Nailing the Arrangement
So you have a great melody, bass line, and chord progression. The patches you picked for your synths are epic. The percussion that you laid down makes your studio quake. Yet, your track never really comes together or builds any excitement. Sound familiar? When I first began my endeavor to create electronic music, one of the first pieces of advice that I got was to load up a track that I liked that represented the genre and sit down with a pad and paper.
Regrettably, when I read that, my eyes glazed over. After all, I had been listening to the genre for over 20 years. I thought I knew what went into an arrangement and how a dance track should flow. I learned music theory, how to play, how to use my synths, and the ins and out of Logic. Yet, track after track sounded empty – as if something was missing.
Frustrated, I eventually thought back to that initial piece of advice. Maybe there was something to it? Maybe I could try taking apart a poplar track to learn what makes it tick? This is what I did:
1) Load the track into your workstation (I used Logic). The idea here is that you can analyze the track for BPM, see what the waveform looks like, and see the transients.
2) Start the track playing and take notes. Look at EVERYTHING! Where did that percussive element come from? When it did come in? Is that sound you are hearing one patch, or layered? When did the filter sweep start and end and why was it even there? Note every sound you hear and note when they come and go. Look at the time signature, does it change? Look at the chord structure – does IT change? Does the key change? If so, when? Really – take notes on everything!
3) Stop the track. Back up. Did you really hear everything that was going on? Go back to step 2. Repeat as necessary.
4) Draw out the structure of the track. Come up with some graphical way to represent the intro, main build, breakdown, and outro. Actually seeing it does wonders.
5) Step away from it. Take a break. Come back fresh and review step 2. Did you miss anything? I did.
6) Load up one of your finished tracks in a new audio track and compare them.
After doing this, I was astounded at the amount of sonic material that I was missing.
The next track that I worked on was immediately better and I wished that I had listened to the kind soul that provided this advice 3 years ago. As you start your next track, sit with your notes and make sure you pull in all of the elements that you were missing. Do this a few times to get the basics of the genre you are working in down and then you can start innovating. Most of all, make sure you keep having fun!
By day, Matt Allen is mild mannered software engineer. By night, you can find him in his home studio where he is still learning the dark arts of electronic music production and composition. Some of his work can be found here: http://soundcloud.com/analog-interrupt