Stock up before you start
Ever thrown yourself enthusiastically into the arrangement process, only to run out of steam due to lack of ideas? While you might think that eight-bar loop can easily be duplicated out into a five minute song, a solid loop isn’t always enough of a basis for an interesting track that unfolds enough to captivate the listener for its entirety. We’ve all been there.
The solution? Make sure you have enough sonic material ready to go before you begin that journey of copying and pasting. Invest more time at the sound design and idea-creating stage, by building up a pile of track elements (drum/perc loops, basses, leads, vocals, pads, FX, etc) at the same key and tempo as the initial groove, all designed to fit the loop in question. By mentally detaching yourself from the pressure of arrangement, you can focus on synthesising cool synth patches, resampling vocal-processing experiments, recording hardware noodling, and generally filling up your coffers with ready-to-go material. Imagine you’re creating a bespoke sample pack curated just for this specific track. Not all of these sounds will make the final cut, of course, but it’ll all become useful fodder for your samples folder nonetheless. To take this approach even further, fill up your favourite sampler with these sounds, and map them across different MIDI keys for instant triggering.
Once your project is bursting with potential ideas, this is the time to dive in and start arranging. If you’re making a DJfriendly dance track, paste your core groove out for 64 bars or so, then start off with that initial groove that had you inspired to start arranging. If the idea gets a little repetitive, you have heaps of sounds throw in the project. There’s no excuse for repeating the same vocal part, for example – you should have a bunch of processed variations ready to try out. And if you created the aforementioned sampler instrument, all you need to do is load it on a new channel and punch keys on your MIDI keyboard to try out suitable sounds on the fly.
Create a ‘sample pack’ of sounds ready to fit into the track, and you’ll never be stuck for new directions