Intentional Arrangement

Puzzle

As home studio folk, we love to talk about EQ, Plugins, Mixing Techniques, and DAWs.

But sometimes, we forget about some of the key things that can really make or break a production before you ever get to the mixing phase.

Like instrumentation and arrangement.

  • How many tracks should I record?
  • What parts do I need?
  • What parts don’t I need?
  • How much is too much?

These are all great questions that we should be asking ourselves as we’re producing our music.

You see, as home studio musicians, we often serve as the talent, the recording engineer, the mixing engineer, the mastering engineer, and everything in between.

But sometimes we forget about being a producer.

What does a producer DO anyway?

The producer’s job is to maintain the grand vision for the song. The producer decides when to record another part, or scrap a previously recorded part, in order to best serve the song.

Recently, Graham posted a fantastic article over the The Recording Revolution about The Curse Of Unlimited Tracks and how “less is more” when it comes to recording.

While I agree with his point, I think it’s important to realize that we need to be intentional about what we record.

If you’re going to record 40 tracks for a song, make sure you have a reason for every single one. Make sure that every track has a purpose, and the song is made better by including that track.

Even if you’re only going to record 8 tracks for a song, the same rule applies. Each of those 8 tracks should be intentional, and should contribute to the song.

If it’s not making a positive contribution to the song, scrap it. Better yet, save yourself some time and don’t record it in the first place.

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t experiment and try recording some things that may not work. By all means, go ahead!

But make sure the track is working. And if it’s not, get rid of it.

Pre-production

Another way to tackle arrangement is in the pre-production phase.

Plan out what instruments you’re going to want:

  • How are the drums going to sound?
  • How are we going to fill up the low end, without making it muddy?
  • What are the guitars going to do?
  • Will we have enough energy in the top end?
  • What instruments will we feature at various points in the song?

A little bit of planning can go a long way. Of course, as you’re recording, allow your creativity to take you in unexpected directions, by all means.

But just taking an hour to put together a plan can save you many hours of wasted time in the recording phase.

So next time you’re recording a part for a song, be intentional. Ask yourself why this part is being recorded. Does the song really need it? Or is it just going to add to the clutter?

What do you think? Are you intentional with your recording, or do you just record whatever comes to mind? Leave a comment!

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15 thoughts on “Intentional Arrangement

  1. Alex,

    Thanks for your words!! For myself, I started on a Tascam Porta 3 – multi-tracking and bouncing and if you didn’t know how the song went – start to finish – then you ran into trouble pretty quick. So I am not a “create” the arrangement as you go kind of guy but I know many people are.
    I spend a few hours/days/weeks just guitar/piano and voice – really tweaking the core of the song before I sit down and create a drum track for it. I already have a really good idea how it is going to go before I even fire up the computer. It makes all kinds of decisions easier. “Like what kind of bass sound, or drum kit will I use”……. After that is construction:
    I write the drum track first. Then guitar, bass, keyboard. Then vocals. Then lead guitar parts if any. Rough mix – then Listen in the car. Is there anything missing??

    Being a producer every step of the way requires you to suspend your ego for the betterment of the song.

    Thanks again!!

    Like

    1. Hi Joshua,

      Wow, man. Thanks for the comment. Very cool stuff!

      Good for you spending a bunch of time on the front end. I think that makes a huge difference, and is much more rewarding in the end 🙂

      Definitely requires you to suspend your ego for the betterment of the song. Same goes when playing live too. Sometimes, less really is more, as long as it serves the song!

      Alex

      Like

  2. Excellent post, Alex!

    I think the ultimate idea to take home is that we should have a planned and well defined process when producing a song, from start to finish. This is significantly lacking in those who are independent musicians and have some other primary job apart from music. I have to admit that I usually use/record a pretty high number of tracks in my songs, especially to make the songs sound full and thick. But this often creates complications in arrangements and mixing, and eventually waste of time.

    I will try to follow your advice in one of next projects to see the benefits myself, and I am sure that it will only do good to the song.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and advice. 🙂

    Cheers,
    Kaitav

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    1. Yeah, it’s difficult. Especially when we have pretty much unlimited “freedom” in the box. We can record as many as we can, so why not just keep recording more? More is better, right?

      My argument is that more is not better. At least not always. We’re giving ourselves permission to slack on the “front-end” work on planning and preproduction, only to give ourselves *much* more work on the “back-end” sorting through the mess we’ve made.

      Of course, I’m also reminded of the latest Dueling Mixes song which had over 60 recorded tracks. But the key there is that it was *very* well produced. They weren’t just recording stuff because they could. They recorded what was needed for the song, and filled it out very well. Sometimes, many tracks can work well. I think a lot of professional recordings have tons of tracks. But they’re intentional, not just recorded “because we can”.

      Alex

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  3. Absolutely. We have to stop at some point, or better know where to stop. I am trying to improve on this currently (to reduce the wastage of time) while still making the track sound full, and myself content with it. One thing is for sure that you can and should always eliminate something that is not working well even at the last moment without getting to possessive about it, which I find a bit hard to do. Better late than never!

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    1. Yes, definitely. There’s a saying which I think comes from journalism: Kill your babies.

      Don’t take it literally, of course! What it means for music is that no matter how much time, effort, and love you’ve put into a particular part (your “baby”), you need to know if it’s not working. And if it’s not working, kill it!

      It’s hard, but the song will be better off because of it.

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      1. Kaitav and Alex,

        I love listening to the Demo versions of Famous songs or at least songs I love or know really well because you can compare what was changed. I know in my own writing, I’ll write too many verses in a song or an extra riff or two that I think sound cool but do not propel the song forward and it is nice to see how others deal with those same problems. How much “dead wood” they cut out and why?

        Peace,

        Like

      2. Hi Joshua,

        That’s really cool! Where do you find the demos? I’d love to have a listen to some as well. It would be very educational!

        Like

      3. Alex,

        Usually they are included as the bonus tracks part of an album – sometimes they show up on youtube – I don’t know what you like to listen too – my tastes are extremely broad, but here is a Megadeth one that I found really interesting since it was big when I was in high school. They shave over a minute off this one. If you’re not into Megadeth (and I can definitely understand not liking Megadeth) I am sure you can find some interesting stuff to compare and see what fruit it gives you.

        Enjoy!
        Demo – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFhxqtufBMY
        Studio release https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5jvUXij7nU

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      4. Very cool! I’ll definitely have a listen, and keep my eye out for more like that.

        Thanks! Listening to what other people do is one of the best ways to learn 🙂

        (My tastes are very broad as well. There’s very little music that I don’t appreciate, at least on some level)

        Like

      5. Hi Joshua,

        If I talk of verses and choruses (melody) in particular, I find myself playing the keyboard and recording a few tunes for both verses and choruses. With every little improvisation I make while writing the melody, I usually get a melody that is better than that played/recorded earlier. So that makes it easy for me to just scrap the previous melodies without second thought and keep the latest. The most important thing I listen to while finalizing the melody is that it should flow well.

        Scraping the potentially needed/unneeded stuff can also happen when you get frustrated with the mix or the song itself, and most of times I tend to delete the stuff for good when frustrated. Sometimes I even try to force something in the mix because I don’t want to delete it no matter the mix is sounding good or not, but then I have to create some space for it. And it gets more difficult with every such track that you want to keep.

        Now, I am trying to not overdo anything and also following the top-down mixing approach. And I appreciate Alex for sharing his thoughts about this on this blog.

        Like

      6. Kaitav,

        ” The most important thing I listen to while finalizing the melody is that it should flow well. ”

        Absolutely and you’re melodies do flow! I was just listening on FB. For me, the test of a melody is whether or not it is “Hum-Able”. Can the listener sing it back with only one listening? Usually my first line of listening is my wife and then my kids – and if they are singing it once its done then I know I’ve got it. They are pretty honest with me if it sucks.

        It is so good to have this community!

        Like

  4. Hello Joshua,

    Thanks so much for listening and liking the page. Yes, exactly. Right from the beginning, I have always liked the songs that have hum-able melodies, be they simple or complex, and I have always tried my best to compose hum-able melodies myself. It’s quite good when you have good feedback right at your home, before releasing the stuff. Great test, really. I got married last year and have started taking feedback of my wife as well. It is quite helpful when you have a fresh set of ears of a “listener” listening to your music, and it can be eye (ear ;)) opening on some occasions.

    Yeah, credit to Alex for creating this great website.

    Like

    1. I love the idea of “hum-able” melodies. I’ll have to remember that next time I’m writing 🙂

      I remember an interview once with Christian artist tobyMac where he said that when he’s working on a new song, he’ll slip it into the music that his wife and kids listen to while cleaning, cooking, or doing chores. Then he’ll watch their reaction as they’re listening to it. Do they dance? Ignore it? Skip to the next song? Pretty neat idea, I thought.

      Thanks for the encouragement, guys! I hope that this site will be a place where home studio artists and producers can connect, learn, and share ideas for a long time to come. It’s still very much in its infancy, and there’s a lot of work and growth to do (feel free to share with some friends!), but I love connecting with you guys! Already you’ve taught me a lot 🙂

      Like

  5. Always, man. It is great to meet like minded people, and it is especially important in case of music. So, keep up the great work and you will surely get the results you want. We are here. Thanks for setting up the platform. 🙂

    Like

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