The title to this post sounds so egotistical, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s because I just turned 30, but I’m finding a common trend with “younger” bands and artists that is most definitely a product of our generation. The problem is we don’t know how to arrange a song.
Via Dean Wissing Flickr
We Just Stack And Stack
I talk a lot about arranging when giving recording and mixing tips, because the arrangement is what really makes a song great (or not). But last month I read an interview with Grammy winning producer/mixer Kevin Augunas that summed it up perfectly.
The best thing about a 16 track tape machine is limited tracks. It forces better arrangements. Young bands today don’t know how to arrange because of unlimited tracks. They just stack, and stack, and stack. – Kevin Augunas (The Lumineers, The Black Keys)
Yep. I couldn’t have said it better myself. The lack of limitations is not a good thing. In fact, it’s the enemy of creativity. I wrote an entire ebook on the subject. I’ve also written about the case for fewer tracks here. Without limitations on track count it’s all too easy to stack part after part after part until we have giant mess that no one wants to mix.
How Well Do You Know Your Songs?
I would say another problem with the accessibility to recording equipment today is that many of us enter “the studio” totally unprepared. We actually don’t know our songs well enough to record them. Sure we may know our parts, but we don’t know the inner workings of the song as a piece of art. We don’t know what little touches the song might need or how it should flow.
A song is more than just tempo, key, rhythm, and execution. Much like a good meal is more than simple ingredients mixed together. You need just the right spices and flavors, and side items, and presentation, and drink pairing to make it a fantastic meal. The same is true with your songs. You need to have the bigger picture in mind before you really get to work.
Cut What What Doesn’t Serve The Song
At the end of the day, you want a great song that has impact. For some songs that might actually take more than 16 tracks. No big deal. But you have to be absolutely certain that every track is playing a critical role to the final sound. If you cannot in full integrity, justify the existance of a given track in your session, then you need to cut it. Only record what serves the song.
This could be extra guitar parts. This could be additional drum mics. Do you really need top and bottom snare? Inside and outside kick? Stereo overheads and stereo room mics? This could be doubled or tripled vocals. It doesn’t matter what it is, just make sure that it really adds something to the song. Or think of it this way, if you deleted the track entirely, would the song be missing out?
Arrangement Is Everything
So you have talent? You’ve got some great songs? You have the gear you need to record? Take that extra step. Work out the arrangement and write down every part that really needs to be recorded. Take the arrangement seriously and your mix will come together before you even begin the mixing phase. Trust me.