Mumford and Sons – Little Lion Man
Album: Sigh No More
Writer: Mumford & Sons
Producer: Markus Dravs
Genre: Indie folk, bluegrass
Length: 4:06 (album version), 3:30 (radio edit)
As with any great catchy song the chords are *gasp* not complicated! But unfortunately, everything else is 🙁 Just the acoustic guitar rhythm is nauseatingly fast to play. I recommend a thin pick and some wrist exercises for a week before to warm up your muscles if you’re a guitar player.
Song structure and chords
All jokes aside, the chord progression is a simple D minor progression played with a capo on the fifth fret. The chords below reflect the shapes of the chords as played on the guitar and not the actual tonality of the chords. E.g. the Am is actually a Dm but is played with a Am shape on the fifth fret.
Am – C
Am – C x 2
G – F – C
Am – F – C x 3
C – F
Ends on Am
The song structure would look like the following
The arrangement in this song is so cool. How everything just builds and builds is amazing to listen to.
The song doesn’t start off softly at all, but with a furious acoustic guitar strum that grabs your attention immediately. The second run through the intro they set the stage for the rest of the song with textures in the background, massive drum hits and the banjo playing whole time chords. The different rhythm of the super fast acoustic guitar and the laid back banjo with massive musical textures in the background is what really sets the mood.
When the vocals enter in the verse the texture dies down a bit with just a sustained note in the background. The banjo drops out and we’re left only with the vocals, the guitar strum and the double bass.
The piano enters in the pre-chorus and follows the simple chord progression as the atmosphere builds.
The first chorus brings the first big dynamic change. Instead of continuing on the strum all the instruments play chord hits on the first bar of every measure. Even the background sonic texture drops out to accent the silences between the hits.
Out from the chorus is where Mumford and Sons put on their famous acoustic rock jam session, with every instrument just going nuts. Everything breaks loose and if you’ve never heard this song you might think this is the loudest part of the song. It’s not.
This is the first time you hear anything resembling a drum beat, with a kick drum doing a four to the floor pattern that really drives the beat forward. Up until now the acoustic guitar has been the only rhythm instrument that everything else followed.
In the second verse the drums drop out again and the acoustic guitar resumes sole rhythm duties. Adding to the arrangement to make it a bit different and bigger than the first verse are the piano and banjo playing chords in the background. The piano and the texture that sounds like feedback serve to build up the pre-chorus into the second chorus.
The second chorus has a much different rhythm than the first one. Instead of hits and silences they play the chorus melody over the jam part, with the four on the floor drum pattern and the banjo going bluegrass crazy.
I love a good buildup part in a song and this bridge does not disappoint. There is some great atmosphere going on with the piano and texture in the background and banjo coming in and out of the mix in the first few bars. Every instrument is creating some sort of texture, not necessarily playing with each other but all playing towards a common buildup goal. Then it’s just buildup from there as they start “aaaahing” their hearts out, each measure getting louder than the next.
But it wouldn’t be complete without them throwing you off guard with their quick dynamic change chord stab before plowing back into their jam session chorus.
Just to show you that when you thought they couldn’t surprise you with any more dynamic arrangement changes they end the song with an a cappella version of the chorus, finally ending with a somber “didn’t I my dear” and a lonely A minor chord strum.
Like you’ve gathered so far this production is a great example of a song that just keeps building and lifting itself further and further with great dynamic changes and incredible power. For a “folk/rock” song that’s really cool.
The band played the whole thing live in the studio and then laid overdubs over the live performance. The interesting thing about the overdubs is that they included the drums, meaning that they must have either played the scratch tracks without drums or scrapped the scratch drums after their session. At any rate it’s an interesting way to record a session since you usually start with the drums. It’s not overproduced at all and their musicianship and power completely shines through.
However, the main instrument throughout the song is most definitely the acoustic guitar. It holds the whole arrangement together with or without the drums. Their mixing engineer, Ruadhri Cushnan said that he started the mix with the acoustic guitar and vocals and not the drums like usual because those two elements were the most important parts of the whole mix. It was recorded with one close microphone and one distant microphone for ambience.
The banjo is also a very critical part of the arrangement as well as to the sound of Mumford & Sons as a band. It was recorded with multiple different mice that each gave the banjo a different sound, enabling the mixing engineer to make different choices of how he wanted the banjo to sound throughout the song. A banjo can be a very interesting element since the bluegrass style of playing can quickly get in the way of everything else. That’s not the case in this song as both the actual arrangement and the way it was mixed keeps the characteristics intact without making it a “banjo record.”
The backing vocals are a very important part of of the sound and have a very big reverb sound, coming from Audio Ease Altiverb’s 480 club patch and a large hall convolution patch called ‘Paradiso.’ They definitely fill up the mix almost to the point of muddiness. I suppose that’s sort of the thing they were going for anyway.
The track was mixed entirely in the box and you can find most of the gear they used on the mix at this Sound on Sound article.(http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/mar11/articles/it-0311.htm) The most interesting quote I got from the mixing engineer was about Mumford & Sons referencing Fleet Foxes for their backup vocals. He said, “Quite often being able to reference another track is more effective than somebody waxing lyrical about what sound they want.” Asking a band about an inspirational band or song that has a sound you want is so much more effective than going into in-depth arbitrary discussions.
The mixing engineer’s workflow was also interesting, “I normally set up at least a couple of reverbs when I mix a track, pretty straightforward stuff, really, with one reverb being a gentle, small room with maybe 1.2‑2s of reverb, the other a plate with some more length and a little bit more sparkle to it.” It’s great to always have certain things on call as you need them. You don’t have to follow his workflow exactly obviously, but having a couple different echoes, reverb and/or delays on hand can make your mixing go much smoother and faster.
Key Take Aways
Textures – Some of the textures in the background were done with a bowed acoustic guitar, probably with some heavy distortion and reverb/delay. You can make even the most intimate arrangements sound larger than life with some simple textures in the background to make things bigger.
Set up a workflow – Workflow is important for efficient mixing. Setting up templates of your favorite reverbs and delays on a couple aux busses can make the mixing process much faster.
Start the mix with the most driving instrument – When you start your mix, listen to the song in its entirety and find the instrument that drives the mix. In this case it’s the acoustic guitar and vocals but it could be something completely different with other arrangements. “Love Song” by Sarah Bareilles has the piano as the main driving force throughout the song for example.