Artist Background

The song “In The Air Tonight” was written and recorded by Phil Collins. Collins started his career as drummer for the band Genesis. Following departure of the band lead singer Peter Gabriel and failure to replace him, Collins took the front man job and became Genesis new voice. In 1978, the band took a break after touring the USA and all the three remaining band members, Collins included, started working on solo projects (Fielder, 1979)

Collins wrote and started the recording in his home studio using a Brennel “mini 8” one inch – eight tracks reel-to-reel tape machine. Collins built the song out of a drumbeat he had configured on a very early days drum machine, a Roland CR-78. He then added synths and piano using a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 and a Fender Rhodes.
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Collins came up with the lyrics as he was singing, basically improvising. A drum track was also recorder for the final choruses but with neither the iconic sound nor drum fill we all now know the song for (Flans, R., 2005).
The “Face Value” album was recorded and engineered by Hugh Padgham at the now closed Townhouse Studio in London (Baker, 2015). The original home studio eight-tracks recording was transferred to the studio Ampex MM1200 24 tracks 2 inches tape recorder. Collins sang and re-recorded the voice’s tracks, as the original demo did not carry sufficient quality. Bass lines and guitars were also added there after and in a L.A. studio. The Stone room at Townhouse Studio, London (but not Collins’ drum kit)

Instruments Used

Roland CR-78
Drum Machine – Roland CR-78
Guitars – high distortion and delays
Pads – Sequential Circuits Prophet 5
Prophet 5
Guitars – high distortion and delays
Electric Piano – Fender Rhodes

Released: 1981
Duration: 5:36 min
Tempo: 95 Bpm
Key Signature: 4/4
Key: D minor

The Song Structure

The Song structure is quite simple. A long Intro leads to first a Chorus, first Verse, a second Chorus, the second Verse and then the Chorus is repeated three times with fades out in the last one. The opening picture gives a better overview. The song starts with a slow single instrument, the drum machine, and gradually builds up in to a climax of drums, bass and keys. The overall volume of the mix is constantly increasing until the final choruses.

The Intro is 20 bars long. It starts with the drum machine, the Roland CR-78, on its own for the first two bars. The toms like sound are are pan to the left but the kick and snare are more centered. There is also a hi-hat sound. Then the first guitar “growl” comes in like a razor sound stretching over the next 6 bars.
Then the pads are introduced, maintaining a single chord during 4 bars and opening the space for some guitars leads notes sounding like whales songs. The pads are pan on the left with a 100 msec delay applied to the right channel. Keyboards start play the chorus distinctive chord pattern for another 8 bars.

This is not really a hook properly say but it is the first melodic component we hang on too. Still in the intro, the electric piano start playing single notes in the background making it sound like “Morse code” contributing to a broader sonic landscape. This sets the sound for Collins to start signing the Chorus for a first time.

The Chorus is 16 bars long. It basically carries on with the intensity, the sound and instruments introduce in the intro. More piano sound is brought up half way in and the same initial guitar “Growl” is re-introduced for the last 4 bars of this first chorus. Then Collins jumps right away in the first verse for more sound built up.
Verse 1, also 16 bars, is supported by more piano notes and a slow build up of guitar sounds, repeating the growling and introducing more whales like sound licks.
The build up carries on in the second chorus. More guitar licks are introduced and the overall mix volume is increased. More importantly, half way in this chorus, at bar 60, a second melodic pattern is introduced using high pitch notes. This melody also contributed to building the rhythm build up within the song. Then the last chord of the chorus is held on for 4 bars to introduce the second verse.

The opening line of the second verse, the “Well I Remember” is sang through a Vocoder. This instrument allows the voice to electronically shape the “envelope” of a keyboard sound. This results in a dramatic effect. It creates a “stop” like effect while maintaining most of the other instruments, enforcing with the audience that something big is coming, but not yet.
In verse 2, delays and echoes are use to add on the sound complexity, another form of build up. On the vocal, a ¼ note dynamic delay is use to extend the end of phrases . The guitar licks and always present in multiple layers. The Vocoder is re-introduced for more dramatic effect.

Finally, the iconic drum fill comes in at the end of the verse and lead to the final choruses, 3, 4 and 5. Another unusual aspect of this song is the fact Collins did not use any cymbals for such a dramatic finish. Collins is known for using Gretsch drums, amongst others but in the early 1980 was endorsing Pearl drums. He plays left hand and normally use single headed toms. His preferred kit includes 20″ Bass Drum, 18″ Floor Tom, 16″ Floor Tom, 15″ Mounted Tom, 12″ Tom, 10″ Tom, 8″ Tom, 14″x4″ Snare. On the initial drum fill, the toms are pan from left to right, which correspond to what you would hear if you were standing in front of the kit, contrary to a right handed drummer.
Also at this point, bar 89, the Bass guitar and bass drone are introduced followed soon at bar 91 by high pitch string drones. The string drones introduce another melodic part, which contribute to the overall rhythm and “motion” effect of the chorus .

The recording

The drum sounds is another important element of the songs. It was recorded at the Townhouse Studio. It is based on a technic call “Gated Reverb” Padgham had developed during previous studio session with Peter Gabriel. It is based on placing the microphones (room mics) several meters from the drum kit and sending a highly compressed signal to a reverb effect unit via an automatic “gate” control. The session was conducted using a mixture of high quality microphones, with only two close microphones for the kick and snare, and the SSL mixing console reverse talkback microphone, already highly compressed.

The elements of the song that I will take inspiration for my own work are the distorted sound of the guitar, I will try to recreate this distorted guitars sound by using gain structure and a couple of plugins.The use of dynamic range is a powerful tool as it brings interest to the ear panning vocals and instruments to flavor the song.

References, Phil Collins Face Value Credits. Retrieved from
AZLyrics (n.d.), Phil Collins Lyrics, Retrieved from
Baker, Keiligh, (2015, December 1), ‘World’s best’ recording studios where Sir Elton John made Candle In The Wind are converted into £2million luxury townhouses, Daily Mail, UK. Retrieved from
Brennel mini 8 Tape Recorders, Retrieved from
Drummer World (n.d.), Phil Collins, Retrieved from
Fielder, H. (1979, October 27), The return of… Getting it together in the Country. Sounds. Retrieved from
Flans, R. (2005, January 5th), Classic Tracks: Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”, Mix Online, Retrieved from
Owsinski, B. (2012, April 12th), Phil Collins “In The Air Tonite” Song Analysis, The Big Picture Music Production Blog, Retrieved from
Songfacts website (n.d.), In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins
Retrieved from
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, (2016, October 26), Phil Collins Shares the Real Story Behind “In the Air Tonight”, Retrieved from
Vintage Synth Web Site, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Retrieved from
West, D. (2014, February 5th), Classic Drum Sounds:”In The Air Tonight”, Music Radar,

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