More tips for break­ing out of the loop of doom…

Computer Music - - Make Music Now / Arrange Tracks Like A Pro -


Get some self-in­duced in­spi­ra­tion by tak­ing one of your own songs, strip­ping away the mu­sic, then com­ing back af­ter a day or two and remix­ing it. Lis­ten­ing to the vo­cal acapella af­ter a while may help dis­tance you from the orig­i­nal ver­sion enough to come up with some­thing new. As it’s your own song, you can then choose to ei­ther keep the orig­i­nal vo­cal or re­place it, then write a com­pletely new song over the top of the new back­ing track.


Your com­puter is a pow­er­ful record­ing de­vice with acres of hard-disk space, so why not make the most of it and record long synth ‘jams’ to au­dio? If you’re lucky, this can cap­ture some great mo­ments, cre­at­ing a wealth of in­spir­ing ma­te­rial that can or­gan­i­cally in­flu­ence ar­range­ment de­ci­sions. Chop these nuggets out and use them as one-off ear-candy mo­ments to keep your ar­range­ment fresh.


Chord in­ver­sions are your friends – you can fash­ion a de­cent pre­cho­rus by in­vert­ing the verse chords so that they play higher up the key­board as the sec­tion pro­gresses. Sim­ply play­ing the same chords in dif­fer­ent po­si­tions on the key­board pro­vides va­ri­ety with­out ac­tu­ally chang­ing the chords them­selves.


Make a whole new sec­tion for your song by copy­ing an ex­ist­ing sec­tion, drop­ping out the drums and just chang­ing one chord. This worked well for the Chainsmok­ers in their re­cent hit, Side

Ef­fects: they took the pre­cho­rus chords, swapped a Cm7 for an Fm7, and hey presto! – a bridge sec­tion was made! When the cho­rus re-en­ters, a new vo­cal melody over the ex­ist­ing cho­rus track keeps things fresh.


As well as the struc­tural side of things, there’s a lot that can be done with the in­stru­men­tal parts you use (or don’t use) in your track to keep things in­ter­est­ing, and new sounds are al­ways in­spir­ing. Copy and paste the drums from your soli­tary eight-bar loop, dial up a new synth or a set of pre­sets that you rarely use on one of your ex­ist­ing synths, or strap a sel­dom-used plugin over the chan­nel and use the new sound to in­spire a fresh part.


When it comes to get­ting hold of ris­ers and tran­si­tion ef­fects to keep your ar­range­ment mov­ing, there’s ab­so­lutely noth­ing wrong with plun­der­ing sam­ple li­braries and other re­sources. What’s more, you don’t have to use straight-up ris­ers as-is – in­stead, try us­ing a sam­ple of a long cym­bal crash or noise ‘down­lifter’, flip the au­dio back to front with your DAW’s re­verse func­tion, then nudge the re­versed au­dio into place on the time­line. Fade and shape the swell’s vol­ume for in­stant ‘whip­ping’ ef­fects.


Kick it old-school with sub­trac­tive ar­range­ment! This tried-and-tested method dates from the very ear­li­est ver­sions of Cubase and other lin­ear­based DAWs, and it still works just as well to­day. Start with a loop­ing sec­tion of four or eight bars that rep­re­sents the busiest sec­tion of your song – usu­ally the cho­rus. Du­pli­cate this re­gion along the time­line to form a grid of re­gions last­ing the length of the song, then work through from the in­tro sec­tion, re­mov­ing or mut­ing un­wanted parts. Keep go­ing un­til a de­fined ar­range­ment starts to ap­pear, then re­fine the tran­si­tions.


If you’re us­ing eight- or four-bar sec­tions as build­ing blocks to sketch out the foun­da­tions of your ar­range­ment, run a few sin­gle-pass over­dubs all the way down to ‘ce­ment’ them to­gether. These could be things like drum fills and cym­bal crashes, vo­cal adlibs, key­board riffs, live knob twid­dling on an ana­logue synth or MIDI con­troller, etc – ba­si­cally, any track recorded as a con­tin­u­ous per­for­mance that in­fuses your song with unique, one-off mo­ments, con­trib­utes to the de­vel­op­ment of the track and makes it evolve as it plays. This will keep the lis­tener in­ter­ested and re­duce the repet­i­tive­ness that block-based ar­range­ments can some­times suf­fer from.


If all you’ve got is a re­peat­ing eight-bar loop that you can’t break out of, try us­ing au­to­ma­tion as a per­for­mance tool. Copy and paste your loop into a three- or four-minute long block of re­peats, then as­sign the vol­ume lev­els of eight of the most prom­i­nent tracks to eight slid­ers on a hard­ware MIDI con­troller. You could also as­sign the chan­nel mute switches to ap­pro­pri­ate but­tons if your con­troller has them. Then set your DAW’s au­to­ma­tion sys­tem into Write or Touch mode, start the track play­ing and hit those faders. Of­ten the live per­for­mance el­e­ment of hav­ing phys­i­cal con­trols be­neath your fin­gers as the track plays will spark some la­tent cre­ativ­ity, and give you or­ganic mo­tion.


Writ­ing a seven-minute song isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad move, but there’s of­ten no need to go to great lengths – lit­er­ally – to pep­per your track with loads of dif­fer­ent sec­tions if it doesn’t need them. Many cur­rent chart hits are edited down to the bare min­i­mum, com­ing in at un­der three min­utes long. Don’t need that in­tro? Bin it and just start the track with a synth noise lead­ing straight into the first verse. And hav­ing only one sin­ga­long cho­rus at the end has the ef­fect of mak­ing your lis­ten­ers want to play the whole thing again just to get to that bit – and that can’t be bad, can it?


If your drop is lack­ing in im­pact, try vary­ing the dy­nam­ics of the track sub­tly be­tween the drop and pre­ced­ing build. Use au­to­ma­tion to drop the over­all level of the track by 1-3dB at the start of the build, maybe in­creas­ing the vol­ume of the im­pact ef­fect on the first beat to com­pen­sate for the sud­den change in level. Then ramp the level back up by a dB or so dur­ing the build, be­fore snap­ping back to the orig­i­nal level on the down­beat of the drop. Boom!


If you’re con­struct­ing song sec­tions by copy­ing and delet­ing MIDI re­gions, it makes sense to have a sep­a­rate track for each in­di­vid­ual drum kit sound if pos­si­ble, as that not only gives you flex­i­bil­ity for pro­cess­ing dur­ing mix­ing, but also lets you mute and bring back in in­di­vid­ual el­e­ments of your track more eas­ily when ar­rang­ing. If you have re­gions con­tain­ing mul­ti­ple drum events – kicks, snares and so on – on sin­gle tracks, most DAWs have the abil­ity to sep­a­rate them out onto in­di­vid­ual tracks – such as Logic’s Sep­a­rate by Note Pitch com­mand.


A quick way to check out an ar­range­ment idea with­out ac­tu­ally chang­ing any­thing is to use your DAW’s ‘skip cy­cle’ mode. This is where, in­stead of loop­ing the cy­cle range, the play­head jumps over it, miss­ing it out en­tirely – a good move if you want to see how the cho­rus sounds com­ing in straight af­ter the verse, skip­ping the pre­cho­rus, for in­stance. Most DAWs have a ver­sion of this – for ex­am­ple, in Logic Pro, just hold down the Cmd key while drag­ging to set the range; or in Cubase, just swap the left and right loop lo­ca­tors around.


Fi­nally, an­a­lyse the ar­range­ments of some of your favourite tracks. Lis­ten to what other pro­duc­ers have done and try to fig­ure out the me­chan­ics of the track and why it works the way it does. The more you do this, the bet­ter you’ll get at pin­point­ing the mi­nor de­tails that, when added to­gether, make a big dif­fer­ence. To get su­per­an­a­lyt­i­cal, im­port an au­dio file of the track into your DAW, and use mark­ers to mark out the sec­tions. Then you can flick be­tween them to see how the song de­vel­ops and which ex­tra el­e­ments ap­pear in which sec­tion.

Be­lieve it or not, all of these are C mi­nor chords – they’re just in­ver­sions go­ing up the key­board Sub­trac­tive ar­range­ment might make your track look like Break­out, but it’s a re­li­able, easy tech­nique

Us­ing sam­ples – like the ones given away each month with Com­puter Mu­sic – can prove in­spi­ra­tional

Sub­tle vari­a­tions in dy­nam­ics can help bal­ance the rel­a­tive lev­els of builds and drops

Sep­a­rat­ing mul­ti­ple drum kit el­e­ments out to in­di­vid­ual tracks will give you added ar­range­ment flex­i­bil­ity

Over­dub­bing passes of fills, synth ed­its or other sonic ef­fects can liven up grid-based ar­range­ments

Skip cy­cle does what it says on the tin: it misses out the cy­cled sec­tion and skips to the next bit

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