How to learn arrangement in music production?


When you are starting in music production, the first thing you will understand is that you need to be better at arrangement. This is the most important aspect of any music production system. It is important to keep in mind that that if you are not well informed about how much arrangement affects the quality of the song, you won’t get a proper commercial release.

Learning arrangement when you are starting music production is a non-negotiable, as you will experience the process of music production better than someone who is trying to learn mixing and mastering only. Having the ability to arrange properly will help you get better songs. So better to learn this first before mastering and mixing. You can always outsource mixing and mastering.

One thing that you have to be mindful of when it comes to the arrangement, is making sure you put in the effort to master your skills in all other areas of production. To be a better producer, of course, you have to learn about arrangement and a whole lot of other things.

Unlike marketing and product establishment, if you are trying to focus on one thing, you won’t become a well-rounded music producer. You should be able to do basic arrangement as well as mixing and mastering before you move on to focus on a specific aspect of music production.

Learning arrangement starts with analyzing songs and writing down their structure. Studying other artists and developing your structure through the elements in a project is the best way to get started in learning arrangements for music production.

Just knowing that arrangement is important for music production is one thing, but understanding all the intricate details will help you to master the art of producing songs. You will also produce music which is more interesting and catchy. In this article, I will explain how important arrangement is to a song as well as walk you through the types of arrangement that you can do in a song. Let’s get started.

What is an arrangement in music production? 

Simply put, the arrangement is the structuring of elements put together in the audio production software, ensuring that they come together without any issues in the harmony and rhythm according to the music theory applied. The arrangement has many levels to it, based on which type of music it represents. Music arrangement makes a huge difference to songs, because it stirs the hearts of people with the dynamics and variations within the power of song.

When you look at the arrangement of a song, the best way to begin would be by looking at the beginning and the end of a song. When starting a song, most producers try to start gently with one instrument, add the other elements and fade out at the end to finish the song. This is a simple example of arrangement.

This type of song would create a different mood when compared to a song where the producer adds all the elements at the beginning and a blunt cut at the end. This is widely undesirable and most listeners don’t connect to these songs because they don’t carry emotion or feeling in any sort of way.

In terms of a song’s arrangement, something important to note is that sometimes, the way you arrange may be excessive. This is to say that the song doesn’t require every element that has been added to the project. This is a an area that many music producers struggle with. Producers can often add too many elements to a project in an effort to make the project sound good. In reality however, it takes away from the feel of the song.

The amazing thing about arrangement is that when you get it right, it will work wonders for the music and will accentuate the melody of the song. This outcome cannot be expected when the song has too many elements crowded in the middle of it.

Arrangements have the ability to take away power and energy from a certain section in the music, and they can also bring it back, using the proper riser, and lower bass as well. This is one of the big advantages of having proper music arrangements in your song.

If you don’t have proper arrangement of the song, altering the power and energy will not be possible. Basically, stripping elements away will reduce the energy of the song, and in the same way, adding elements to the song will increase the energy significantly.

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t be arranging elements at random in an audio production project. The objective behind using breaks in a song, by spacing the elements, is to relive the ears from continuously hearing the same amount of bass and treble. When you mix it up, it doesn’t tire the ears as easily and makes the listener lean in on the song, wanting to hear it again and again.

When you look at it from the perspective of the music producer though, the most vital aspect of music production, is to find the balance of what to add and what not to add to the song. As a listener, we don’t tend to focus on this aspect.

This is where intuition and experience come into play. Most people talk about the lyrics and tonic part of the music when they love it. If you look at those tracks, you will find that they will have amazing arrangement that accentuates the other aspects of the music such as lyrics and the beat.

When you analyze the success of any song, you realize that without arrangement it would have been a big mess. You have to have an adequate balance in the arrangement of all the elements of the song. Even if the elements in the song are amazing, you cannot combine the elements and get a desirable song.

The secret lies in arranging the song properly, so that when people hear it, they are able to hear the intricate details in the song. The arrangement also helps people hear the detail in the song. The best producers are able to arrange a song in a way that it reveals as much detail, as possible, but doesn’t crowd the sonic space in the song.

This balance is what everyone strives for in music production. There is always a debate about how much you can push a song in terms of the arrangement. Adding too many specs will also deter the song away from the desired outcome.

Importance of arrangement in music production

Just like a movie, the music tells a story, only the format is different. Every movie director,like an artist, sculpts the movie to represent a particular theme and message. This has always been the same with music. Every audio track that has been ever been made, always comes from the vision of a music producer, telling a story that sends a message.

The message that is given through the song is important because it’s the one element that connects with the listeners. There might a number of elements in a song, but in the end, people are mainly going to connect with the idea or theme of the song. The heart of the song lies in the message that’s given through it.

There are multiple ways to portray the message of a song. One of the important aspects of music that defines the message is the arrangement. When you start writing a song, the ideas are dumped one by one in the audio production software. This step is followed by adding all the additional layers to the project. Once this is done, the project is turned to the music arranger. In some cases, the music producer himself arranges the song.

This is where everything gets interesting. If the song is not properly arranged, then the overall theme of the song cannot be conveyed properly. If the song is arranged with a lot of elements crowded at a place where there should only be vocals, it will disturb the emotion that should have been conveyed through that track.

This is why the arrangement is an important element in determining the success of a song. Nowadays it’s more important because of how short the attention span of people has become. When people look through the media on Spotify, they only listen for about 7 to 14 seconds. This is a very short window of time, where you have to impress the listener, not only with the elements that you have in the song but with the way the song is arranged as well.

Because of the shorter attention spans, the songs are now getting shorter as well. Songs used to be 5 to 7 minutes long over the last two decades, now they are under 2 minutes. If a song is going to be under 2 minutes, then production and arrangement have to be top-notch, in order to convey the message directly without distracting with multiple elements in the mix. This is why the arrangement is key in music production.

How does arrangement work in music production?

Music production has a lot of processes ranging from sourcing the sounds to putting the musical elements together and sending it to mixing and mastering as well. All these steps are very essential in making the song sound good at the same time to be perfectly good for anyone who is listening as well.

If one of these steps is missed then it diminishes the quality of the song in one way or another. This is why the processes are lined up as pre-production and post-production. This separation structures and simplifies them.

One of the important aspects of the process is to make sure that the songs are perfectly composed and the elements that are put together in the song work together properly. This can be referred to as the compatibility of the elements that are put together in the song.

These elements have to be checked for their tempo, time signature, and scale to make sure that they fit the theme of the song and they don’t disturb anything in the song. This is where the process of arrangement comes into play.

The arrangement is a process in music production where the tracks, as well as the elements, are arranged based on various factors to make them sound musical and to depict a story or a message. This process has a lot of sub-processes as well. There are so many different ways you can arrange a song so it mostly depends on the purpose of the song.

If you want the song to be more aggressive then you have to have all the elements going full swing in the portion where you want it to sound loud. If you want the opposite, you can strip away elements to make it sound as required.

The first step in an arrangement is to name all the elements and strips of audio or midi that you have in the digital audio project. You have to do this if your project is complex. If you don’t have multiple files in your project and you are only working with 5 or 6 tracks you can skip this step.

I would encourage doing it as this will help your arrangement to be clean and it’s easy to find the elements in the mix if you have to edit something. The next step is to arrange the elements based on the different parts in the song, starting from the chorus to the main verse.

If you have multiple verses you can copy and arrange them as well. there is always this question of “do I have too many elements?” the best way to answer this question is to simply strip away one by one and when you feel like you are taking something away from the song, stop. This is an effective method to find if you have too many elements in the song.

Types of arrangement in music production 

There are so many types of arrangements that can be done when you look at music production in general. In the end, if you take all of them and sum it up, you will get two distinct categories, they are the additive approach and the subtractive approach. These approaches are used extensively in the music production world.

In this article I will walk you through each step that is followed in both additive and subtractive approach to the arrangement in music production.

Additive approach   

No matter which type of arrangement it is, the first step is to clean up by naming every single element that is present in the project. This makes sure that the remainder of the arrangement process is smooth and simple. If this process is not done properly, then you will struggle with all kinds of issues in finding particular elements, sometimes this may also result in deleting the wrong component in the project.

To avoid all these potential errors, it’s wise to first name all components, in some cases you can also name them according to why and how you are going to use them in the project. This helps so much in the latter part of the mixing process.

Cleaning up is the second most important part of the arrangement process. This is where you look at all elements and remove excess and unwanted parts of each of them. This is where most of the time is spent in the initial arrangement process. When you are cleaning it up, the process will be even simpler in the end.

The most important parts to clean up are the drums, where you have extra hits laying in-between, you also have to clean up places where the sounds are just stacked additionally for testing. All the testing tracks and samples that are not needed for the project should be removed. In simple words, whatever is not going to be in the final composition of the song should be removed from the project.

This is the stage where the song or the audio track will be arranged in such a manner that it depicts the actual message of the song. Until now you might have all the elements in different parts of the timeline. At this stage, you have to arrange them based on the verse, chorus, and lead. This will give you a good idea of the entire project.

Sometimes, you will find that you have made a huge mistakes in some places, sometimes you will also find you have missed composing for a certain region as well. This step gives you a good bird’s eye view of what’s going on in the project. This is essential in determining how to process each sound for each section in the mixing process.

This is where the actual addition process takes place. The first step in the process is to mute all the elements in the project and have only one layer or element in the song, or audio track be playing. You have to add one element at a time and listen to the project. This will give you a good idea of how compatible each element is in the mix.

If this step is skipped you will not be able to know exactly where mistakes are when you go on to the next steps in the project, namely mixing and mastering. Adding one element at a time will also show you if you have overcrowded some elements in specific regions of the song. Having a simple approach to songwriting is essential for the song to be more upfront and carry the message.

This is the last step where you look at the track as a whole and delete the unwanted elements that are cluttering the track. Once this step gets over, the elements of the song are usually not tampered with. The project stays the same with the exception of the effects added to it.

This is one of the main reasons why you should take your time in arranging the track properly before its sent for mixing and mastering. If the track isn’t properly structured for mixing and mastering you’ll have to come back to it again.

Subtractive approach   

The subtractive approach is about the same as the additive approach. Just like the additive approach you have to start by completely renaming all the elements in the project first. This follows the same steps of cleaning the project from every aspect including the short clips and samples that were added for reference.

People always forget to remove reference tracks when they are working to arrange a track. Once the composing part of a track is done you have to completely remove the reference tracks as well as the unused samples from the project.

As mentioned in the previous approach, once cleaning the project is done, you have to start to completely modify the track by arranging the elements according to the order of each song or audio track. Making these changes early before sending them for mixing will reduce huge headaches.

If there are any changes in these tracks while mixing there will be so many back-and-forth project files trying to correct things. This is why you have to go step by step in the arrangement and make sure everything you need in the project to convey the story is properly arranged.

Once the above processes are done, the subtractive approach begins, you will start to play each section of the song or audio track, and slowly mute one element at a time to see what makes a the difference, in how the song feels or sounds in your ears. This is where ,as a music producer, you have to trust your ears rather than what you see on the screen.

The better you are at the subtractive approach; the more time you can reduce. As you reduce the elements from the project, stop and see if the track is being over-optimized. At this point, the track will start to lose energy and feel that it wants to convey. After this, the final step is to completely delete all the elements that you eliminated from the final arranged track.

What is the difference between composing and arranging music?

Composing and arranging music are completely different from each other. When you are composing music, all the elements are just written on the digital audio software. This is not the case in arrangement. While arranging music, all the elements are allotted to a particular place based on their usage in the track. The arrangement is the last step before sending the track for mixing and mastering.

Why is arrangement important in music?

The arrangement makes sure that the track is interesting for the listener. It also extenuates all the components and elements that are used in the track. Without an arrangement, it would be harder to convey the message efficiently. This is one of the reasons why songs are arranged in different ways to tell a particular story. The quality of the song arrangement can determine the success of the commercial release.

Is it illegal to arrange music?

Using samples and music pieces that are not licensed is illegal. If you want to arrange and use a registered piece of music, it should be licensed through a distribution company. This makes sure that copyrights are not violated, and you have the right to use the sample in your arrangement.

What does a musical arranger do?

A music arranger looks at all the musical elements that are added to the timeline of the audio production software, he then corrects it according to the story that has to be conveyed. He also makes sure that the arrangement is not overpowering the message that is being conveyed. This is why even when a small concert is being performed, a music arranger is used.

How do I learn music arrangements?

The best way to learn music arrangement is to learn from the songs that are already available and look at how the music producers have arranged the song to make it more vibrant. You have to also look at what’s the message of the song, what has been done to make that portion of the song elevated above all other portions in the track.

Conclusion

The arrangement is a part of music that is always overlooked by music producers when they start to produce music. If you want your songs to reach the targeted audience and make a mark, then you should always invest your time in crafting the best arrangement possible.

The best way to learn arrangement as mentioned above is to learn from other productions. This will give you a variety of ideas, of the extent to which you can stretch your ideas and convey them effectively, and at the same time, not lose the core theme of the song.

When you get good at arrangement, the time that it takes to put together all the elements will also decrease, as you would know exactly what you want to add in the track, instead of dumping all the ideas and then sorting through them.

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