Production Breakdown: Road Trippin ’83

Hey everyone. Mark Marshall with theproaudiofiles.com and guitaristmarkmarshall.com.

In this production breakdown, I’m going to talk about a song that me and my wife Abby Ahmad were composing for a TV spot, and the concept was to go pretty early 80’s here, which meant for me, I knew I wanted some Linn drums, and I wanted some Juno synths, and I knew that I was going to want to treat guitars a certain way. I think it’s good to think about this when you’re going into production, so it’s not really always a surprise. Though some surprises are good, you have a little bit of a trajectory, right?

So for the guitars, I knew I was going to want to use Fender Stratocasters, and chorus, and flanging, reverb was going to be important, and the overdrive sounds weren’t going to be too heavy for this particular style of the early 80’s sound I was going for. The guitar tones were a little influenced by The Cars, some late 70’s, early 80’s Cars songs.

Let’s listen to this song and then I’ll break it down.

[mix]

Let’s start with the drums.

I was using some drum loops from the Joey Waronker Loop Loft Collection.

[drums]

I did a little bit of cutting and stuff just to arrange the parts for what I was looking for.

What I did is I doubled that with these Linn drums. I’ll show you the plug-in quickly here. Okay, it’s from V Prom. Linn drums are such quintessential 80’s drum machine sounds. You can hear them on so many songs. Love is a Battlefield, Pat Benatar, I think Take On Me from A-Ha is also Linn drums. You can look it up, you can find a lot of tracks that were revered from that era were using this drum machine.

Here’s both of them together.

[drums with Linn drums]

I’m going to add in the step sequencer. Actually, it’s called an arpeggiator. These were big in the 80’s. They were found on several keyboards, but the Roland Juno 106 had an arpeggiator, and I thought this was important for the track.

[drums and Juno synth]

Along with that, I want to have an electric bass sit below it, but I didn’t want a really tubby, big, traditional sounding bass, so I played this.

[drums, synth, and bass]

You could hear I’m using a pick with that. I used the SVT plug-in, which I turned down the bass on, and I cranked up the volume so that it was getting a little gritty. Now, I ran that into a compressor, and the big trick with the compressor was I set it so that there was just a little attack that would come through, and then it would clamp down really hard, especially because I had a lot of compression on it, it was almost more like an effect than what you would traditionally do for most normal bass sounds.

I just really wanted to get that pick attack just to pop through so that it would cut through the mix a little bit.

The acoustic guitar part in this was recorded using a Martin HD35, which is a very warm and open sounding guitar, and I knew that I wanted this to be a little brighter. I was thinking a little bit more like The Cure kind of vibe.

So I did a lot of EQing on the way in. I used this Neve 1073 plug-in.

So radically EQ’d the acoustic guitar so that it didn’t have a lot of low end.

[acoustic guitar]

I also sent it to a buss that I had this AMS Neve reverb plug-in, but I had it set to chorus. Chorus was really big in the 80’s, so I used it pretty liberally in this song.

We’re going to start getting into these Cars and early 80’s guitar sounds. I was playing power chords with a Stratocaster into this pedal here, which is the KLON KTR. I really like this for this type of clean, yet mildly compressed, overdriven guitar sounds.

It cuts off the low end a little bit, which I think is flattering for this type of music. Around this time, they were using a lot of solid state amps, like the Roland Jazz Chorus, and things like that, so tube warmth and a lot of these things we associate with the 60’s and 70’s weren’t necessarily appropriate for this era of recording.

I had the KLON set fairly low, it’s not really distorting that much, it’s just kind of taking the frequency range and just squeezing it in a bit.

I used the Softube Vintage Amp room for the amp sim. When I open this up, there’s a few adjustments I immediately make. One is I like to move this microphone a lot closer. It may not be right up against the grille, but I’ll get it a lot closer than the stock setting.

I turn the vibrato off. I don’t know why they chose to have that on immediately all the time. And of course, I roll back the volume. We’re not looking for tons of amp overdrive for this type of music.

The bass is often a little too exaggerated for my tastes, so I’ll move that back a bit. I may or may not turn on the bright switch, depending on which guitar I’m using. I’m using a Stratocaster, so I probably did not do that.

[electric guitar]

I have that guitar being sent to the chorus a little bit as well. You’re going to hear some hum in there, and if you haven’t recorded a lot of single coil guitars before, you’re going to be in for a little bit of a surprise, because single coil guitars, whether it be Stratocasters, Telecasters, guitars with P90 pickups, they just pick up a lot of hum and noise.

But it’s natural, it’s on all of those old records, and I find it’s nothing to get too uptight about, unless you have a problem with the power and you space your recording in, and it’s exaggerated so much that you can actually hear it in the mix.

Sometimes, I use a flanger to emulate a little bit of that double tracking effect on guitars, which is a little similar to having a very, very short delay on, but there is a subtle difference between using delay and a flanger to create those sounds.

[electric guitar with delay and flanger]

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at guitaristmarkmarshall.com
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