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Right now I’m listening to the soundtrack from the movie Braveheart. I found it tucked away in an old CD case. (Random fact: I actually did a term paper in high school on William Wallace.)

I’m listening to it right now (the soundtrack, not the term paper) on my Sennheiser HD650 headphones. Glorious. I’m almost too relaxed to t…y…p….e…..

Anyway, whether or not you enjoy orchestral music, there is a lot to be learned from it. I don’t listen to it a LOT, but when I do, I’m always blown away by how complex and interesting it can be…and they don’t use crazy plug-ins, weird panning tricks, or distortion pedals.

As home studio owners, we can learn a LOT from listening to orchestral music. Over the next couple of articles, I’m going to unpack this idea and give you some things to try on your next tune. Today, let’s start talking about arrangement.

Arrangement

When you’re producing a song in your studio, what drives your decisions? How do you settle on an arrangement?

First off, what does arrangement even mean? Arrangement is simply how the song is organized from start to finish. Arrangement and songwriting go hand in hand for me. A song is only as good as its arrangement. When I’m writing a song, I’m always thinking about the arrangement in the back of my mind.

If the lyrics are amazing, but the arrangement is boring, the song won’t have the kind of impact you want it to have. If you’re the songwriter, you need to give as much attention to the song’s arrangement as the lyrics. If you’re producing a song written by someone else, your job is to make sure the arrangement flatters the song.

This can mean making changes to the song itself, which can be tricky. If you use some tact, you can pull it off without offending the songwriter. And you’ll come out looking like a hero in the end.

Now that we’ve established what arrangement is, what all is included in the arranging process? Well, there are many things to consider, and a lot of people lump instrumentation into the arrangement process, but I think they’re somewhat separate. We’ll talk about instrumentation in a later article.

The way I see it, there are three main components to arrangement – melody, chord structure, and dynamics. I’ll discuss these in tomorrow’s article.

Comment Question:

In the comments section below, answer this question: Are you happy with the arrangement of your songs? Why or why not?

[Photo by jordanfischer]