I get asked a lot of times from my students what are the rules in arrangement. Typically there are no rules,but there are some techniques we can apply to our songs ,and create a radio ready song.
As I told you in previous posts ,arrangement is one the key ingredients in song production.It’s not the only key to success but it has a very special role in production phase. A song can be arranged with one or two only instruments but it can also be arranged with more instruments or even an orchestra.I t depends always on the genre of the song and what structure are you willing to give to this specific song.Another question that I get very often from my students is “What instruments can I use for my songs?” There are no rules here too and no limitations.All you have to think how you want to arrange your song. There are some basic instruments ,that are used in average,in every single song and these are drums,bass , piano and guitar ( acoustic, classic , electric) These instruments are used all together in a song or other times only some of them. For example, Adele’s song “Someone like you” is arranged with only one piano and the vocal. So simple but so powerful at the same time. I’m sure that they had many ideas about the song ,but in the end the simplicity wins!Can you imagine this song with strings,bass,drums,guitars,and piano of course? Maybe I’ll give an idea for a cover of the song.
You have to remember one thing and only.Arrangement has a very important and specific role in songs production. We have to keep the listener till the end of the song.To achieve this we have to do something different from one part of the song to another.We don’t have to exaggerate in arrangement! Sometimes too many instruments aren’t only beneficial but they can destroy the image of a song.I am giving you below some techniques –tips for better and more interesting arrangements.
The first thing you have to do is to write down your ideas. A notepad is always useful in your home studio. If you are a tech guy/girl ,you can always kepp notes to your cell phone or tablet.When we decide for the final arrangement of the song we are working on,then you have to record a “guide” track,as I call it. What is a guide track? You record the entire song with only one instrument and the vocal. This can be done with two ways. The first one ,which is the most practical, is to record your instrument(guitar,piano) and the vocal at the same time using one microphone.The second way is to record the instrument and the vocal separately. Either you choose the first way or the second you have to record the song with the structure that it’s going to have later on. Before you start recording your guide track ,one very important step: You have to determine the tempo of the song. In Cubase you can simply activate your metronome and try to set your song’s tempo.If you are using Pro Tools you have to create a click track and do the same process. Don’t worry about the acoustic result because as I told you is a guide track. You aren’t going to use these recordings in your project.
Afterwards you start recording an instrument,that will help you set your arrangement more easily. This might be your basic instrument (guitar.piano) or you can even start with some rhythmic instruments (drums,percussion) and continue adding the bass and all the rest of the instruments that you have decided to use.All you have to remember is that arrangement is a tool that help us to keep the listener and after the first chorus. For example the verses can be with a few instruments and the chorus can be full of instruments.If you use on the second verse the same arrangement that you have on the first verse,there are few chances to keep the listenet to your song. You might use some different parts of guitars and this will be something different.Just think that one simple phrase with a different guitar tone or a violin or any instrument you like ,can change the whole arrangement! Another technique is cutting off all the instruments except drums and vocals,or a guitar and vocal. You can add a different note in your arrangement using percussions (shakers,congas,etc). In the verse you can remove the bass and drums and let only a piano and guitars or any instrument you are using.
Another technique is using vocal harmonies in some parts of the song especially in the chorus.Background vocals are very efficient too. You can double some vocal parts and use some effects (distortion, telephone tone etc). If you are using midi recording ,some pads and strings parts are very useful too for your arrangement. There are so many that you can do to give a different sound in each part of your song. One very simple but very powerful method to have ideas on arrangement is by listening various songs. In that way , you will have more ideas to use them in your projects.
Please leave your comments below and tell me if that was helpful for you