Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Five Tips For Perfecting Your Arrangements

Making an eight-bar groove with cool riffs and funky drums is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. I mean, think about it... How many "brilliant ideas" do you have on your hard drive that would be huge Beatport hits if you just took the time to finish them? Yeah, like I said, it's the groove that's easy. The work is all in the arrangement of the track. Great music with a crap arrangement just isn't compelling.

It's the story, stupid.

Let's face it, crafting an arrangement is a massive, time-consuming chore. Some producers really get into it and focus, but others - like me, actually - find this part of the process a gigantic pain in the ass. I just wanna make neat sounds and wiggly grooves.

Well, short grooves are great if you want to carve out a future making loop libraries. The world needs those too. But if you want to be an "ah-tist" you'll have to buckle down and get to work. So here are a few things to think about as you create your masterpieces.

1. Make sure you have at least 16 measures of just drums on your intro and outro. This makes a track very easy to mix - and allows DJs to loop the outro and layer it with the next track. I've heard some producers say that with digital DJing, this isn't as important anymore. Ignore them, because there are tons of guys out there who still love CDs. Making your tracks DJ-friendly is the key to maximum support.

2. When crafting your breakdowns, consider whether the track is a big-room monster or funky sweatbox groover. If it's a big room track, go for the massive 32 measure breakdown. If it's a funky club track, give serious thought to keeping the breakdowns tight and concise. For extra credit, consider leaving a rhythmic element in a smaller breakdown, it really helps keep the floor.

3. If you're having trouble figuring out the storyline and flow of your arrangement, find one or two tracks that are in the same vein as what you're attempting, then use those arrangements as guidelines. I wrote a tutorial on this topic last year for Keyboard Magazine. Here's the link.

4. Ear candy is the secret sauce of success. Try sprinkling your arrangements with clever fills every 16 measures. Morph the most important parts in unusual ways over the course of the main body of the track ("Yin" and "Yang" are stellar examples of this technique). Add touches of reverb or delay to emphasize specific areas of your main riffs, rather than just slathering it on and moving to a different part. Try having two or more synths play the same riff, then switch or crossfade between them at key moments. Like a great movie plot with clever twists and turns, it pays to keep your listeners on their toes.

5. Once you've finished your arrangement and mix, let it cool for a minimum of one week. Don't render it. Don't put it on your iPod. Don't listen to it in your car. Don't play it for your friends. Let it go. When you re-listen to your work endlessly, you suck all of your perspective out of it. (Hand lotion and Kleenex are a far more effective coping mechanism at this point.) After a week or two passes, go back and listen to it. You'll be amazed at the little details that need fixing. Usually it's tiny stuff. Take a day to address those issues and then you'll finally be finished and on to the next track!

Related posts:
- Five Tips For Smoother Workflows
- Ten Essential Production Tips
- Index of Beatportal Tutorials


  1. Nice post. Keep up the great work.

  2. dude yes! a couple ppl and i were JUST talking about this when i found this article in my fb newsfeed haha

  3. I agree with all these tips especially tip #5..great post Francis.
    Its the story stupid! lol

  4. killer tip! someone should screenshot that arrangement into a freaking art gallery. beautiful!

  5. Thanks FP, great tips and article, and yes your right, its the pain in the ass part, but it will make us the ahhh tists we can be!

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