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: