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  • How To Make Hits Part 2: Arranging EDM, Hip Hop and R&B

How To Make Hits Part 2: Arranging EDM, Hip Hop and R&B

2 Dimensions of Arrangement

Before we go into details, let’s just remind ourselves a few things from the 1st part of this post:

The two main dimensions in which your arrangements work are vertical and horizontal. 

Besides the fancy wordage, horizontal arranging means the sequential order in which you organize your song parts, bass drops, drops, etc…Vertical basically means what things do you stack upon each other at a certain point in time.

Horizontal dimension: The general rule of thumb is that you would make a certain change after every 8 bars. In the case of horizontal arranging, you would change to a different part every 8 bars. 

Vertical dimension: The same can be applied in the vertical sense. For example, leaving out the kick drum and your bass line at a certain point of a song. (To find more about this, check the part 2 of this saga)

So like, horizontal arranging is the story plot and the sequence of events, and vertical arranging is adding some hot and steamy scenes to make it more flashy, interesting, and intense.

Chapter 2: Vertical Arrangement Crash Course:

Building Chords

We’re not going to go into too much music theory.  That’s another blog post. We are going to cover the chord progressions in relation to arranging. 

The arrangement in this sense is the layering of the chord that is spread out through different VSTs, instruments, octaves, etc…

After you have written your top melody, make sure to create a compelling bass part. Let’s think of it as a sandwich. Your top melody is the ham on the top and the bass line is the tasty piece of cheddar cheese that is placed on a crunchy piece of bread (drum beat). 

Although the basics can sometimes be refreshing, you would love some other condiments like ketchup, mayo, lettuce, and all that good stuff? Well, the musical equivalent of that is the layers you place in between the top melody and the bass line.

If you are a seasoned pro, you know how to season your “song sandwich”. See what we did there? Cranking out jokes left and right…

Ok…

On the other hand, if you are just starting out we are going to give you a cool tip that you can use to expand your chord layering. 

Namely, after finishing a cool-sounding bassline, copy the same line 7 semitones up. That line in relation to the bass part creates the 5th interval and serves as a neat-sounding glue between the top melody and the bassline.

Although it’s a great piece of advice, be sure to experiment and come up with your own original solutions to the chord layering “problem”.

Make Drums Pack More Punch

The best way to make a barnstorming kick drum is to divide your kick sound into two sections: the high bass track, and the sub-bass track.

As you have probably guessed, the sub bass is the lower part of your kick sound that usually dwells in some low-ass frequency bandwidths under 80hz. Combining that with a spike around 4-5 kHz on your high bass drum track will make your kick drum sounds huge.

Sound Effects

Fade 2 Grey Effect

This effect is an incredible tool in every electronic producer’s arsenal. 

It is usually used to create tension and release just before the drop. The way you do it is you automate the delay, auto filter, and large stage reverb to open up at the beginning of the build-up and then close it just before the drop.

If your drop feels somewhat thin and less potent than the build-up, automate the volume to be turned down over time up to -3db so that when the drop hits it packs that much more punch.

Delayed Drop Trick

Introducing a small break just before your drop can make it drop that much harder. It can be however long you like it, just make sure to make it so it does not lose momentum, but it rather increases it that much more.

The “Pluck”

There is probably no more recognizable sound effect in the world of EDM music than this fine chap. Even if you are not familiar with its moniker, you will definitely know it when you hear it.

To get the desired “Pluck” sound: 

  • engage your favorite synth plug-in of choice (Absynth, or something like that) and tune in a classic vintage saw-shaped wave.
  • Route the synth from the oscillator to filter and choose a tighter filter with a sharper curve.
  • Automate the filter cutoff knob so it works really fast.
  • ?!? Profit.

Now that’s a handy rule of thumb to get you started with your beloved plucks!

However, if you are feeling somewhat frisky, you can do some other things to make it spicier:

  • Want that deep tropical house type of plucking? Shorten up the sustain, make your decay quick, and set your cutoff value so it produces a majestically full low sound.
  • Want to make a spectacular soundscape? Add delay to taste. (Our pick of the week would be Waves’ H-Delay)
  • Want to make a chord progression or a top line that cuts through the mix like a hot knife through butter? Add another oscillator with a different wave shape (square wave, e.g.) and mess around with different octaves that are higher than your baseline octave.

Pro-tip: If you have a slow pattern, don’t cut off sustain! That way, you will not lose any energy between the hits. 

N00b-tip: Take the “pro-tip”  with a pinch of salt, you may want drops in energy.

The “Supersaw”

Ahh, yes! Yet another “hall-of-Famer” as far as any electronic music producer worth his salt is concerned!

Besides being a damn legendary sound, it is really simple to make:

  • Use your synth (Serum! Now that’s a VST!) to create a saw wave.
  • Add a unison to it. 

The way that adding a unison makes your synth sound so cool is that it replicates your original wave a whole bunch of times. Every replica gets slightly pitch-shifted in reference to the original wave. The icing on the cake is the fact that all of the wave replicas are scattered all over the stereo image to make it sound HUGE!

  • Want the Trance breakdown “Supersaw” style effect? You should go for a quick attack time and a somewhat longer release time.
  • Want a “supersawy” pad sound? Increase the attack time, and also increase the shit outta release time. Cutoff the high end and add reverb. (Holy fuck, “end and add”. As if we’re teaching diction, not sound design…)

Gritty Bass

Before you call us boomers or something, and go full-on gen z on our ass, let us explain! It’s not only old-school techno that uses this type of sound. There are numerous examples of this in the modern music landscape!

To achieve this mind-bogglingly cool effect:

  • Create a unison with a subtle detune ratio.
  • Create a lower octave version and make the two play at the same time.
  • Make it mono.
  • Turn up the glide.
  • Add distortion to get the real grittiness.

Pro-tip: Nowadays, the gritty bass is usually used as one component of the two-piece bass puzzle. It is used along with the sub bass so you can reap the benefits of both massive low end (sub-bass) and a mix-piercing dirty high end (gritty bass).

N00b-tip: If you are to apply the “pro-tip”, make sure to cut any clashing low frequencies with your sub-bass.

Acid Bass

At least call us millennials, not boomers – ok?

This one was a staple of the old school techno sound.

To get this cool effect:

  • Use the resonance control to create a peak EQ point.
  • Automate it so it sweeps across the frequency spectrum.
  • Add distortion to make it cut through.
  • Voila!

Sub Bass

This is like the bread and butter of today’s electronic, hip hop, and R’n’B music.

This effect is what makes those beats drop hard and your whole body move.

To create this effect:

  • Create a standard sine wave in your preferred synth VST.
  • Add distortion.

Adding distortion makes this one audible to all sorts of sound systems your audience might be listening to. Whether it’s some cheap equipment or a high-quality stereo, distorting your sub bass will make it present across the frequency spectrum.

  • Want an 808-type Sub Bass? Add distortion, long release time, and make it mono. Pitch up at the beginning of every note, then add fast down pitch.
  • Want some future bass/trap style sub-bass? Add a second layer of sub-bass and derive it from a triangle wave. Add distortion to taste.

Bass Growl

The most coveted effect in the EDM genre of Dubstep!

To create this sound you cannot rely upon your traditional wave shapes.

Recipe for Bass Growls goes something like this:

  • Create a custom waveform by clicking out the wave shape. You can also do it by importing a sound and chopping it into a wave-table.
  • Add warp mode.
  • Add a flanger filter that serves to boost frequencies in different spots.
  • Slam the multi-band compressor from both the top and bottom end.
  • Add reverb to make it wider.

Sound Tricks

Brass Stabs

This trick is a surefire way to make some astronomically huge sounds!

To create this sound effect, you need to:

  • Find a brass sample. If you don’t know where to start that journey, we recommend splice.com.
  • Make the brass line so that it plays the same line as the sub bassline, and vice versa.
  • Use EQ (FabFilter is a cool option, may we say) to cut everything below 200hz, so it doesn’t clash with the sub-bass frequency range.

Bendy Bassline

There is probably no better way to enhance the movement in your bassline than to add some bends to your musical phrase.

To make this sound trick come to life you need to:

  • Tell your plug-in of choice which note should be bent to a certain other note or pitch.
  • The speed of the bend is defined by adjusting the time span in milliseconds (the “porta” command in Serum)

Fillers

The best way to make your transitions between the song sections! Not only does it add more movement and drama, but it also enriches both the sensual and emotional impact of your song.

Some of the filler ideas we recommend you check out:

  1. Vocal Acapellas: 
  • Find a cool acapella sample (if you don’t know where to start, we suggest msprojectsound.com)
  • Sample a certain part.
  • If needed, shift it to your desired key.
  • Use a plugin to convert the vocal to a synth (look up VocalSynth, you can rent-a-own it dirt cheap!)
  • Add reverb!
  1. Riser:
  • Turn on the noise generator.
  • Record it as MIDI.
  • Create the beginning and endpoint in regards to your desired part of the song.
  • Automate the cutoff filter. Start with the filter closed and finish with the filter all the way open.
  1.  Impact:
  • Turn on the noise generator.
  • Record it as MIDI.
  • Create the beginning and endpoint in regards to your desired part of the song.
  • Automate the cutoff filter. Start with the filter opened and finish with the filter completely closed.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, arranging (and everything else music-related) comes down to your creativity. It was PC’s pleasure to be your today’s guide and we hope to see you often among these pages since our decades’ worth of experience is about to get spread out to the masses! Be sure to get to the info first!

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