I got a very nice email a couple days ago. The guy was simply writing to say that he really liked my song “I Won’t Fly Away” (from my latest album Out of Indiana).

He gushed about how he loved the songwriting, the arrangement, the mix, the vocal tone…”everything from start to finish” (or something like that).

I was flattered, of course.

But it made me wonder what it was exactly that made THAT song stand out so much to him?

It’s kind of an interesting story how that song evolved.

I wrote it on acoustic guitar (like most of my songs). When I started recording the songs for the album, I just assumed it would be a fairly typical, groovin’, acoustic guitar-driven tune. Nothing too out-of-the-ordinary.

After recording the acoustic guitar and scratch vocals (all to a click), I got this weird urge to see what the song would sound like with a sort of hip-hop drum loop over the top.

(If you know me, I’m as non-hip-hop as they come.)

I was honestly just goofing around, never intending to use anything like that, but then it just clicked. The drum loop took the song in a completely different direction and made it really, really cool.

The rest of the parts I recorded fit around that drum loop and the new groove I had created. It was still a guitar-driven song, but that silly drum loop took it to a completely new place.

How does this apply to you?

When you’re working on a song, do you think about the mix while you’re still recording? Or do you simply record stuff and worry about mixing later?

I’ll tell you this — the better the song’s arrangement, the better the mix will be.

If you’re wrestling with a mix that you just can’t seem to make sound nice and full, maybe it’s not your mixing skills. Perhaps the arrangement isn’t complete. Maybe you need to add a new instrument you hadn’t considered before.

Or on the flip-side, maybe you have a mix that’s bursting at the seems with lots of tracks, but it just sounds wrong. Perhaps you need to strip it down. The arrangement might not fit the song.

I’ve done that before.

I’ve worked up this huge, awesome arrangement for a song, only to decide that a simple guitar/vocal was the best thing for the song.

Don’t assume that all the hard work happens during mixing. The harder you work to get a good arrangement, the easier the mix will be.

You’ll have one of those awesome moments where you haven’t even put a plugin on a track yet, and the mix already sounds killer.

A good arrangement plus good recording technique can get you there.

If you’ve got a tune you could use some advice on, either from an arrangement or mix standpoint, I’m doing mix critiques for my VIP members tomorrow (Thursday). You can get in on all the fun here:


11 Responses to “An Often-Overlooked Key to a Good Mix”

  1. Matt

    OH MAN, yeah! every time i get a complement on a song its always the same one! and same thing, started out as just an little rearrangement of an old acoustic song i wrote, then one thing led to another and it ended up with this huge full band ending and everyone eats that song up!! so stoked when things like this happen, now for a way to hone that…

  2. Andrew

    What kills me is when I try to add other instruments to my already “simple” arrangement, for my composition gets buried over “experimental sounds” as I try to add too many track ideas to create a direction for it. It’s almost self-sabotaging because I’ll wake up having a basic idea of where I want the song to go, but as I add some extra instruments to it and listen to the song over and over I start getting lost in a forest of extraneous sounds LOL.

    I eventually find my way out of it, but it takes a couple of days to learn that I must let the song direct me as oppose to I trying to direct the song.

    Sometimes we get in our own way…

    Great share Joe! =)

    • Joe Gilder

      You described my experience sometimes, too. It’s a delicate balance. If you never experiment, you’ll never have those “happy accidents” like my hip-hop drum loop. But if you experiment too much you’ll overdo it. Catch-22.

  3. Bob Sorace

    I always tend to over do it when it comes to arrangements (8 backup vocal tracks, 5 guitars etc.), but like you said you just strip away the layers until it sounds good, or just leave it if it’s working. Recently I just went back to a song I recorded over a year ago, and completely gutted it, keeping one solo, and an outro guitar track. The chord progression was the same, but everything, including the lyrics changed, and it’s become one of the better songs I’ve done! Too bad I didn’t bother with the arrangements then, I could’ve saved a lot of time…

  4. Ric Zarro

    Joe, you’re so right about arrangement, I find myself (after doing a scratch track)all of a sudden hearing something I didn’t expect to hear, some form of groove, or a new instrument that just seems to take the song to a different level or place. It’s funny how that works, I don’t understand it, but if it fits……it fits? Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to helping others like me in bettering our songs.

  5. Eric Jean

    Joe, I have to agree with the guy who wrote you the email. “I Won’t Fly Away” is a song that really stands out on your album (and there’s a number of good songs on there). The melody and the main metaphor are critical, but the groove is key as well. Good stuff!


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