s not overly “slick” like so many other current productions and it really drives home the intensity factor contained within the fabric of the song.
Does the instrumentation and sound maximize the vibe of the song? The fusion of both analog and digital sounding instrumentation and effects, electronic and live drums and live guitar work perfectly together in creating an intriguing sonic landscape that is both unique sounding and works well in accentuating the vocal delivery and lyrical content.
Do the lyrics serve the song and jibe with the vibe of the music? The lyrics do a great job of creating imagery and communicating the dark, doom laden, and fear based outlook on society. They work in perfect tandem with the music in creating a frantic, uneasy vibe during the verse sections, and then an uplifting / positive vibe during the bridge.
Vocal Delivery: 8.5/10
Does the tonality and phrasing of the vocals maximize the songs impact? As mentioned earlier, the vocals are phrased well and make good use of repetition in creating a memorable melody. The “Leslie” style effect on the vocals does a great job in accentuating the overall vibe of the music and lyrics, creating an uneasy, futuristic themed feeling.
How easy is it to remember this song after you hear it once? Given that there is no chorus, the verse sections make good use of phrasing and repetition that aid in the overall memorability of the song. The “God bless everyone” theme does stick in your head after the first listen. The bridge is also repetitive and memorable as well.
Wow Factors: 4/10
Does this song possess any standout elements or special moments that aid in catapulting it to HIT status? There aren’t any “special moments” within the song that really stand out as “wow factors.”
Does the song provide the listener with a strong payoff (i.e. a hot chorus)? Since there isn’t a chorus, the bridge does a great job as functioning as “the payoff” for the listener. Throughout the song, the listener is bombarded by an ever increasing level of frantic momentum and intensity, and finally that is eased during the bridge, only to be built up again as it soars through the end of the section. It’s a good payoff in the absence of a chorus.
Does this song have its own unique vibe when compared to other songs/artists in the genre? In the current hit Rock genre, there aren’t too many songs, if any, that sound like “The Catalyst” or use this particular song structure. It does stand out amongst all others – both musically and structurally.
Does this song have what it takes to stand the test of time? Will it become a staple of the artist’s repertoire? I have no doubt that “The Catalyst” will be regarded as a highlight within Linkin Parks catalog for the rest of their career. It’s a unique song that has an unconventional structure and makes great use of momentum and intensity to create an engaging sonic landscape. That being said, will this song ever enter the “all time rock 100 list?” – I doubt it. However, I do think it is interesting enough to be pulled out from time to time to be given a good listen for years to come.
- “The Catalyst” makes great use of momentum and intensity shifts to keep the listener engaged in the absence of a “traditional” song structure (i.e. lack of a chorus).
- “The Catalyst” makes great use of repetition – both lyrical and phrasing – to foster memorability.
- Overall, “The Catalyst” has its own unique/original vibe in the current hit Rock genre.
- The song makes great use of emotion – both vocally and instrumentally, to create an engaging sonic landscape.
- There is nothing negative that I can say about “The Catalyst.” Overall it is a very well constructed, effective song.
There are four primary factors that worked together in catapulting “The Catalyst” to #1 on the Billboard Rock charts:
- Marketing/Promotion. “The Catalyst” is being promoted very effectively to maximize its reach and reception. This includes its use in the “Medal Of Honor” video game trailer, theme song for the Gundam Extreme VS game, the “Surviving the Cut” Discovery Channel commercials and others. There was also a contest on Linkin Park’s website where fans could download “The Catalyst” stems and compete for the best remix.
- Uniqueness/Originality. “The Catalyst” stands out amongst the vast majority of other songs in the current hit Rock genre due to its unique sound and song structure.
- Memorability/Vibe. “The Catalyst” makes good use of repetition, both vocally and instrumentally in creating a very memorable song.
- Emotion. The song takes the listener on an emotional rollercoaster, both through lyrical content, momentum/intensity shifts and changes in instrumentation to provide the listener with a very effective and engaging listening experience.
- No matter what type of song you’re composing, make sure that you make effective use of emotion to engage your listeners. You need to suck them into the song, and there is no better way to do that than to make them FEEL what you’re trying to convey in the song. Without effective emotion, the listener will be less apt to connect.
- If your song has an unconventional song structure, as with “The Catalyst”, make sure that you still have a section that provides a payoff for the listener, such as an intriguing bridge. If you don’t, the listener will get board and will probably not return for another listen.
- Remember to make use of repetition – both lyrically and vocal/instrumental phrasing to foster memorability within your song. “The Catalyst” pulls this off very well.
- Change up the tone and instrumentation between sections to accentuate the emotional impact of the song, as well as to keep the listener engaged.
- Effectively market your song!!! Like it or not, this is the music “industry.” Those who seek a plethora of strategically thought out outlets for their music will be the ones who are successful. Think of it this way – you can launch your career though the “back door” (i.e. without starting with a major label deal). Get your song licensed in commercials, films, video games, etc… You’ll gain tons of exposure this way, and you’ll have lots of marketing material to get the word out about the song and yourself as an artist. “The Catalyst” is perfect proof of this. And remember – it’s NOT “selling out.” It’s “SELLING.” And that’s what you need to do.