Quick-Start Arrangement

The arrangement stage of writing music can be frustrating, especially for beginners. Here is a quick start tip to get you out of that 8 bar loop ASAP!

For many electronic music producers, the initial stage of song writing develops from a loop. I almost always start things off with a 8 or 16 bar loop when making dance music. It makes sense,  because of the repetitive nature of it. Today’s DAW software really fosters this approach, especially the likes of Ableton and Bitwig which lean towards electronic musicians heavily with the session view.  They really are amazing peices of software for getting ideas down quickly. In minutes you can have a killer sounding loop that you can just imagine a dance floor going nuts to.  The next step is to lay this killer track out into a full length floor-filler. This next stage, the arrangement stage, can be a daunting one however and it’s often where many fledgling producer’s tracks go to die.

I personally have a few different techniques for getting a track arranged but today Im just going to share one that I used a lot as a beginner and still do sometimes if I feel stuck.

  1. Select an existing track you love.
  2. While in the linear “arrangement’ view of your DAW, drag this track into the top audio channel.
  3. Using the imported track, map out the “parts” of the song to MIDI parts. Parts meaning things like “Intro”, “breakdown”, “verse”, “chorus”. Or even just as simple as “part 1”, “8 bar break”, “bassline change”. The point is, name them whatever is meaningful to you so you have an idea what needs writing during each section of your song.
  4. I also like to use the “locator” markers in Ableton to denote changes in the track. Maybe something like “Shaker” to let me know to bring in an element at that point. The pic below is incomplete but highlights these steps. Each colored box representing a different section of the song.
  5. Now after you have your MIDI guide track in place, delete the audio track that you originally put in the first channel as a guide.  The reason for this is you dont want it to influence the music you are creating much beyond the arrangement. If you keep that track in there, it can be very tempting to mimic basslines or melodies which could potentially lead to plagiarism. We dont want that.
  6. Now you can start writing a tune below your guide track using the building blocks you’ve put together.

It’s much easier to build a house, when you have a blueprint to build it.  That’s all we’re attempting to do here. This is an especially useful learning tool for beginners who are still getting a feel for the way tunes are arranged. Here is an infographic from a mentor and associate of mine, Mike Monday, that highlights this further.  http://mikemonday.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/the-cure.pdf

I have a few other approaches for writing arrangements that I’ll share some other time but this is the best quick-start one I’d say. Once you get more tunes completed, you’ll get a better sense of how you want them to flow naturally and you wont even need tricks like this.  Even better, once you understand effective arrangements, you can start breaking the rules and get more creative!

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