The Power of a Strong Arrangement
This is part 7 of our One Man Production Machine series by Ed Elefterion. Check out the other articles in the series below:
- One Man Production Machine Introduction
- Part 2 – Capture the Audience With Your Songwriting
- Part 3 – How to Write Lyrics
- Part 4 – Writing Memorable Melodies and Killer Chords
- Part 5 – Verse vs. Chorus
- Part 6 – How to Write Better Bridges to Create a More Interesting Song
You’ve written a song. (Good job!) Verse, chorus, even a bridge…(nice). Now what? Most people move right into the recording phase. I used to do that too. What happens? I can’t say what happens for you but for me…
I ended up underwhelmed, surprised at how short and how repetitive it was. And I rarely felt “wowed”.
What happened? I’d written a catchy tune, worked hard on the lyrics, and even built a bridge. So why did it end up as just another song?
I had yet to discover the Arrangement.
What is an Arrangement?
It’s not enough to write a good song. You must organize it and make decisions about how it unfolds over time.
Music is nothing if it’s not a way to organize time. That’s where the term “measures” comes from. What do measures add up to? A span of time that’s outside of the realm of pedestrian, mundane, usual, daily time. Music transforms time into an emotional experience. Music is magic because it shrinks time, it expands time, it chops time up and stretches it out. Music layers time.
And how your music shapes time hinges on the way you arrange it.
I tend to think of songs as different sections that add up to something. Makes sense, right? We’ve been doing it this whole series: verses, chorus, bridge. And because they are modular, I have a great deal of fun moving the sections around, reorganizing the building blocks to hear how the overall meaning is determined not only by the contents of each section but by the way I place the sections and relate them to each other, over time.
That’s kind of a big idea. The content stays the same, yet I can affect the meaning by changing its location in time. That includes not only when it happens but how often. Repetition is a huge tool in any art…but in music it reigns supreme.
Put It to the Test
The song you wrote already has an arrangement. It can’t not have one. It moves from beginning to end and the way it gets there…that’s your arrangement.
Now…try moving the sections around. It doesn’t matter if it’s better (or worse), just play around with the order and create a new order. Maybe start with the chorus. Or the bridge. Why not?
That’s the rudimentary process of arrangement. There’s a lot more to it, of course. But once you can see your song as a collection of separate components that you can reorganize, then you can start thinking with a specific aim, and you will begin to arrange your material with purpose.
Now before I really get into arranging…
There is one overall guiding principle I want to share. I use it all the time. It’s so central to my thinking that it’s getting its own section, right here…
Surprising Yet Inevitable
Ask yourself about that contradiction. Surprising yet inevitable.
When I listen to music that wows me…whether it’s Bach, Thelonious Monk, The Beatles, Nirvana, Kendrick Lamar…they all share this same quality. Their music suddenly goes in a certain direction, like taking a sharp turn, and – while I’m noticing the strangeness of it – I also feel that it obviously had to happen that way. It feels both surprising yet…inevitable.
That’s great songwriting, no doubt. But it’s also how the material is arranged…and produced, of course. (The section on producing is coming soon.)
So, that song you wrote (again, congrats, it’s no small achievement) …if you haven’t organized it with purpose?
A mediocre arrangement equals a mediocre response.
To get audiences to invest themselves in the world you create, arrange the elements of that world so that they seem surprising yet inevitable.
We’ll go more deeply into Arranging. And we’ll start where we always, absolutely must: Tempo, Time and Key.
If you’re overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Shoot me an email and I’ll help you out with a…
I’ll listen to your demo, we’ll Skype for 15 min and I’ll tell you what I’d do. You can take my ideas (or not) and execute them yourself.
Or, if you want more direct help, we can talk about how much (or how little) you want me to be involved.