Part 2: Writing and arranging your songs properly so that they work, even raw, is essential.
In this second part we dive in to arranging lead parts, vocals, synths & leave you with our closing thoughts.
Book a free feedback call with Benedikt, the host of the show!
This is part 2 of us answering a great question from our community member Jesse Crawford (Loma Roses)
Jesse sent us the following question on building arrangements:
“I was wondering if you would have input about arrangement concepts. Specifically about how to produce your songs to where the instruments/tones can be clearly defined from one another. I’m interested in hearing how other people approach this idea. To me, one of the main challenges is making tones that play well together.”
Now you might be asking: "Why is that even important? Can't you just shape the tones in the mix?"
The answer is: You want to write and arrange your songs so that they already work, even raw, before mixing. That way the mix will be easier, more fun and faster. You don’t want to fight your song in the mix.
So, in this second part of it (it's a two-part episode) we address:
- Lead Parts
- Pads & Synth Layers
- Closing Thoughts And Arrangement Recap
Mentioned On The Episode:
Here are the detailed PDF slides from our Academy that you can use as a checklist when you're working on your next arrangement!
144: Building Arrangements With The Mix In Mind (Part 1)
Which questionable music production myths are you still holding on to?
Benedikt: Like in, in some great guitar solos. It's not only the solo that's great, but it's also what's going on in all the other instruments at the same time that make certain parts of it sound really great. And there's so much, so many like small details intentionally put in there.
it's really fascinating. Hello and welcome to the Self Recording Band podcast. I am your host, Benedictine. If you are new to the show, welcome. Thank you for joining us. If you are already a listener, welcome back. Glad you're joining us again. And if you've got any value out of these past episodes that you've been listening to, please go to Apple Podcast or your podcast App of Joyce and leave us a review there. This would really help us discover. Or like help other people discover us and help us reach more people just like you and help them make better records on their own at their jam space at your home studio. So please go to Apple Podcasts. Leave us a five star review there and a couple of nice sentences about the show. Very much appreciated. if you want some personal feedback and guidance for your next. If you have questions, if you're confused about the whole process, you dunno where to start, you need to a step by step plan. Basically, please go to the self recording band.com/call and book a free first one-on-one call with me so I can give you a step by step plan. I can listen to you where you are right now, I can listen to your songs, give you feedback, you can tell me where you wanna go, and then we'll see if I can help you get there. At the very least, you'll get a step by step roadmap that you can take and implement on your own or together with me. I can't wait to talk about your music. So go to the self recording band.com/call today. As always, I am not here alone, but I'm here with my friend and cohost Malcolm Owen Flat. Hello, Malcolm. How are you?
Malcom: Hey Benny. I'm great, man. How are you?
Benedikt: I'm great too. Thank you. Had a great weekend. I'm still kinda not really back into work mode it seems, or at least my brain is not. I'm having trouble finding words But yeah, I had a great weekend. I'm actually refreshed and I had a good day already behind me, but for some reason my brain is not really into it yet.
Malcom: Yep. Yep. I can feel that. I'm still on my coffee this morning, so I'm, I'm with you it is, I think episode 1 45, this episode, and we gotta figure out what we're gonna do for the big one 50. Man, that's a, that's a, big deal.
Benedikt: It's a big deal for sure.
Malcom: brainstorming on that. And, audience, if you have any ideas, go to the self recording band community on Facebook and let us know what you think we should do. Should I fly to Germany? Should, should I do it
Benedikt: I would very much, uh, appreciate that, but like, so
Malcom: probably gonna be like, that's gonna land on Christmas, so it'll be a little weird.
Benedikt: yeah. , yeah. Maybe, maybe not the best time to do this, but. Huh? What could we do? I mean, we talked about it before the show, Malcolm. We could maybe do some sort of community event again. We did that for our hundredth episode, and maybe we should do that. Maybe we can do a live thing. Invite the community. Uh, we'll
Malcom: Yeah, that was a really fun time.
Benedikt: Yeah, we'll let you know. Something
Malcom: And yeah, if you have ideas, do, do go to the Facebook community and let us know.
Benedikt: Yes. The self recording event.com/community or just search the self recording band community on Facebook and join us there and let us know if you have any ideas. Yeah, totally right, Malcolm. All right. today's episode is actually also inspired from a question from the community. We started last week with part one of this episode, and it is about building arrangements with the mix in mind. The question came from Jesse Crawford from a band called, uh, Loma Roses, or an Artist Project. I'm not sure if it's a band or if it's his project. I think there are at least two people the way I saw it. Right. Loma Roses, Jesse Crawford. He posed a question and he wa the question was, I was wondering if you could have, if you would have input about arrangement concepts specifically about how to produce your songs to wear the instruments tones, instruments slash tones can be clearly defined from one another. I'm interested in hearing how other people approach this idea. To me, one of the main challenges is making tones that play well together. So last time we talked about that and we started with a general big picture part of that conversation, and then we talked about drums and bass about rhythm tracks, how they go together, things you need to watch out for, um, how to make bass and kick drum work when it comes to arrangements. How to make sure that the rhythm guitars and the bass and the drums build sort of this rhythm section that works. Uh, we talked about it from the perspective of frequency content and how that, like how you make space for, for, um, for each source tone, basically. And these are not mixing decisions, by the way. This is like arrangement decisions, like how, which instrument. Do you include in your arrangement? And how do they go together with their natural source tones, basically? and then we looked at it from a performance perspective where we were talking about how strumming patterns, timing, what you actually play, how that goes together and creates this arrangement. , similar, like if you put everything together, it's similar to, you know, conducting an orchestra or something, , where all the instruments you have to, you have to work with what is there in the room and all the instruments and what they play have to work together. And you don't, you can't do a lot like after the fact or nothing after the fact, basically. And this is the way we think about arranging too. And if you do that properly, then in post, in mixing, you can do much more with less artifacts and problems. You have the freedom to. you can do things without getting into trouble. Basically. You don't have to fix as much, and you can make good creative decisions in your life will be so much easier in the mix. Long story short, this is part two of it, and this time we are talking about how to arrange lead parts, which means lead, melodies, guitars, synth, whatever. and uh, also lead vocals, backing vocals, and maybe additional production stuff. So we finished the rhythm, rhythm section. Now we go to the melody parts basically.
Malcom: Yeah. I guess like melody that could include, you know, vocals, that could be lead guitar lines, melodic sys, pretty much anything that you're gonna hum along to. That's what I consider a lead part.
Benedikt: Absolutely. And, uh, before we have to repeat all of that, if you haven't, watched or listened to the last episode, please just go back and do that before you start this one. I think because the first part of that also applies to this episode and we, so that way we don't have
Malcom: mandatory listening, I think, in this case.
Benedikt: Yeah, absolutely. Just to go through the bullet points really quickly so you know why you should do that. we talked about things like checking your transitions and the macro dynamics from part to part applies to this part of the arrangement just as well. Then, uh, how dense does each part need to? Every instrument has to play all the time. what's the voice of each part? Very important when we talk about lead parts, because sometimes it is the actual voice, sometimes it's a leak, guitar melody. Sometimes it can be a drum fill or a bass part or whatever. But something is the focal point typically in each part. We talked about that. We talked about variation versus repetition. do you intentionally have two parts that are exactly the same or do you add something new that when it comes, the second time comes around? Basically, we talked about that you have to be intentional so you have to know why do you arrange it that way? What's the goal? of course, there's always the, the odd spontaneous idea, and that's art and creativity, but you know, in general you can be intentional and guide the listener through the song. And we talked about. And then we talked about things like trying, things being bold and not boring. we also said it's your record and not a copy of something that's already out there. So all these rules are also, can also be broken, if you do it intentionally and if you like the result. So go back to the last episodes where we talk a lot more about these bullet points. And now after you've done that and you're now coming back, we can talk about lead parts and vocals,
Malcom: Yeah, so this is probably, oh, it's tricky. This might be the most important thing to get right, is the arrangement of your, your lead melody parts. Because often the, lead line of your song, the lead melody or the top line of your song is the lead vocal. And that is how the story, uh, the lyrics of your song get portrayed. And I think most people would agree that is the most crucial message to get across is the vocal performance. So if we don't have this arranged correctly, this can just be, this can really trash your song and, and this can stop your message from reaching the audience if you don't communicate it correctly. Nobody's gonna connect to the song. They're not gonna know why, like what the song's about. They're not gonna know what the emotion's meant to be. So I think getting the lead melody communicated and arranged perfectly should be your top priority.
Malcom: I had to give an example that I see common in, let's say kind of like, Metal, maybe, uh, uh, metal or rock, like guitar driven metal or rock. The, the main problem I would see with, uh, with lead melody arrangements is that there's a greatly vocal and then there's somebody, somebody whittling away on their guitar at the same time. like, just kind of like lead licks that are in the same range as the vocal melody even. And just like close but not quite the same. And it's taking away from the vocal rather than adding. That's probably the most common mistake I see in, lead melody arrangements. what about you, Benny? You got any like, bugaboos
Benedikt: I, I absolutely, I absolutely agree. so because it, it's the same, oftentimes delete melodies play in the same frequency range like you said. Then also they are oftentimes in like panned center, like they are in the middle of the stereo image, just like the lead vocals are. Uh, which creates another problem or it's not a problem, but it makes it difficult, even more difficult to create separation. and then sometimes there can be weird effects. I actually just had this with a coaching student of mine where I critique, a mix and. the, the mix was totally fine, but the first word of the first verse, I, I could, like, I knew that, that it was not distorted, but it absolutely sounded like the vocal was distorted, and that was because of the lead guitar melody behind the vocal that had a sort of distortion that made it sound as if the vocals were distorted. And I, I, I swear it sounded, it was like it was the vocal, but it wasn't. As soon as you muted the guitar, turns out the vocal was perfectly fine. You know what I mean? Like the guitar had a sort of a crackly thing on top of it and
Malcom: Phantom noises.
Benedikt: exactly. And it absolutely sounded like it was the vocal. And so it can create all kinds of problems there.
Malcom: Yeah. Little side note on these, like phantom noises as I've dubbed them, they are the worst thing to encounter as a mixer because somebody makes a revision note, says the vocals are distorted and you spend hours like going through all these like weird ways of trying to fix your vocal and like you're looking for it and you're like, I just don't hear it. Like I, I've had it where it's like there's a click in the vocal and I'm like, I just, I'm solo out. I'm like, I'm passing things to listen to different frequency ranges and it just sounds normal to me. And then I realize that the attack on the bass guitar, which is also panned up center, is like just a little ahead of like the consonants of the vocal and that's the click sound. It's stuff like that happens all the time and it's so hard to pin down. So instruments kind of fuse together, especially when they're in the same frequency range and they're timed similarly.
Benedikt: Absolutely. Yeah, totally. So this makes it very hard to, it can work, but it makes it pretty hard. if you have a lee vocal melody, like a lee vocal line, that is the focal point of the part, and then you have maybe a lee guitar line playing at the same time, can absolutely work if done well. But you gotta know how to do it. And you gotta find not only the right tone, but also what they actually play. Is it like melody, counter melody? Is it the call and response thing? Is it, does it play at the same time? Is it supporting the vocal or is it getting in the way of the vocal, which shouldn't be the case ideally? So this is the question. It's not that you can't do this, but what function does it have? Like why is it there basically? and is it, is it helping or is it just getting in the way? Yeah, it is, yeah. It starts with the question, what's the actual elite melody in each part? Is it the vocal or is it the guitar? Is it a synth? Nothing at all. Maybe is it just a riff part with no melody at all. . And then is it meant to carry sort of, emotions, which means like, how does it make you feel? Is it a sad melody? Is it a happy melody? Is it just something supporting something else? You know, like, why is this melody there? Basically, you gotta ask yourself. And then, should it be upfront? Should it sit in the mix between all the other, other elements? It's again, about the focal point. If it's really on top of the mix and very upfront, you, the listener's gonna be focusing on that automatically, and everybody's gonna listen to the melody first. But if it's like, you can also have melodies where they, they become part of the band, part of the mix more, and they are sort of embedded in inside the, wall of guitars, for example. And it's just a, a subtle thing, which is a totally different feel and vibe. so yeah, these are basically
some of the questions.
Yeah. If you're looking for context, like a context example on that, upfront or behind, you'll find that in a lot of like hard rock or, or like edgy rock, the vocals often set back in the mix a little bit, so they're kind of competing with the guitars and like, it just kind of makes 'em like, sound like they're singing harder and like more in it. where pop, it's often very on top. It's like a vocal very forward, very close to you sounding
Benedikt: Yeah, abso absolutely. to me, when the vocal is part of the band more and not so much on top, it makes the band sound louder. So it makes sense to me in the rock context, because if the vocal is very much on top of the mix, the band kind of sounds a little weaker. And if you, if the vocal is a little buried, it, it seems like the vocalist has to sort of fight the band a bit, which creates energy. And is sort of also the feeling that you, we all know from like small club shows and you know, that sort of.
Malcom: Exactly. Exactly. Yep. I love
Benedikt: Yeah. Yeah, me too. Me too. Totally. Okay. But now back to the lead parts again. we are not gonna talk so much about vocal arrangements, by the way, I think because we have a full episode on that, which is episode 31, which is entirely about vocal arrangements. So I think we should, I mean, we will get back to this, to this, again and again throughout this episode probably, but it's not mainly about vocals. So the stereo image we talked about that is, Is the lead melody that you have, the center of the guitar, is it dead center? Is it left and right? Are there enough elements to fill, like to fill in, fill out, left and right? do you need to double a rhythm part so that the mix doesn't get smaller? For example, when the lead kicks in and to, let me explain how I mean that it can be, this is sometimes the case. you can have a verse with two rhythm guitars. So both guitarists play chords and a verse, and then there's like a chorus or a bridge or some part that's meant to be bigger, where one of the guitars switches to Elite melody. Now if you just do that and one guitar switches from chords to Elite Melody, the part can actually sound quieter and smaller because you don't have the wide rhythm. Anymore. And instead of just doing that, you should probably double the rhythm and put the lead to the center or double the lead as well and have like two St tracks of guitarists, basically. But you probably, won't get away with just changing what one of the guitarists is playing because like your part is likely gonna be smaller than the verse, which you don't want in
Malcom: Totally. Yeah. So the, the usual example of this situation is that one of the guitars launches into a solo, and the more modern solution to that is usually overdubbing, a guitar up the middle that plays the solo, that's your, your lead melody. Now, like the vocals have stopped. There's a guitar solo that replaces it up the center, and you keep the rhythm going on the left and the right. You don't stop one of the guitars because that guitarist is now playing the solo because that just all of a sudden your mix goes
and just kind of drops out on one side.
Benedikt: Unless you wanna do the ACDC thing and just stick to two guitars no matter what, and that's their
Malcom: there's a vibe, but, uh, it's pretty hard to pull off in my
Especially with modern stuff. Yeah,
Malcom: yeah, exactly,
Benedikt: We already said it. Next question would be, is there a vocal on top of the lead instrument and how do you make sure they can coexist without getting in each other's way? We basically already covered that and um, again, it's not that you can't do it, you just have to be, you just have to double check and be really careful. And sometimes it's enough to have a very subtle melody behind the vocal, just barely audible and that, totally does the trick. So a elite guitar behind the vocal doesn't have to be super loud. Sometimes it's enough if it's just barely audible and tucked in there and it will absolutely work and a. Bands just make the mistake of wanting to hear everything super loud all the time, and that creates problems. So I have, I often get these types of mix mixed revisions where there is a Lee guitar line in the chorus and uh, they wanna have that louder. I can absolutely hear it. It's there, it does its job, but they want it louder. And, um, I don't want it to compete with the vocals that are much more important in the chorus. And so this is a pretty standard thing where that you just need to understand there is ways to make it audible, but usually it's a good idea to just make it so that you can hear it and then it's enough. It doesn't have to be in the center and, and in the spotlight, basically.
Malcom: Yeah. I, I think maybe we should talk about this a little bit cause I feel like I kind of worded it as. If you don't do it, it's not a problem. And that's the best solution .
Um, but, but you can, it totally can work. so some examples, of how to fix it is like, first off, you can, my first instinct would be to try and create separation. So pan it out more. get, if you can make the kind of frequencies different, you know, if it's a little sharper, it might stand out more. If it's a little dollar, it might blend in more. but occasionally you'll find that the opposite seems to be the solution where you can kind of try and layer it like right under your lead vocal, for example, and, and then duck it down and really try and blend it that way. And sometimes that's just like the way it has to be. So in general, the more separation the better for me. not always . You gotta experiment.
Benedikt: Yes, exactly. yeah. And, and sometimes they are, it can, it can be a common response thing. It can be, you know, um, it can work together beautifully if, if done well. So just as always, be intentional and, and double check if it's really what you want or if it's getting in the way.
Malcom: Well, that is really the answer is that the part is what makes it so if you write and arrange the part to compliment the vocal, there's no problem.
Benedikt: typically, absolutely. So then, now the lead part, if it's really the lead part and not just the supporting melody in the background is usually the most important thing. So again, it can be a vocal, can be elite guitar or something else. So it's often a good idea to make space for it in all the other elements. So instead of compromising the lead sound and tweaking that, or tweaking the source tone or trying to come up with something different for the, for the lead part to make it work, maybe leave the lead part as it is, if it's the most important thing and try to change everything else so that it fits in. Sometimes that's the answer. So, or oftentimes that's the answer because the lead is, if it's the most important part. Why would you compromise that? I would rather make the rhythms less busy or remove some other element that's getting in the way. You know, that could be the answer. Sometimes it's not, but, you know, but it.
Malcom: that is like the main reason that producers are often simplifying like drum parts and bass parts and stuff. it, it's not because drums and bass sound better when they're simpler. It's that the vocal or the lead instrument sounds better when everything behind it is simpler.
Benedikt: Yeah, totally. This is also interesting, you said it in pop music where the vocal is so important and so loud and, and it's almost like major labels when then they approve mixes of productions. Like they always want the vocals to be as loud as possible as, as if they almost don't care about like what's in the background, because it sells the music. And, you know, most music listeners, um, care about the vocals So I've talked to a bunch of pop pop mixers in the past where they would. This is about mixing. Now just a site note, but it's a similar reason when they mix, a lot of them don't do what we do in rock, typically, where we start with the drums, we get the kick drum and the snare, right, and the bass and the guitars, and then the vocals sort of come last or somewhere in between, which is what a lot of rock mixers do. Many pop mixers start with the vocal and build the rest of the mix around it because they don't wanna compromise the vocal and everything else has to make space for that basically. And you can think about it like that in the arrangement too, when you clearly know that something is the most important part. And that's what you really need want to, to sound as good as possible and to be upfront. Then maybe write everything else around it and to arrange everything else around it.
Malcom: Yeah, makes so much sense to prioritize the vocal and I, don't know why I don't try and do that in rock music. I, it just, everything about me wants to start with drums.
Benedikt: Yeah. And I think it's good. I think it's good because as you said in our music, the vocal becomes part of the band and the drive, the punch, all of that is so important in our music. So I don't, I think that there's a reason why we do it that way.
Malcom: Yeah, I think so too, but I'm always curious.
Benedikt: Yeah, yeah. Too, maybe. I mean, we should do it. Maybe should, we should try it and see what comes out of it. Um, yeah. Okay. Cool. Now, the low end, at the top end, it's kind of hard this point is like, when I, when I thought about this point, I said like I put in the notes here, it says, be careful with the low end at the top end. You have to be careful with the mid range too. But, but, uh, and the mid range is actually pretty hard to range because it's so busy. Everything's in the mid range. But I still think especially hard to get the low end to feel right. It's easy, it's easy maybe to balance it in a way if there, if the midlands is really busy, it's super hard to balance that because just of the amount of elements going on. But I still think even if you just have two low end elements and you need to find the right source tones for that and, and write the right parts and all of that, even though you only have two elements down there, maybe it's still quite difficult to arrange it, write it and record it so that it feels correct. And uh, in the top end things, it's similar. You only have the vocal sys maybe there and maybe some percussive element and maybe symbols or whatever. But I think. If that, let's put it differently. If, if that is wrong for whatever reason, it just, the whole mix just doesn't work because it's either gonna be muddy or it's gonna be, too thin or it's gonna be harsh or dull or any of these sort of things that we don't want. so I'd say clarity is important, but mud, so mud is to be avoided, but it also shouldn't sound harsh and annoying. So this is so hard to describe because everybody always says that everything's in the mid range and it's so hard to to to get that part right. But I still think if you make like major mistakes in the low end or the top end, it's gonna make your song sound pretty amateur, no matter what you're doing in the mix. If it's just, if there's just no top end element at. Or if it's like super bright and harsh from the start or if there is no real low end element, if there's no clear baseline because whatever you've written and, and, and put in your song is like lacking there, or you don't even have a base part in a part that actually should be big or something like that. If you make major mistakes like that, it just won't sound great no matter what you do. So I, to me, I don't know why, but to me, the low end, at the top end, they just need to work and, uh, they, they need to have what they need in order to be as big as you want it and as bright as you want it. But not harsh. And not muddy.
Malcom: Now, could you give us an example of like, uh, some, relay it to an instrument or something for, cause we're talking about lead parts here.
Benedikt: So there's the top end and the bottom. And of the lead part, which means the mud would not be the actual low end, but like 200, 300 her, something like that in a guitar. So a doll guitar tone or a very harsh and bright guitar tone. But this is not true. Top end and low end. This would be just the upper and lower end of the lead part. But what I also mean is like the balance between what's going on in the mid range, which is typically the lead part, that is the correct way to put it actually, versus what's going on at the top end or at the bottom end of the mix. So if you have a lead part that's fo that's the focal point and that's, upfront and important in the mix, but then your low end is very weak compared to that, or your top end is super harsh or lacking compared to that, it doesn't, it almost doesn't matter if the lead part that's covering the mid range is like exactly right and sounds great and works with all the rest of the mid range if it doesn't work in context with or if it's not balanced well against the low end at the top end. And I'm not talking about mixing, I'm talking about the arrangements. So you can have a killer. Guitar solo or a very good lead partner, a very cool lead vocal, and everything around it, the rhythm guitars and everything else work well. So what's directly related to it? Everything works well. But if the low end of the mix, the arrangement there is lacking, if there's no baseline that has a weight to it, if there's no root notes that support the lead or if there's no sparkling thing on the top end, um, that's balanced against what happens in the mid range, it almost doesn't matter how great it is because it just won't work. I always think to me that the low end, at the top end still is very important because it helps make the lead thing sound good. That is actually only in the mid range. Does that make sense?
Malcom: Yeah, yeah. No, this there, this brings up a really good point. Okay. So it's really easy to think you have to use the instruments you have, for example. So, I love that pop music has made the 8 0 8. A thing like that is so popular because that is totally like an 8 0 8 kick sound is a totally different instrument than a kick drum. It does a totally different job. And what we're seeing is there might be a part where it drops down to just like a four on the floor kick and a vocal or something. And if you then use an 8 0 8 kick, it's a totally different part than if you use the rock kick and you've got like the. We will rock you kind of vibe going on or something, you know, like it's, it's so different and it supports it in a different way. So what I'm saying is that you might write a lead part and that might dictate what your low end instruments are doing, right? You might have to alter your other arrangement pieces to fit this, this, this top line. so that could mean different instruments. It could be mean playing in different registers. it it, it's actually a really fascinating point you're bringing up. Like if you picture Mozart plan his orchestra, he wasn't just choosing an instrument. Like he, he might not just choose a violin because it can, like, it's a violin. He might choose it because a violin playing those notes will sound different than a trumpet playing the same notes. You know, it's, it's, it's totally different. So, I'm, I'm really glad you brought that up, Benny. I think that's fascinating.
Benedikt: Totally. Yeah. That's a good example too, that the same part played by a different instrument has a totally different vibe and feeling to it yeah, absolutely.
Malcom: Or like think about the breakdown where this classic held chords and like sustained base notes, if you replace that with like a sine wave base pad,
Malcom: it's like so different.
Malcom: same, same part, totally different.
Benedikt: Absolutely. Absolutely. Now, the last thing here about lead parts that I think about is, is there a way to enhance it by, um, adding additional layers to it? We know that from, from vocal arrangements, and as I said, we have hopeful episode on that, but you can do that same thing or similar things with other lead parts too. So , does it make sense to write harmonies to that little guitar, like there, or that solo or something, or parts of it? could you do an Octa below or above whatever you're playing? Can the baseline support the lead? Should it, should it be playing like, unison, like for a couple of parts? You know, where they do the same thing for a couple of bars? Do they play different things? Is it like a counter melody or is it like maybe the lead plays up and the bass plays down at the same time? These, these, all these things all have like different vibes to them. that can be a tasteful, like drum fill to enhance a certain part that can be exactly the same rhythm or something else. Again, like a column response thing or, you know, whatever. But like intentional, any cool unique effects that you could try. So is there a way to enhance that lead part? And it all starts again with thinking about why it is there in the first place, how it should feel, and then maybe you can come up with something to support it and make it even better. It can be very subtle things, but oftentimes just the melody alone is not enough and it needs a little, little bit of extra to really, do it.
Malcom: totally. Harmonies are a great thing to think about when a rain stream, because they can either create less separation and, and bring something more into the mix. so if you, you know, put like a lower harmony on a vocal that gets it closer to the guitars, it might blend a little better, but you can also create separation by going the other way with it, and just make it pop more so really, really powerful technique.
Benedikt: Yeah, for sure. when you start to think about it like that and you analyze some of your favorite songs, how many of those small things you can discover, like how well things are sometimes arranged and we don't even notice until we intentionally listen for that. Like in, in some great guitar solos. It's not only the solo that's great, but it's also what's going on in all the other instruments at the same time that make certain parts of it sound really great. And there's so much, so many like . Small details intentionally put in there. Uh, it's it's really fascinating.
Malcom: yeah, totally.
Malcom: Honestly, go listen to any Nickelback mix, regardless to, if you hate them, the, the arrangements are incredible
Benedikt: yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Malcom: it's pretty rare to find a vocal that doesn't have some really clever layering going on. they put a lot of work into that.
Benedikt: Oh yeah, for sure. Absolutely. Okay, cool. Then, um, yeah, vocals again. Episode 31. Same thing. Doubles harmonies, octaves gang vocals, choir, which depth all the same concepts basically apply. let's go to something that we don't talk a lot about on this podcast actually, which is, let's call it post production or add additional production elements in rock music. For some bands, it's part of the actual band, but in many cases in the music that we mix, it's like additional stuff that's not part of what they do live, for example. So this can mean additional pads, synth layers, stuff you add to, to enhance what's, what's been played by the band. so how do you, how do you make sure you that these elements. Have, like, do what they're supposed to do and help the song without getting in the way of the actual band. Because sometimes that, that can be tricky. Sometimes. Like sometimes it's a very, fine line. Sometimes it can be cheesy if it's too obvious. Sometimes it can be not enough, you know? But like, how do you, how do you do that? How do you, and I'm not talking mixing, but how do you choose sounds and how do you know if a part needs something like that? And then how do, how do you come up with something that's not cheesy, but actually helping the song and the vibe?
Malcom: Yeah, it is really hard because often by the time that this step comes up, Everything's full . You know, you've like, you filled up the low end, you filled up the mids, you've taken up the subs and, and your vocals like, or your symbols are in the present. So it's like, it's really hard to find the spot, but you can tell that it needs something sometimes. And it's really tricky. Experience goes a long way in this category, in my opinion. I, I've got like kind of two people, really, maybe three that I call on if I'm like, I know that I really need some killer post production and since on, and I might just hire them to, to do it because they seem to find those better than I ever could.
Malcom: I, it's a, it's a pretty unique skill set. the other solution is to start considering it sooner. getting it in, like if, if you're treating it as an afterthought, probably will be an afterthought. And you, how we mentioned earlier, what you create might dictate what everything else does. And by the time you bring syns in, which is like after you've already recorded everything, You can't change anything, you're kind of locked in by that point.
So just bringing Inns into your arrangement and writing process will help you with this a lot.
Benedikt: Yeah, I, I totally think so. That they should be, if at all possible, you should consider them from the beginning or at least when you do, when you start doing pre-pro and not like in the final recording session. I think sometimes though, and this goes back to the original question, that we got from Jesse here, where he asks about how to create tones that play well together sometimes. What the band recorded is cool, but you can definitely hear that there is that it's, it's maybe some part is not full. Like most of the parts are full as you said. Like usually the arrangements are, um, refined and work, but sometimes there is the, there is a part where the tones are just lacking a little bit, or it's not just the tones, but like what, what is being played. So this could mean that the base, is playing up an octa for some reason and the weight is lacking and in this, but the part should be big. So in this case, you can just fill that in and, and, and create a, uh, a tone that works, that enhances the actual base sound. And you can, uh, put a sine wave below the base or some base that that does that. Sometimes the guitars just sound a little too. Not exciting enough. I don't know how to say that, to, and they could use some teeth, some grits, some additional like distortion, whatever. And then you wanna put maybe some distorted chords behind the guitars to give them a little extra beef or something. You know, sometimes, sometimes you could spot hold in the frequency spectrum where, they're, there is, I don't know, it sounds a little too scooped in the midrange, but like giving the guitars more midrange doesn't work and it sounds cardboardy, so you need something else. And maybe you can find some sort of synth sound that can fill that in a little bit without having to change the guitar tone. You know, these types of things where you have the finish thing, something's lacking. EQ doesn't do it. Mixing tricks don't do it. So you have to maybe add something to the arrangement to make it. Uh, or it's basically the same concept as, adding one shot drum samples to, to a drum kit that actually sounds great. Sometimes at the end of it, you just need a little extra because it sounds great, but you lit a little bit, you know, whatever, a little more punch, a little more, some type of room sound or something. And instead of trying to get that out of the extra drums, you can just blend a little bit of an extra drum sample and that will do it. And you can do a similar thing with additional synth layers to give the guitars what they're lacking or add to the bass,
Malcom: totally. when you're, when you're sculpting, these sounds, again, go back to the do we need more separation or do we actually need less separation? Do we need to blend it? and that, I think people make that mistake, particularly with like substance a lot, where they're like, all right, it's just, we're gonna make it only low end. And then it's just like, there's no way to attach it to anything else in the mix. So you actually, like, I end up distorting the heck out of them to get some, like upper harmonics into it so that I can blend it in with like our, our drums and guitars a little bit. so sometimes you have to really experiment with the sound to make that part work.
Benedikt: I love the concept of of do we need more or less separation? And I think this is something that might be hard to tell for, especially if you're a beginner. Like if it's, if it has enough glue, if it's too, like what I remember, I, I'm thinking that because I remember sending a mix of mine. It was I think in 2000, what was it, 2011, 10, something like that. Like a long time ago I sent a mix to someone to master it and, um, I thought it sounded good and, and, and worked. And, um, what I got, the feedback that I got was not what I expected because the, the mastering engineer said, it's a very like, clean, mix that's well balanced and well done. But my problem is it's, it might be too like clean, there might be too, too much separation. It's like, it's like very hard to make it feel like a band. And I didn't, I didn't know what to do with that info. I, I didn't know there was such a thing as like too much separation and, um, because I always thought that's basically the goal. I wanna hear everything. I wanna carve out space for everything. And that's what I was after at the time. And I, I didn't really know what to do with that info and how to tell if something needs, like needs, needs less separation
Yeah. So, so how do you, how do you know if that's the case? Because I, I know that most people are stoked to get, like very, to get as much separation as possible. And they, they are stoked if they can pull off a mix. That way you can hear everything clearly. And that is sort of the goal for many people, especially in the beginning. And how do you tell if that's, if you maybe took it too far and you need to add something or you need to bring it together more?
Malcom: Well, I think when it's arranging, that's less of a concern because the part just won't feel like it's working. you'll just be like, okay. Like, it just sounds like this, like, especially with pads, they're, they're constant and they're usually like, not dynamic, right? They're just like, pad. And if it's not jelly and it just sounds like somebody's playing a weird note over your song constantly kind of thing. So I think it's a little bit more obvious. It's in mixing that like, that conversation comes up a little bit more like, okay, how, how much do I carve out to like, make it sit back and, and seem like it's own thing? it, it is a hard thing to answer. I don't know if there's like a way around that without experience,
Benedikt: Yeah, probably not. Probably not. Yeah, you're right. But you're right in the arrangement. It's more, it's easier because it will, it will just not work. You just have to think about it like a music fan or a musician and not so much about a mixer in this case. So does it work? Does it feel right or not? You know?
Malcom: I might have a way for people to identify, if it's a sonic thing,
maybe let's try it. So there's like two, two examples I can think of that are extremely rewarding for how things sound together. a big held powerful distorted, like Jcm 800 rock guitar chord, like a big open e
or like a big like drop d kind of like metal thing. And your drummer fricking smashes like the China and the crash and a kick drumm at the same time. . That sounds like one instrument right now. Palm mute guitar distorted, kind of same thing, but Palm mute Bum and the drummer hits the floor, Tom and Kick Boom. Like there. That is like the two examples of like, these are a perfect match. This feels good every time we do it. Now, how do you make that happen with your synth part? Like how do you make that same effect happen or, or whatever instrument we're trying to make them all feel like they belong together? If you're looking for a more glued experience, so if you can identify like examples of like, oh yeah, this works, this is a combination that fits together. It might help you then analyze like, oh, this isn't working. What is that?
Benedikt: Yeah, absolutely. That, that totally helps. You're right. the, yeah, absolutely. The, the only thing is you need to know is that sometimes It's the arrangement, it's an arrangement thing. Sometimes with post production, to me, at least, the, the idea might be good and it might need this element, and it could sound like one, but maybe it doesn't because you've chosen a very cheesy sound or tone. This can happen easy with synth that just doesn't really blend well. So the idea is great, but it doesn't blend well because of the, of the sound you chosen. And in that case, I think, yeah, you just hire someone who knows what they're doing or you send the midi to your mixer to, to like, here's the idea, but maybe you can do a better thing. Because sometimes it sounds like a, you know, my first CAIO keyboard or something, , where it's like, instead of like a, a good well program post production thing, and this can happen easily. And it hap happened to me too, where I thought I had a great idea and I programmed it and it sounded very amateur just because of the, of the sound or whatever I chose,
um, you know,
Benedikt: But you're right, you're right. if it's right, it's just right and it becomes one. And those examples with the drums and for they really are good. Cool.
Malcom: I think we're onto our closing thoughts here.
Benedikt: Yeah, I think so. because everything else has been said, it's like, you can, of course, like adding, adding anything post broke can, can make things better or can make it sound more muddy and cluttered if you overdo it. Like we have already said everything about this basically. So yeah. Let's go to the closing thoughts here to wrap it basically, Again from two perspectives. The one is the frequency content, and the other one is like, what do the parts actually play and how do they work together? Like the actual parts that you're playing. So when it comes to frequency, how, like, is the foundation big enough but not muddy? Like do you have enough weight and low end? And not mixing, but like enough actual instruments playing low end parts, and how do they work together? Is there a low end that works, that makes you move, that makes you feel the song? Because that's what low end does mainly. or does it sound thin? It's not like moving you, it sounds small, doesn't have the weight. Um, don't, don't think you should address that in the mix. Like it should somehow, like at least to some degree, work with just the arrangement. If, if there's nothing there. Add something if it's too muddy, reduce something or make it work. So how tight, how defined or how big, how round do you want the low end to be? again, drum tuning comes into play, you know, where on the base do you play the parts? All these things that we talked about in the last episode. so the low end, big part of it.
Malcom: yeah, I, I think I just wanna drive home that you said it's not mixing. It's like is there actually an instrument filling that hole? You know, um, like filling that spot in the mix, but that's really what to consider there. not How does that bass guitar sound just, is there a bass guitar or a bass instrument filling that spot?
Benedikt: Yeah. And is it playing low enough or is it playing not low enough? Is it, you know, Any of these things? Is it, is it clashing with something else down there? I don't know. Like is there something, and also what is it playing and what are other things playing in sort of the same part of the frequency spectrum? And if they do the same thing, is that intentional and they become one? Or do you actually one separation and in that, in that case, you got a, one of them has to play something different, you know?
Malcom: Yeah. Yeah. And so this, this closing thoughts, by the way, is recapping both episodes. So again, that first episode, totally mandatory listening here. but like the, also more than just like frequency and, and parts is rhythmically. Every instrument is a rhythm instrument. Ultimately, you know, they're, they're all contributing to the rhythm and groove of the song. So you need to make sure, okay, what is the groove of the song? Does it have a groove? Does it have a feel? And is everything contributing to that? Or is something taken away on its own? Or, or is there multiple kind of vibes that go and work together? Like that can happen, but ultimately, is the groove there, has that been arranged between all of the instruments?
Benedikt: Sure. Exactly. then there's like the, the main groove things like strumming patterns and what the bass and the kick drumm does and stuff like that. The obvious stuff. But sometimes it's like micro timing elements where it could be that the high hat pattern clashes or is like sounding confusing together with the strumming pattern of the guitarist where the guitarist might do the right thing, kick and snare, do the right things all good, but maybe the high hats. It, it's the way the high hat sound, or the pattern of the high head sounds weird with the acoustic guitar strumming that's also up there. You know, sometimes that can be the case or a shaker, a tambourine or something, some micro timing element in the top end,
uh, that causes a problem. Sometimes we don't listen to these things. We, we listen to, we focus on the kick snare and, and, and riff, and it all seems good, but there might be something that's a little odd. It might cost the part to feel late or early or, you know, yeah, can happen.
Malcom: absolutely, definitely happen.
Benedikt: Cool. Then, uh, frequency spectrum. Sorry, Malcolm, go ahead. Yeah,
Malcom: No, no, that, that's where I was heading to is, is like, is there a balanced mix essentially created by the instrumentation that's been arranged and the parts that have been arranged. You know, if everybody's playing as low as possible, you're gonna kind of be wondering what's going on on the top end of your frequency spectrum because nobody's filling that spot. enter symbols, you know, . so, so consider that. I mean, unless that's your, your goal is to just have something that doesn't fill one of those spots. because I mean, you know what, that can totally work. Reduction can be a really explosive dynamic, right? The, to leave something intentionally absent so that it can come back later can be a
Benedikt: yeah, yeah, totally. Or, or the entire aesthetic is sort of a lofi thing where you absolutely don't want a lot of subs and, and the shiny top end and it's all about the mid range can be a thing, you know, and it just has to be intentional. Um, if you expect the polished, modern pop punk makes you probably want pretty bright, shiny symbols. But if you do, you know, some lofi, indie whatever thing where it can be pretty dark, then you might not need anything above 10 K or, you know, that depends on what you, what you're doing. . So, but just know what the aesthetic is you're going for and then double check if you have everything you need. Do you have the foundation, do you have the clarity, do you have the mid-range articulation? Do you have the top end sheen if you want it? And all of those things. Then, um, is there, are there chords, a baseline and background melody or melodic, um, rhythm elements, harmonies, lead vocals, and pads? What, what, I mean is there is the, what's the musical information like? Is there, do you have a baseline, a clearly defined baseline? The root notes? Do you have. Chords, um, like the classic, you know, core progression, which instrument is playing that? Is there, a lead melody that's important? Are there harmonies to that lead melody? Do you need a background melody? Do you need a counter melody? Something like that. Uh, do you need some pads because there is, to fill in the gaps, to glue it together because you don't have any sustained elements. So all these, these typical elements of a mix, do you need all of those? You might not, but do you need all of those? And if you do, do you have them? Or is one of them completely lacking, but you could actually use them? So just these basic musical elements, right?
Malcom: Yeah. This is a, an interesting thought. If each person in the band plays their part on their own, can you tell what song it is that that's gonna be a pretty good clue that they're playing something that's, you know, relevant and connected to the song ? You know, if, if the singer just hums their melody, can you tell what song it is? Instantly? If the guitar player plays the riff? Does it sound like the song without everybody?
Benedikt: Yeah, absolutely. That's a good idea actually. That's, that's really cool. cool idea to try sure. All right. Now, and, and then which element does what? Do you even need everything? Is it cluttered? We already said that. And then is finally, are the vocal layers helping the message? Because ultimately the vocal is about the, the emotional content, the lyrics. Like what's the song about? In most cases, that matters, right? And so, if you add anything to those vocals, is it helping the message? Is it helping how the vocals are supposed to feel? Does it make a bigger part bigger? Does it make a sad part even more sad? Is it adding to the emotion that that's part of the song? And, um, Are the important vocal pots really coming through and big enough and clear enough, close enough in, intimate enough, um, intelligible Sometimes, you know, sometimes you think something sounds great and bigger with a lot of layers, but if the intelligibility suffers because of that and you don't, you can't really make out the lyrics anymore. Is that actually better then, or is there a sort of, what's the trade off and what, what's the right balance there? Sometimes it's better to have it very close and intimate and clearly audible, what the lyrics are without any layers, you know, so always be intentional and think about what the song is about. It's, if it's a very intimate loft song, in a ballet or whatever you might have, you might just want one, one vocal right in your ear compared to a big stadium rock chorus, you know, with, you know, with like totally different.
Malcom: Yeah, totally. And like vocal doubling. Like . It just sounds bigger once you layer vocals. But is that actually good You know, it can be like easy to be like, yes, that is sonically rewarding. We're gonna leave that on the whole time. But like now, now there's no lift for the course, for example. Or it doesn't get smaller when you need it to like it. It might not be the move. Just because it sounds better without context doesn't mean it sounds better in context.
Benedikt: 100%. That's actually a very good sentence to wrap up this episode, to end this episode,
because it's all about context when it's, it's arranging right? And arrangement per definition has to be at least like two elements that can be arranged. It's not about one thing. So it's about context. Doesn't matter what things sound like on their own. and you said last time there were some, some cool puzzle, puzzle analogy. Um, I think, I can't remember what you said, but there was something you said after having your third coffee, which was very smart, . So if you go
back to that
Malcom: here, so that's my problem. I think
Benedikt: whatever that puzzle analogy was, that one was good. And it's all about this, these puzzle pieces and how they worked together. And, uh, so. Thank you for listening.
Malcom: making sure you have all the puzzle pieces and that they all fit, they're from the same puzzle. That that would help too.
Benedikt: Yeah, yeah, it
Malcom: it's amazing
Malcom: I loved it at the time,
Benedikt: Yeah, it was good. It was good. just go back to that episode if you haven't yet, and then
you'll hear that. All right. thank you again for this amazing question, Jesse, and, uh, thank you for listening. And, um, if you have any additional questions, follow up questions, if anything still unclear, just let us know. Send us a message or post in the community and we're happy to give us, uh, your, uh, our thoughts, not
Malcom: Definitely. Yeah, both, both these episodes came from a question being posted in, in the community, or
was that just direct? Yeah. Yeah. So, that's, that's the value of this thing. Uh, so head over to the self recording band Facebook community.
Benedikt: Exactly. All right. Talk to you next week. Bye bye.
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