How To Make More Interesting Music!
What is Arrangement and Why should you care?
Whether you're new to music production or you're a seasoned DAW user, when it comes to making a compelling track one of the most important aspects is nailing the arrangement. Depending on the genre, this can be extremely varied and serve different purposes.
For example, in an EDM genre like Dubstep or Drum & Bass, especially in the modern age of Tik Tok attention spans, you always want things changing and coming in and out of the mix. In a more minimal genre like Lo-Fi Study Beats or Tech House, you can get away with far fewer variations.
No matter what genre you choose, however, it is very important to always be thoughtful of how the song progresses and introduce new variations without completely losing the theme and feeling like it's an entirely different song.
In this post we are going to discuss some various techniques you can apply to keep a song interesting and give it an organic progression!
What does a song consist of anyway? Vocals? Guitar? Glockenspiel? Maybe a big riser effect before the drop? Each of these things can be considered an element.
An element can be an instrument, a melody, a bassline, a drum loop, atmospheric effects, or anything else that the listener can identify at any point in a song. At the beginning, you will need to create the elements that will define your song and express a theme. This will be things like deciding which sounds and instruments to use in your creation, writing chords and melodies, creating an atmosphere, and making a beat.
Often times, a producer will start by adding all or most of the elements together in a loop. This can be an 8 bar section that contains the meat of your track, which you can later use to expand into a progressive and expressive piece of art. If you get to a point where you can't add more to your loop, you can start making a second loop containing variations of the same elements and maybe replacing a few elements with something new entirely!
This will give you a pool of content to work with when you begin arranging your song.
Now that you have most of the sounds laid out for your song, it's time to arrange them in a way that will captivate listeners and tell a story. This can be done in all sorts of ways, and I will share with you a few ways that are most common and some techniques I use that can make your song more interesting.
The first thing you'll want to do is start taking sounds from your loops and placing them in different sections of your song, as you decide how the song will progress.
You may want to have the melody and atmosphere in the intro with no drums or bass, then bring the drums and bass in for the chorus. Then, maybe you'll have a section after that where you replace the melody with a variation from the other loop, or a vocal, and then maybe you start slowly bringing in more elements from the other loop and develop the song from loop A to loop B.
The objective here is just to think of ways to make different and interesting sections by adding and removing different elements from the loops you've made.
The next key thing that will really start to bring your song to life is adding transitions. This is where things get fun and you can really get creative.
One thing you can try is adding a filter and automating the cutoff to slowly bring in or out the top or bottom frequencies of a sound as you progress towards the next section.
Automating in general is something you can really go crazy with, anything from reverb to volume to distortion can be automated to control the tension as you move from section to section.
Another common technique involves using risers, swells, reverse kicks, or other creative sounds in the background to build tension towards the next section.
Even adding silence or taking away many main elements for a bar or a beat before a section can do wonders to add interest to your song.
Another thing to consider is changing your sounds or adding subtle variations from section to section. For example, if you have a 16 bar chorus, you could on the latter 8 bars add a new layer to the snare drum to make it feel thicker, or add an extra short step to the melody to keep things interesting. All of these subtle changes when accumulated across a whole track can take a stale song and bring it to life.
A couple important things to remember when arranging your music:
- There should always be one element that is the main voice at any given time. This element can change / rotate as the song goes on, and you can even have it change very quickly alternating every beat. However you wish to approach this, remember that at any given section you have one element that will serve as the "singer" (doesn't actually have to be vocals) and the rest of the elements are the "band" meaning that at any one point your "band" should all be supporting your "singer" element.
- The average listener can pay attention to no more than three to four elements at a time, so don't try to crowd your mix. This can look something like Drums, Bass, Rhythm Guitar, and Vocals, or Atmospheric Pad, Percussion, and Piano. So while you will have only one main up front element, the sounds in the background that will be perceived by the listener are limited and you don't want too much going on. That doesn't mean you can't fill up more space with things like atmospheric noise or layer your instruments, it just means that these are things that will not be consciously picked up by the average listener and should be placed under and behind your audible instruments in a way that doesn't distract from them.
If you're newer at music production, you might not know how to arrange a song or what different sections should or could look like. Even if you've been doing it for awhile, you might get into a creative rut while producing and be stuck in whats known as 8 bar Loop Syndrome where you have made an amazing loop and don't know how to get from there to a finished track.
This is one of the many reasons that you might benefit from directly referencing other tracks in a similar genre to what you're making. I can already hear some people starting to push back as I get into the idea of direct referencing, but hear me out.
It's not plagiarism or even unoriginal to completely copy an arrangement of another track. Yes, you read that correctly, copy. Now, you're not copying the melodic content, the sounds, or anything like that. What I mean is this - does the song you like start off with just a beat? Okay, start your song with your beat. Does the song you like go straight into the chorus right out of the gate? Okay, try that!
I would highly recommend anyone to spend a significant amount of time directly copying arrangements from various songs. You can even release your works when you do this! It's not plagiarism or unoriginal, it's just inspiration for possible ways to tell your own story with your own sounds and beats. The more you do this, the more creative you will naturally become as you start to understand various arrangement ideas in a deeper way. At a certain point, you'll spend less time copying arrangements and more time creatively crafting your song using everything you've learned from all your favorite music.
If you ever dip into a new genre or find yourself uninspired, I always like to come back to direct referencing the arrangements of similar music! It's a tactic that will 100% make you a better producer!
To wrap this all up, arranging a song consists of:
-arranging, adding, and removing elements
Finally, don't forget to reference the music you love and are inspired by!
If you want to hear how I use these principles in my own music, I encourage you to search for "Ryahu" on any music streaming platform to hear my dance music, and "philip j loaf-eye" to find my lo-fi hip hop beats!
Until next time!