Arranging a Song from Scratch
You can have the catchiest loops in the world, but if you choose poor combinations in between loops, you can miss the opportunity to have a classic hit!
If you’ve ever heard of beat block, I really think poor arrangement skills contribute to beat block.
It’s weird – within your song, some loops blend together so well, while others almost conflict. But when you put all the loops together come chorus time, they all seem to fit so well?
So how does one go about arranging a song without getting stuck? Well, I can tell you this: Arrangement is really a game of trial and error – especially how I go about building the arrangement to a song.
But don’t fret, there’s tons of information below to help you on your way to arranging music!
Enjoy the video!
Here’s a free download to the track from the video tutorial:
Setting Yourself Up for a Solid Arrangement,
There’s two types of ways you can arrange a song (that I know of). The first is to build loops that compliment each other, and when you add them all together, you get one big chorus.
The next way is to change the chord progression once your song hits the chorus.
This not only includes changing the chord progression in your chours, but also changing each loop to compliment that chorus!
I find changing the chord progression an advanced attempt, but makes your chorus distinct from the rest of the song – It can also add tons of emotion, make it dynamic, and overall have a real beautiful sound to it.
But the trick I’ve found to making arrangement much easier is to set your self up – Create loops that counter and blend.
Blend – Loops that blend in no matter what. Notes do not conflict with each other, and adds to the song no matter where added in!
By creating a variety of Counter and Blend loops, it gives you tons of combinations to choose from throughout your arrangement.
Your foundational loops will stand out right away when you are beginning your arrangement – without them, the song feels like it’s lacking something. From here, it’s the trial and error approach to find which of your other loops drastically enhance these foundational loops.
In the image above, the top loop, PN Nexus Grandpiano, is the foundation of the track; that and the bassline. So I know I can play those two together at any time over my drum loop, and the track will sound great.
However, loops like ST Big DramaStrings are too over the top for the verse by itself, which is why I only had it play at the chorus – This may be because it’s a counter loop, or the loop itself just needed support from other loops to stand out strong.
The arp also wasn’t powerful enough to hold it’s own, but was a great blend loop – especially when using it with a filter upon build-up to the chorus!
Arrangement is just a game of trial and error until you’ve figured out the blends and combinations you need to build a nice arrangement.
Structuring Your Song,
Once you’ve found your foundation loops, and which combinations go well together, you’re next step is to structure your song.
Try using my copy + paste technique while arranging, and deleting what you don’t need. It’s a great workflow to quickly find the best combinations between your loops.
I tend to layout my song by figuring out my intro, chorus, and verses so I get a good idea of how things should be laid out. I will add transitions in after my arrangement has become a bit more solidified.
To begin, I usually start with my intro – It sets the mood for the track.
Work your way through your song to get a general structure of how you’d like the arrangement laid out. Things can always change, but once things are laid out, it becomes much easier to see what’s going on, and is much easier to add and remove things from your arrangement.
Transitions take amateur beats to professional quickly.
With your song structure all set in place, it’s now time to add in your transitions.
Oh, also – Don’t forget to think about the length of your track. If you have that mind set, you can figure out where you can extend or shorten your track to suite your time limit goal. (Some songs suite 5 minutes, some songs suite the 2:30 min mark!)
Transitions -> A Producer’s Back Pocket Paintbrush,
What is a transition?
In my wording – Let’s the listener know something is changing from one part of the song to the next.
If your arrangement consists of solely adding/removing loops, your song lacks communication and excitement! You always want to be letting your listener know ahead of time of change as it prepares them for excitement.
There’s times for adding/removing loops without transitions, but more likely than not, you’ll want to use some type of transition, or dead silence break.
What are some ideas for transitions?
Really, anything with lots of delay and reverb will sound great. Using a Low Pass Filter on an EQ to tame some high-end to make it sound warmer also has a nice touch for this.
- Risers – Create one note with a VST, and raise the pitch with an automation clip, as I used in this tutorial.
- Snare Rolls – A bit over used if done the trap way – but if done with your own unique approach, adds HUGE picture-painting for your listeners. (Even add toms in here!)
- Cymbals – Use two of the same cymbal sound. Have one cymbal play normally, and reverse the other cymbal. It creates a rushing crash sound! – I tend to lower to the volume of the reverse cymbal, as it makes it more pleasing to listen to.
- White noise – This is a powerful tool I’ve used in another arrangement tutorial.
Now – Be sure to use these transitions in moderation. It’s good to have a few transitions which you can play around with, and mix and match throughout your song. Otherwise they will be over played and be annoying to listen to after awhile!
But as you build your song, you will instantly find that adding transitions into the mix will make your tracks compete with the industry’s best.
Remember – Keep things simple.
If you’re trying to arrange your track even before you’ve got most of your main elements, this is going to be an up-hill battle, in my opinion.
I like to build most of my tracks, then from there I add or remove what I don’t need as I build my song.
Once you have your basic song structure built, you now have a template to work off of. As you listen to your track, you may hear a spot and think, “I gotta add a filler/transition in there” – Or, once the chorus hits, you may think to your self it’s just missing that chorus feeling, and you create one more loop over top of the chorus to bring it to that level.
Arrangement is a hard topic to talk on, as it all depends on the song, the person’s opinion, random trial and error, and maybe using my own terminology instead of the industry’s proper wording ;).
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