Imagine if you were to first come into contact with Game of Thrones by seeing some of those R-rated scenes…You would probably wonder what the hell is this medieval bedroom stuff doing on TV in broad daylight, right?
Well, yeah. That’s how things go when you take them out of context.
Now, you may not see any connection between the obscene scenes (Obscenes? Pure comedy gold.) and the topic of today’s discussion…But you couldn’t be farther from the truth!
The fine art of arranging is a subtle and often overlooked web of good decisions made by the artist that affects all levels of listeners’ experience. Although a certain number of your arranging decisions do not consciously affect the listener, the presence of those arrangement tricks definitely add up to the emotional impact of the song.. All of those melodies, bass lines, or the beat itself could be thought of as sentences or mere words, and the arrangement would be the overarching story plot which contains the gist of the emotional substance.
Back to the Game of Thrones analogy – It is the story plot that makes you binge it like there’s no tomorrow. Better yet, the story plot makes the single constituent elements stand out e.g. “I Drink and I know things” would not be half as potent if it was not embedded in an immersive storyline. Ok, the R-rated stuff was also cool, but you get the point…
You are lucky to have the team at Producer Confidential guide you through the magical world of arranging. Since Producer Confidential is a newly unearthed phenomenon, let us introduce ourselves first!
Sticking to the GoT references, let’s just say that PC would be like your Varys of the music industry. It is the secret weapon behind many of the music industry giants that is finally coming out and sharing their decades’ worth of experience with the general public.
We are going to cover the main genres of today’s electronic music and we’re gonna give you some useful easy-to-implement tips to immediately kickstart your creativity and up your arranging game.
2 Dimensions of Arrangement
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 nasty Tyrion sex scenes to make it more flashy, interesting, and intense.
Chapter 1: Horizontal Arrangement Crash-Course:
The Rule of 8
Now, we are aware of the fact that we artists are a rebellious bunch that does not like any sort of rules and restrictions. Therefore, take this subtitle with a pinch of salt. If the word “rule” is too constricting to your artsy-fartsy snowflake ears (we certainly know we feel that way), take it as more of a pattern that is often used to help create nice flowing songs instead of a blindly followed dogma. Your creative input is definitely the #1 thing and you can break away from this pattern anytime you want.
Nevertheless, this rule refers to the pattern of changing song parts after 8 bars. For example, after an 8 bar intro, you would launch into an 8 bar verse. After that, you would lock into an 8 bar bridge, or straight into the 8 bar chorus. The buildup and the last chorus usually tend to be a tad bit longer, with either one of those being 16 bars long. Again you can experiment and do whatever you feel like doing, we’re just giving you some food for thought.
Whatever you decide should be the length of your separate song sections, a very important part of making the whole experience immersive is adding movement to your parts.
After all, we electronic music producers do not strive to create overly complicated melody lines or chord inversions. The intricacies of our trade come in the form of the arrangement and effects and the overarching flow of the song is what makes our output so special.
Adding movement to certain repetitive song parts can be done by automating certain effects which create a sense of urgency and flow. Also, adding and subtracting certain layers of the arrangement over time can be an incredible trance-inducting trick of the trade.
If you blindly stick to the “Rule of 8”, you can, for example, cut the high hat after 4 bars of an 8 bar verse. In a scenario in which you have for example 16 bars of a certain song element, you would add a filter type automated effect after 8 bars just to keep things interesting and moving.
See? Piece of cake.
The Rule of 3
The gist of this idea is to create 3 variations of your verses and choruses, or all the other song sections that are going to repeat more than once.
Now, make sure not to fall into the trap of being under pressure to include all of the variations in your song. This is an exploratory technique that spurs spontaneity and creativity like no other. It makes you fine-tune the part itself and develop it in many different ways.
Once you do that, the wealth of different variations can inspire you to do the arrangement on the macro. For example: Verse variation no.1 appears the first time around and it lasts 8 bars. The second time around you would do 8 bars of verse variation no.2 and then 8 bars of verse variation no. 3.
The wealth of micro arranging variety can affect your arrangement on the macro, and vice versa.
The Rule of 24
This one refers to the number of tracks you would include in your track project. The idea is to include no more than 24 tracks since the more tracks you include the chances are you are going to have to manage more relationships and everything over 24 really becomes overkill.
Not only do you have to probably mix every bundle of instrumentation differently (thus create more tracks) in order to resolve the conflicting frequencies, but you may also have to constantly adjust the volume of certain tracks from one part to another.
This one could be the most important piece of advice for any newbie electronic music producer.
Importing your favorite tracks that you model your stuff after in your DAW and using it as a sort of a template for your song can be of crucial importance.
A lot of our emotional bonds to the music we love do not reach the level of consciousness when it comes to the constituent elements that make it so emotionally potent. We can mitigate this and make light of all these slight tricks under close examination.
Import the suitable reference track of your choice into your DAW. Try to figure out what it is that makes you go crazy for a certain part. Is it the moving automated sound design trick that creates a wonderful sense of space and time? Is it the tension and release created by adding and subtracting certain elements of your mix?
It can also be the mere structure of the song…
Whatever it is, referencing your favorite songs and dissecting them to find out what makes them tick is an incredible way to get inspired.
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!
Be sure to check the 2nd instalment of this post in which we’re going to further dissect the topic of arranging in electronic music. Peace!