How can you construct a good-sounding song arrangement that will capture the listener’s attention and effectively tell the story of a song? In this article, we’ll go over some important aspects related to the structure of electronic music that will help you better understand how to build an appealing and effective arrangement.
Choose the genre of the song
As you begin the arrangement or production process, you should have an idea of what genre(s) the song relates to. Once you’ve decided on this, finding a handful of reference songs will be quite helpful. In both the arranging/production and mix/master phases of any song, reference tracks are important. This can be applicable whether it’s a light listen for inspiration or actually dissecting how someone else handled a certain specific situation (breakdown to drop for example). It’s not about copying styles or artists, it’s about setting a standard to refer to.
If you’re into producing any type of electronic dance music, you’ve probably noticed that most songs begin with a somewhat stripped-down kick drum and rhythm section. This is often long enough for the DJ to mix from one song to the next. Even though this still is kind of a gold standard in terms of electronic dance music, your song might also benefit from more ambient, “beat-free” intros. Experiment here. Feel free to break away from the routine every now and then.
Less is more in your arrangement
It may sound cliche, but it’s true. Modern software allows you to have as many tracks as you like in a project, which may seem liberating at first, but it also easily makes you go overboard if not careful. Just because you have the ability to include over ten synth lines does not imply you should. Good arranging can be as much about what you leave out as what you leave in. While the production of many great recordings might sound complicated, the actual arrangement often isn’t. Less is more, and with this, you should be rigorous. If you’re unsure whether anything is working, or actually adding value to the song, seek the advice of a trustworthy friend or a fellow producer. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture.
Working with bars
Many of us start tracks from the first timeline bar in the DAW and build the arrangement from there. Using the timeline’s 16th, 32nd, or 64th bars as a ‘sketchpad’ to start out ideas for future drops, switches, breakdowns, and build-ups might be a good alternative. This allows you to transition easily from the eight-bar loop stage to really constructing out different sections of a track. Then you can try connecting them and listening to how they flow together. At this point, you’re working on the arrangement level.
Think outside the box for your arrangement
Try putting a filter or stutter plugin on your master bus the next time you’re stuck on an arrangement idea. Stutter and glitch effects may result in distinctive build-up or fill sections, while high-pass filters and high-shelf cuts are ideal for producing great breakdowns. These plugins could spark an exciting and surprising idea you may use right away. If it works, bounce it as audio and toss it into the mix.