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Wicked Game
Old 1st September 2016
  #1
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RubbaDub's Avatar
 

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Wicked Game

Hi Mark,

Thanks for answering questions! "Wicked Game" has to be one of the most sublime productions ever. Did you know what a standout it was while working on it? That a cappella at the end - was that written in from the beginning, or did it come together in the mix?

When Lana Del Rey released "Blue Jeans" and everyone compared it to "Wicked Game", what did you think? Have you gotten a lot of requests since then for the "Wicked Game" sound?

And one question about the modern wicked games of the music business, about doing your best with less. Do you ever find yourself thinking "this band is so generic, corporate, focus-grouped, watered-down, etc, but I am going to make their songs sound as great as possible"? Are you more likely to do it by ignoring their songs and focusing more on the tones? Or is it better to try to find them appealing?
Old 2nd September 2016
  #2
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Mark Needham's Avatar
 

Wicked Game

That song was very hard for us to record and get the feel we wanted. I ended up programming the drums on an Akai DD1000 and the bass on a Synclavier. That achieved the hypnotic effect we were looking for and left us 16 tracks to do the rest. ( we needed one track for SMPTE code and a guard track next to it so we did not get SMPTE bleed). The vocals were live in front of speakers which made them difficult to mix as well. ( you can hear the bleed ride up whenever Chris sings)That ending was always part of the arrangement as I remember and to us the song sounded pretty good when it was done. I don't think anyone thought that a ballad was going to be that successful at the time and it wasn't until the 2nd video that it really took off.I haven't really received a lot of requests for that sound in a long time despite Lana's success with it.I think any great production requires starting with a great song. You have to focus on getting the lyrics and melody correct in pre-production before you start building a track and then see what helps get the message of the song across.That might take 160 tracks or 4
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Old 2nd September 2016
  #3
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RubbaDub's Avatar
 

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Thanks for the great answer! I never would have guessed the rhythm section was programmed. You guys were pulling off miracles in the pre-DAW days!

Letting Chris sing in front of the speakers paid off in spades, what a performance. Why is that not always done? It's so much more natural than headphones/vocal booth. You would think recording studios would prioritize singer comfort over engineer comfort, particularly these days when artists are empowered to record themselves if they prefer.

The bleed in Chris's vocal probably only adds to a natural feel. Do you ever do the trick where you record the instrumental playing out of the speakers into the vocal mic and flip it's polarity to cancel the bleed? Would that have been impossible with Chris because he was moving around or something? Ironically, Lana Del Rey records her vocals the same way, in front of blasting speakers.

That's a good point about how unlikely it would've been for a spare spooky ballad to become a hit. You're right that video sure didn't hurt, particularly to me as a little kid!
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Old 2nd September 2016
  #4
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Akai DD1000

Hi Mark,

Wicked Game is an incredible piece of work. Can you please elaborate on how you used the AKai DD1000 for the bass and drums? Are the drums/bass real. but sampled and sequenced through the AKai?

thx
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Old 3rd September 2016
  #5
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Mark Needham's Avatar
 

Wicked Game

I took a bunch of Kick and snare brush samples and built a track to the ref vocal locked to SMPTE code. The bass was programed on a Synclavier locked to code as well. We wanted a totally hypnotic track.
I don't like the sound of the speakers flipped phase. I wanted the bleed to sound natural.
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Old 3rd September 2016
  #6
What a land mark track, i was about 15-16 it was a great summer that year, and that track played on the radio everday.
Mark can you tell us anything about the guitar? amp mic, delay ect. was this Chris playing?
As RubbaDub said, i would never ever, even now you said think that was programed. WOW!!
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Old 3rd September 2016
  #7
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Hello Mark - I'd actually read before about the 'monitoring during singing' with this song - and I was fascinated with how 'out of the box' it was. I was curious what qualities you feel this process lends to the production. Is it just 'spontaneity'? or does it help cement the tracks together? Something else? all of the above? Have you used this method since that time? Thanks!!

Sincerely Jonathan D.
Old 3rd September 2016
  #8
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Intrigued about tracking the vocal live with bleed as well...

Was this a performance based decision? Only on this song, or others?
Old 4th September 2016
  #9
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This thread inspired me to listen to the eary Chris Isaak albums again - just wow! Obviously a gifted singer and one of a handful of true guitar stylists in James Wilsey. But the production work brings it all together - it's cinematic with amazing depth.

I remembered that Mix Magazine ran a great article with Mark's input some years ago, I found it here:

Classic Tracks: Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" | Mixonline
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Old 4th September 2016
  #10
One of the greatest, most inspirational songs I ever soaked up. Great for male, heartbroken, self indulgence. Thanks for the insight, just goes to show that soul can come in many incarnations.
Old 4th September 2016
  #11
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Mark Needham's Avatar
 

Wicked Game

The guitar was just a Fender Strat played through a 64 Fender Deluxe with a SM 57 and a GML pre. The trick here is to have a send of the guitar through a fader that goes to delay , then to a big chorus and feed that to a reverb, ( that one was a TC2290 , to a H3000 rich chorus , to a 480L snare plate but I have done the same thing using other FX) After each note you just ride the fader up and get this sound that goes from a clean mono guitar to this big stereo effect.
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Old 4th September 2016
  #12
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Wicked Game vocal bleed

The vocals on this were done over a pretty long period of time trying different approaches and lyric corrections so trying to match any bleed with phase was difficult at best. I decided I just liked the sound of the natural bleed the best and the sound it creates by making the band more ambient when I ride the vocal up where he is singing. Turned out to be a cool effect. We also felt that Chris got his most dynamic approach when he sang in front of the speakers instead of headphones. It all seemed to work out in the end.
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