Breaking Down the Arrangement: Sam Paganini – Mercury

Tech Reviews

Studying other people’s music is a great way to improve your own productions.  This way the process becomes internalized and you’re no longer guessing how to finish a track.  Today we’re taking a look at Sam Paganini’s “Mercury.”

Sam once again shows he’s the master of subtlety in this track.  His more recent work his “The Beat” EP (Drumcode) seem simpler and more raw than what he did on his Satellite album, The Black Leather EP, and his Body to Body EP.  

The latter are more sexy, dark, driving techno with lots of evolving and other-worldly sounds,   while Mercury is more in your face.   At first listen seems like a fairly simple tune, but when I listened deeper and broke things down I realize there’s much more going on.  

While’s he’s not using complex atmospheric sounds like we heard on tunes like “Fire in My Arms” he put that energy into his patterns and arrangement of Mercury.

More on that in a moment.

Here are some high level notes and key takeaways.

This tune’s low end is a nice shaped kick, some classic toms and a synth sub bass.  2 synths are used throughout the track.  1 for the intro and outro another for the middle section where it’s introduced at bar 57 and plays through for about 3 minutes until the main drop of the tune where it’s faded out and the intro synth starts back up again.

Both use what sound like simple automations of a low pass filter or cut off to vary energy levels of the synth part through out the track.  

Percussive elements are using to compliment the energy of the synths.  Less percussion when the synths sound dull and faded out and more when they are opened up.  

Think rides, hi hats, claps, all of which sound like classic 808/909 material.  

Most of the patterns are quite common.  Hi-hats between the kicks, 16th note closed HH patterns, some shakers and rides on the 8th notes between kicks.

What Sam did really well is vary the percussion.  He doesn’t use the same clap fill over and over.  Hi hat patterns end with shuffle and fills.  Today anyone can get great sounds but it’s what you do with them that counts.  

What can the average producer learn from this?  

Really work on your patterns. Don’t use the same percussion loops throughout your entire track and work on fills, ghost notes, and give them the occasional shuffle to mix things up.

Have a track with 2 synth parts you like but aren’t sure about where to place them?  Use them both as this tune has.  Use one for the beginning and ending sections and another for the middle section of your tune.

You can also borrow much of the arrangement and placement of the drums like when to use ride cymbals, and hi hats.  As well as sorting out your introduction and conclusion.  In this case Sam doesn’t stray from the usually 16 bars.  

Here’s where this tune is on another level and why Sam is in a category of his own.

There’s a lot of parts in the song break the mold of the usual 8 and 16 bar patterns.

The man break-down of the song is 30 bars long and there’s some other sections that are 10 and 12 bars long.  

He’s not going totally out of the ball park using say a 7 bar pattern, but 10 is not typical.

Neither are the 4 bar patterns often used throughout the track – again pattern lengths of 8 bars is typical.  

For example the main drop of the song is at bar 149, a hi hat pattern starts at bar 153 instead of bar 157.

This structure and changing patterns really keep things interesting in ways that are hard to put a finger on until we listen and take notes.  

Here’s what happens during the track for each section.

Bars 1-16  (DJ intro) Kick, Tom and Hi Hat intro.  Toms have a bomb ba duh ba pattern.  Sound like 808 or 909 toms.  Closed Hi Hats on the up beat/8th notes.  

Here’s a subtle reverb sound that pumps as it’s side chained to the kick.  The synth sound fades in by bar 9 and fades in more as it approaches bar 16.  Right at the end of bar 16 is a little hi hat and clap fill.  

Bar 17 (Drop) – Bass drops and it sounds like the hi pass filter is removed from the kick and toms.  The cut off on the synth is automated so it gets filtered down 8 bars into bar 25 and then rises as it approaches bar 33.

Bar 25, some closed 16th note hats starts, to add excitement.  8 bar sequences ends w/ a 2 bar clap fill and a slight Hi Hat shuffle, same HH fill used before bar 17.

Bar 33.  Rides and some subtle vocal effects that echo and fade out.

Bar 41 – Rides out and 16th note HH’s back in.  Bar 40, quick clap fill, bar 45 – 4 bars of clap fills.

Bar 57 (16 Bar Break)   Kick and Toms are filtered, hi passed. The ride is still in, a new synth is being introduced by way of a filter opening. Some very subtle shakers start at bar 57.

Bar 65, low end is hi passed, all cymbals are removed, main thing is that the synth really opens up towards the drop at bar 73 and at bar 73 it’s more subdued.

Bar 73 -89   (Drop)  Kick, toms, and hats, at bar 77, the 16th not hats start, filter on new synth is opening gradually towards bar 81.  This is mainly a 16 bar section where synth 2 opens and closes with filter automation

Bar 89. Rides start and this 8 bar section has a 2 bar break at the end to change things up.  The kick is filtered out (hi passed) during bars 97-99, the 16th note HH pattern is used as a little fill.

Its interesting that this is a 10 bar section, not the usual 8.

Bar 99, a little drop this is a 12 bar section.  8 bar clap pattern used to build energy moving to bar 111.  2 bar fill from 109-111.  Low end is hi passed there’s a reverse noise effect during that 2 bar fill.

Bar 111-119 a traditional 8 bar section moving towards the main breakdown of the song.   

Bar 119 – Main break (30 bars)  A new vocal element is introduced and used for the entire break.  Synth 2 that’s been used in the track since bar 57 is automated during the break and faded down approaching the drop  at bar 149.  During the whole break the low end is hi passed.  Bar 147-149 nearly everything is out except from some effect spill over and noise.  Synth1 is used during those 2 bars and comes back into the song at the main drop.  

Bar 149 Main Drop 16 bar section to bar 157.

Bar 157, the vocals during the break come back in for 16 bars.

Bar 165-173.  8 bar break down, the low end is filtered out except for the tom pattern. The toms play for 4 bars and are then out.  Some noise hat and clap patterns, very airy light snares along w/ the vox build to the drop at 173  

Bar 173.  The vocals are out. 8 bar section with the synth filtered.

Bar 181.  Hats patterns are brought back in for some nice shuffle. Synth is filtered

Bar 189 Rides and synth filtering.  Some hat and clap fill send the 8 bar section as we move to the outré of the song.

Bar 197.  It’s just the low end and the synth for 8 bars.

Bar 205 16 bar DJ outro – the low end is removed and the synth filtered.  

Bar 221  The song ends.

The screenshot above isn’t Sam’s working session of the tune, but a template I made in Ableton using silent “dummy” audio clips.

This is a great way to learn how to arrange and get on the way of finishing music.  What I sometimes do is export my own tracks and line them up using another producers arrangement as my guide.  This cuts down production time significantly, as it reduces quite a bit trial and error.  
Head on over to this link to sign up and get the Ableton file.

Eric Louis has been DJing since 2003 and after a 5-year break, put out 3 tracks on New York’s Nervous Records and in 2015, won Victor Calderone’s Remix Contest. Data Transmission readers can get 5 free lessons from Eric which cover “How to Make More Music Labels Want to Sign and DJs Want to Play.”