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Isn’t it ALL about the SONG?? Arranging and Mixing

As a producer, arranger and mixing engineer in addition to being a writer, it always infuriates me to hear the following platitude thrown around... "Just write a good song... nothing else matters..." Don't people care what goes on their hamburger or how it's cooked and presented? Guess what, that's mixing and arranging! Of COURSE it would be wonderful if every song everyone wrote was just a FANTASTIC song, but that just isn't always the case. The truth is there are Fantastic songs, Great songs, Good songs, OK songs and (let's face it) dull or bad songs. But my job  more often than not doesn't include writing. Usually I'm hired to produce finished songs, where my job is arranging and mixing/engineering my client's latest treasured creations. I have had friend tell me my job is to "Polishing turds"... and that's about as insulting as the platitude I opened this article with.

I just saw a musical recently. The songs we mostly ok, a couple great songs, and a couple boring ones. The arrangements (what the musicians played, the harmonies the actors sang, etc…) on the GREAT songs were GREAT! But on the rest of them, the arrangements were as good or bored and tired as the songs and didn’t ELEVATE them.

And that is my job as a producer… to elevate! Unless someone is incompetent, it is almost impossible to ruin a fantastic song. That is no indication of your skills and a mixer or engineer. I believe that a good arrangement and/or mix should elevate a song AT LEAST one notch up the quality ladder. I’m sure if you take only 3o seconds, you’ll think of  some songs where you don’t just think of the song, but you recall a cool instrumental part or an effect that you love as much as the song.

It is very rare where a “turd can be polished” into an excellent song, but when clients are forking out their hard earned money, it is my job to make sure I lift their work.

Conversely, while it is almost impossible for a competent person to ruin a fantastic song, it is possible for a boring mix or arrangement to knock a song down a notch. And I have heard people spend their hard earned money on “name brand” engineers and producers who fail to lift a song or (worse) bring it down. The only reason I can imagine why is that the independent artist isn’t as important as their “grammy winning” or high paying clients… so they “save” their creative efforts.

Music is a varied art form, There are many elements that make up the listener experience. When I do write, I work on writing the best song I can. When I arrange, I look for creative elements that will bring the song into the best light. When I’m mixing, I use every tool I have and every trick I’ve learned to place the song in the best light, whether it calls for a “pristine” mix, an effects laden headphone treat, or a lo-fi garage ethic. I don’t hold back my creativity. Frankly, I don’t view it as a well that will go dry with overuse, but a “magic well” that fills up faster the more I take from it.

And you know what, I often learn and advance the most when I am arranging and mixing songs that are less than “fantastic.” I thrive on a challenge. And I will challenge myself with all my clients as well as challenge them to bring their best.

UPDATE

I posted this as a forum thread over on Gearslutz at the same time I posted it here, and it has turned into quite an interesting and heated discussion. If you are interested, check it out HERE.

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