Keith Everette Smith

Producer, Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist, Music Director

Where's your focus

Where’s the focus?

Mixing for bands can be interesting. Sometimes the guys don’t even need to tell me what instruments they play. I can often tell by listening to their critiques of the mix what they play. The drummer is most concerned with finding the best drum sounds. The guitarist cares most for his solos and on and on.

As a producer I find myself doing the same thing. I am an instrumentalist and sing very little. I can find myself getting really excited about the interesting band arrangement I’ve created and forget about what matters most… the vocal! I think this is a danger for any instrumentalist. I suppose if you’re a vocalist you might care more for the vocal than the band. (I know this is true of at least a few of my vocalist/producer friends so I guess it’s likely to be true across the board.)

The vocal is the most important part of your song. Try to notice when your focus has drifted to some other element, and discern whether or not the focus of the mix has improperly shifted. Maybe the guitars have found themselves too out front in the mix and the energy of the vocal is lost. If so, redirect!

From a production standpoint, remember that everything else in your song has a secondary focus to the vocal. This can actually ease the pain of arranging. Keep your mind’s eye on the vocal and get a feel for what is needed to surround the vocal and lift it into focus.

It can be easy to create arrangements that are distracting and actually take away the vocal’s impact. It might help to play your mix, focus and the vocal and notice when the arrangement has awkwardly stolen the attention. Things like lead guitars, background vocals and programmed FX are typical culprits.

When the vocal is not the focus

Here’s an idea… Rather than placing a busy instrumental part right over the vocal, maybe consider placing these ideas between vocal lines or in vocal-less sections. You should always have something interesting to focus on in your song. When there is no vocal (intro, turnaround, instrumental section, outro) you have a great opportunity to create unique hooks and instrumental melodies that can really support the song without getting in the way.

The mixer and the focus

If you’re a mixer, don’t be afraid to mute, duck and rearrange for the betterment of the song. Be sure you have the blessing of the producer before trying out your arrangement ideas. Some producers are open to re-arranging and some are not. I’ve found that most producers are open to hearing what you can come up with, but don’t get too attached. If he doesn’t like your idea it’s ok. You work for him! At the end of the day the producer should get what he wants from the mix. Hold everything with an open fist (good life advice if you ask me).

Recap:

  • Focus on the vocal
  • eliminate distractions and clutter that distracts from the vocal
  • Find focus in every section of your song