Production Breakdown: The Scorpion by Mark Marshall

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

I thought I would talk about some production techniques that I like to use as I’m going through and composing different songs.

The song that I’m working on today for the TV Show American Pickers is a bit of a dusty, swampy kind of vibe. I’m going to play a little bit of it, and then I’m going to talk about a few things that I had decided to do, and the production of this.

[mix]

Let’s see what makes this tick.

First, I started off with these Joey Waronker drum loops from The Loop Loft, which I think are really awesome. This is the groove.

[drums]

Just really great sounding loops.

Okay, now I have some shakers and stuff going in. Nothing too fancy, I’m sure you could hear.

Let’s start listening to the acoustic guitar.

[acoustic guitar]

Drop D kind of vibey part happening there.

Here’s the bass part.

[bass guitar]

I wanted to make it even a little bit deeper and a little bit more ghostly. So I decided to put a bass piano part sitting below that doing a very similar line. I didn’t go through and make sure it was absolutely 100% accurate, because I’m really into a lot of 60’s, early 70’s recordings, and there’s a lot of double tracking in a lot of those recordings that aren’t exactly perfect, so if they don’t always play the unison rhythms and stuff, I find that to be okay in recording.

So I did that not out of laziness, but intention.

[piano and bass guitar]

Okay. I wanted to get a little bit of an organ vibe happening below this.

[organ]

One thing I think is worth mentioning if you aren’t an organ player or haven’t spent a lot of time around an organ player is that playing with volume a little bit is a really important thing. When people start laying in MIDI organ, right now I’m using the Native Instruments Vintage Organ B3 collection, and if you just started playing, everything just seems very brick walled and very flat, and when you’re around real organ players, they have a volume pedal on the floor, and they’ll swell things in and out, and if you look at the automation here, I’m not doing anything super crazy, but just enough so it creates a sort of dynamic so your mind doesn’t hear that sort of static sound that’s just one volume the whole time.

Now I laid in a really dusty tele track with tremolo and reverb to really kind of give it that swampy, southern kind of vibe.

[guitar]

That’s a real guitar amp. I was using basically a Princeton Reverb, but it was a Headstrong Lil Kind Reverb. It’s an exact replica of a 65 Blackface Princeton. Otherwise, I was using a KLON KTR and the Fulltone Supra-Trem Tremolo pedal straight into the amp, miced with a ribbon mic.

And the last track I have is an electric rhythm track, which was done with the same guitar, a Fender Telecaster, just straight into the Lil King Reverb.

[guitar]

I’m going to drop in the acoustic now.

[electric and acoustic guitar]

Let’s lay in some of the percussion that I had. Some tambourine and some shakers here.

[mix]

Regarding the shakers, I copied the same loop, which I think also came out of the Joey Waronker collection, and what I did was I duplicated the track, but I lowered the pitch of one of the shakers, because I wanted it to sound a little moodier and more broad.

So I had the original one, which is like this…

[shaker]

But in Ableton, I just copied it to a new track and just dropped the whole pitch a little bit.

[shaker, lower pitch]

You put them both together, it’s really nice.

[normal and low shaker]

[mix]

And there you have it. Now, I may do a completely different approach on a different song, but for these swampy, moody kind of things, I definitely like doubling the bass line with the piano, and I like kind of fatter, rounder sounding shakers. These are a little bit of my go-to, and of course, I often use Drop D acoustic guitar and electric guitars. Both the guitars were in Drop D, where I take the low E string and drop it down from an E to a D, just so it gets a little deeper, throatier kind of sound.

Typically, when I play bass on these things, you’ll notice that the bass sound isn’t super huge and super fat. I was kind of going for an early 70’s thing here, so you don’t need as much low end as you think you need.

Let me see if I can pull up the plug-in for that here.

So for that bass sound, I was using a Fender P-Bass with a little bit of foam under the bridge, and I was using the Ampeg SVT plug-in. We could take a look at the settings that I had here.

It was nothing too radical.

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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