Let me say up-front that I’m a big fan and long-term subscriber of Sound on Sound magazine and I work in pretty constant awe of the work done by the editorial team on the Mix Rescue articles. Mike Senior seems consistently to go a step-beyond in both his Mix Rescues and in his analysis of commercial hits and I frequently find myself in wonder at the amount of work done by Mike and by the A-List celebrity mixers interviewed in the magazine that blurs the line between mixing and arrangement. Heck, a lot of this stuff doesn’t blur anything; it goose-steps all over arrangement and kicks “writing” in the throat.
On track after track I heard the arrangement tricks discussed in the magazine articles being used; piano intro, replace with acoustic guitar and add drums for the verse, back in but loose the acoustic and add bass for the chorus, bit of banjo (?!?) for the breakdown, chorus, drop chorus, chorus with electric guitar, chorus with electric guitar and organ and fade-out on the intro refrain and whine over the whole thing. And again but this time it’s a got a melodica in it. And again….and again…..and again… And for goodness sake make sure no-one actually has to listen to the song, make sure there’s plenty of shiny stuff to distract them and if we ever need to repeat anything more than twice then let’s add a bit of backward bagpipe to keep them interested.
And what exactly is it that I think is wrong with a bit of arrangement? Nothing! Nothing at all. It’s what musicians do to enhance the interest of a piece of music and it’s an essential part of the journey that we strive to take the listener on, highs, lows, introspection, euphoria: it’s the lighting that makes the scene that makes the movie. BUT - string a dozen sequels together, all dipping into the same bucket of techniques and all lacking any trace of plot and it starts to become apparent that it’s consistently being used to try to shoe-horn some ghost of interest into underwritten, bland repetitive crap.
Every now and again something with some interesting notes, or a bit of rhythm, or even a voice with a bit of character would leap-out. I mean literally LEAP OUT from this mire. Interestingly, Girl-Child (11 years old remember) reacted to these tracks, and on a couple of occasions Twin-Boy-Child put his head round the door and even stayed to listen to a whole song.
Now I’ve mastered tracks where I’ve snuck-in an extra delay or some eq-automation or added the odd bit of bleepy stuff onto an already mixed track just to stop myself from falling asleep on the 4th repetition (never been called-out on it either) but the sheer pleasure and relief of bringing-up the faders on a piece of music where the writer’s actually bothered to create the parts and the arranger’s already made his or her decisions is enormous.
I absolutely acknowledge the skills of the production teams that churn urban and dance music anthems week after week, but that is categorically not the same as “well I wrote this ballad but I couldn’t be arsed to make it worth listening to, so just fix it in the mix”. Stop faffing around with your big coat and do your bloody job!.
Edit - a few days later. I think I can forgive Bliss for one moment - just caught Beverly Knight - Piece of my Heart. Absolutely, utterly gorgeous.