Thursday, 26 March 2009

Student Diary - Structure and Arrangement

This is the stage which I, and many other budding producers who I have talked to, tend to neglect more than any other, despite a solid arrangement being absolutely vital to the listenability (yes, I just invented that word) of your tune. A poorly structured song will just not sit right in peoples ears because they are used to a certain classic length and order of verses, choruses and all the bits in between. If you are making music for the club you need to arrange your tune making sure the intro and outro are 'DJ friendly', and if you want to make a successful pop tune convention suggests that there is an even more rigid formula to follow.

So why do people tend to neglect structure and arrangement? Looking through my hard-drive you will find probably 80% of my tunes are unfinished. I create a hook and start to arrange; then I get frustrated or bored and say I will come back to that one and finish it later but I rarely do. I think the main reasons are that it simply isn't as fun or straightforward as creating the 4 or 8 bar loop; the rigid rules and fiddly, time consuming nature can sap the enjoyment out of the whole process. Also, even when you create a great hook, by the time you get to these final stages, you have listened to the same 8 bars so many times that you can literally grow sick of the sound of it.

But you must complete your tracks, resisting the urge to move on if you think you are on to a winner because, 1) if you leave it a while, you often will have lost the verve and enthusiasm when you return 2) you will have nothing to show for all your hours of hard work, 3) as a DJ, there is nothing quite like the feeling of satisfaction when you mix your tune in to another for the first time, and crucially 4) your learning curve will plateau and you will stop improving.

So my tutor demonstrated some ways to develop our arranging skills, such as the A-Bing technique whereby you breakdown a track that you like in the Logic arrangement view, and then imitate the structure of that track using your own parts. This technique is also the starting block of making radio-edits, a vital tool for any producer who wants the tune he is working on to get mainstream radio play which, in this age of digital piracy, is perhaps a more realistic way of earning some serious cash from your music.

I'm sad to say next week is the culmination of this Introduction to Logic Production Course. There's a multiple choice test to check at least some the information has sunk in! And Ian will go through my final mix-down with me before I hand in my final project. So this coming week I'll be reading back through all my notes and putting the finishing touches to my track. Looking forward to getting my hands on my certificate and putting it all in to action…

See you next time.


David said...

Hi Nick,

Nice blog. Enjoyed reading this.

One tip in terms of arrangement. Itake your point on how the arrangement process can be quite dull and uninspiring. This whole process can be a lot more creative in Ableton Live IMO.

Don't know if you've tried Ableton but there are two main pages or "views". The Session view is where you arrange your 4 or 8 bar loops and start experimenting with hooks, basslines and beats. Once you have something you are happy with you can play these clips back in any sequence you wish and create a "live" arrangement of your track.

You can then go in and edit what you've done just as you would in Logic. But the process of putting the arrangement together becomes much more spontaneous and interesting.

Give it a try...

Danny Lewis said...

I'll second David's point about Ableton but also investigate Logic's 'touch tracks'.. It's something I've not looked into properly but from what i can make out it allows you to trigger midi regions (not audio) from the keyboard and come up with improvised structure ideas.

Nick said...

Cheers for the comments guys.

Yeah i've been wanting to try out Ableton for a while now but I thought that I want to really master Logic first before I start confusing myself with other DAWs. The Touch tracks function looks cool though. ill definately check that out.