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4. Song Arrangement

Considerations Before Arranging a Song
Before spending time on arrangement, ensure that the song has a good vibe to start with and is worth pursuing.  Create the core elements of the song first, Drums, Bass, Synth.  A vibe is combination of rhythm and music that give the listener an overwhelming desire to move.  The creation of a good vibe can often be hard to explain in words, but when the magic is there it cannot be ignored.
The order you produce the elements dictate what direction the song will take.  Starting with Bass for example limits the chord progression options available.  However, for certain genres, chord progression may not be of particular importance for the track.

Composition Tip

Any creative artist has good and bad days for their work, however at the time of production, a low standard may be hard to spot. After a few days, fesh ears and mind will be better to judge if the vibe is good.

 

When creating a new tune, start by creating the main part of the song, (the drop) using an 8 or 16 bar loop, using the core components of the song, Drums, Bass, Lead. Compose a second part, different but not too removed from the main part of the song. Don’t worry about the intro, breakdown or outro at this stage. The intro is just a light version of the drop with the hook or main synth removed. The breakdown is usually the introduction of the hook or synth without the drums.

 

Your initial perception of a tune is altered as soon as it is created so take a break from that particular song for a few days. After a break re load the tune and if the vibe is good, continue working on the song to completion; add more detail, e.g. pads and Synths (Chapter 8), sound effects (Chapter 11) and production techniques (Chapter 13).  If not, consign it to the bin, and make a fresh song.  Adding details and intelligent arrangement will never fix the fundamental issue of “lack of vibe”

Arrangement Categories and Arrangement Block Types.

When arranging a song, it is necessary to understand the different Arrangement Categories and their particular function, see the chart below.  Each Arrangement Category is distinctive, does not overlap and fore fills a particular function for both the DJ and dancer.

 

A lot of songs go straight from the Intro to a Drop with a minimal build up.  The only rule to arranging is so ensure that the song can be mixed by a DJ.

 

Arrangement Categories

Function

Intro

Start of song, e.g. just drums, or Strings.  A DJ friendly intro will enable the song to be mixed from the beginning.  A simple intro will be easy for the DJ to mix.  An epic intro with a variety of instruments, atmosphere etc will provide a substantial start to a DJ's set.

Breakdown 1

Change of pace, create space prior to main part of the song “drop”.  (This part of the tune is generally where the new song is given 100% of the cross fader and the old song is replaced with the next tune to be mixed.)

Pre Beat 1 Or

Build up

Anticipation prior to the main part to song / Drop.  The rhythm and intensity increases.

Main 1 / Drop 1

Start of main part of the song.

Variation  1 /

Chorus

Change of pace or themes to sustain interest.  Traditionally the Chorus contains the most memorable and catchy riffs of the tune.

Breakdown 2

Similar function to Breakdown 1.

Pre Beat 2

Build up 2

Anticipation prior to the second Drop.

Main 2 / Drop 2

Start of main part of the song.  (This part of the tune should contain an easily recognisable cue point for the DJ to start mixing in the next song)

Variation  2 /

Chorus

Change of pace or themes to sustain interest.

Outro

Finish, winding down of elements.

An epic outro with a variety of instruments, atmosphere etc will provide a substantial end to a DJ's set.


Arrangement Block Types (single)
An Arrangement Block Types describes the musical or percussive content.  There are 10 categories, and each Arrangement Category will contain a combination of multiple Arrangement Block Types, see the chart below.

 

Arrangement Block Types (Single)

Description

 

PERCUSSION

Used for intros or breakdowns and helps the DJ keep time without overpowering drums.

DRUMS - Light

Full Drum kit with little power, commonly used before the Main Drums.

DRUMS - Main

Main hard drums, full volume and intensity.

INSTRUMENTS

Bass

INSTRUMENTS

Strings / Pads

INSTRUMENTS

Lead / Synthesiser

INSTRUMENTS

Analogue Instruments Guitar, Piano etc. Real recordings or Sound Fonts.

VOCALS

Rap, spoken word, singing.

SFX

Digital or Analogue FX

SFX

Scratching

 

Example of Arrangement Block Types in a Breakbeat Tune

The following example provides overview of a typical arrangement of an 8 minute Breakbeat tune…

 

-A single “Arrangement Block Type” unit lasts 16 bars (or 30 seconds at 134 BPM).

-By introducing a new “Arrangement Block Type” every 8 bars, the tune does not become repetitive and maintain interest.

 

In the example below, the intro provides the DJ about 1 minute to mix both tunes before cutting the fader 100% for the breakdown.  The DJ can mix out of the tune at the end of Variation  or Pre Beat 2.

 

Arrangement Category  Name:

Intro

Breakdown 1

Pre Beat 1

Main 1

Variation  1

Breakdown 2

Pre Beat 2

Main 2

Variation  2

Outro

Number of Bars:

32

16

16

32

32

16

16

32

32

32

Number of Units:

2

1

1

2

2

1

1

2

2

2

 

 

Block Type Variation

To sustain interest for the listener, it is necessary for a producer to exhibit subtle variations in the Arrangement Block types, and dramatic variation from one Arrangement Category to the next.

 

As an example, the following 32 bar Intro contains a new variation of “Arrangement Block Type” every 8 bars.

 

8 bars of drums and Bass, then

8 bars of drums, Bass and Synth, then

8 bars of drums, Bass and vocals, then

8 bars of drums and vocals.

 

 

INTRO

BREAKDOWN…

0:00

0:30

1:00

1:30

2:00

8 Bars

8 Bars

8 Bars

8 Bars

etc

Drums - Main

Drums - Main

Drums - Main

Drums - Main

 

Instruments - Bass

Instruments - Bass

Instruments - Bass

 

 

Instruments - Synth

Instruments - Synth

 

 

 

Vocals

Vocals

 

 

 

Snare roll crescendo

Pads

 

Decide the Sequence of Arrangement Block Types
Once you have an understanding of the function of each individual Arrangement Block Types, the next stage is to produce an arrangement which contains the main framework, and simple sequencing patterns, e.g.

 

Intro                 = 1/8th closed hat

Build up            = Snare roll

Main 1             = Main drums and Bass

Variation 1       = Main drums and Bass and Synth

Breakdown      = 1/8th closed hat

Main 2             = Main drums and Bass and vocals

Variation 2       = Main drums and Bass, vocals and Synth

Outro               = 1/8th closed hat

 

Fig 1: Each unit below represent 4 bars in the song (or 15 seconds).


Key Elements to an Arrangement.

1)      The song can be mixed in easily by a DJ.

2)      There are not too many breakdowns, either 1 or 2 per song is enough.

3)      The song can be mixed out easily by a DJ.

 

Simple Arrangement

Keep the arrangement simple enough for a DJ to mix in and out of the tune.  If you want to demonstrate cutting edge rhythms and irregular Synth effects, utilise the breakdown when dancers stop dancing and take a break (unless their particular state of mind prevents them from noticing that the beat has stopped).  As long as the main part of the song contains a familiar and regular rhythmic sequence, the dancers won’t mind a complete contrast in musical elements for the breakdown.

 

An important consideration is that only a few song Arrangement templates provide a DJ friendly track.  If the DJ can’t mix your song because of a contemporary and irregular arrangement, it might fore fill the function of a film score, but fail for the purpose of a dance track.

 

For more examples of Song Arrangement, see Appendix 5. 

 

DJ Friendly Cue Points

Any percussive element at the beginning of a song will help a (Vinyl) DJ mix in a tune straight from the start.

 

It is important to add DJ Friendly Cue Points in a variety of places within the track.  An obvious example to demonstrate is by adding the vocals, “3, 2, 1, go” just before bar 13.  An example or non DJ Friendly arrangement is 4 bars of Strings and no percussion which jump suddenly into the main part of the song.  An experienced DJ will be able to cue off from the Snare but this only gives them a fraction of a second to react.

 

Motifs can be used symbolically to communicate arrangement, e.g. the clichéd 16ths Snare build up before the main part of the song.

e.g. FX - swoosh up or down to signify a new 16 bars.

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