During the process of creating an EDM track the arrangement process can be a serious stumbling block for some. Creating that initial idea can happen in next to no time but when it comes to mapping your ideas out into a compelling and dynamic arrangement things can come to a grinding halt.
Often the problems aren’t connected to lack of inspiration or even good source material but more often in work flow and solid understanding of what keeps the listener interested. Let’s take a look at a few things that will help you transform your concepts into reality.
Tip 1 - Solid Workflow
Before we get into any specific techniques I really can’t stress the importance of being organized. It’s not exactly exciting I know but have your parts clearly labelled, your audio files accessible and tracks color coded will all help you achieve a more productive arrangement session.
Good organization and color coding can make your arrangement process a lot smoother.
With these pretty boring elements in place you’ll be able to quickly navigate to specific parts, load up new sounds on the fly and identify specific instruments in record time. Essentially, solid organization will allow you to spend less time on the actual workflow and more being creative.
Tip 2 - Make An Impact From The Get Go
In most electronic tracks it’s pretty important to stand out from the crowd, there is a lot of competition out there and there is always a danger that your latest club bound masterpiece will be lost in the ether.
One way to make an impression is a dramatic start. This isn’t right for everyone (or every project) but if you are producing something epic an individual sound effect or one shot sample at the very start of your track can at least catch a DJs attention. Try retro hits, strange crashes and reverb based effects.
Being individual is your best weapon and if you can stamp your track with an original ident in this way it’s something for people to grab onto. This will give your track more chance of being recognized in the heat of the moment.
Tip 3 - Listenable Intros Are Key
It’s an unavoidable fact that the vast majority of electronic tracks need some form of drum intro (and ‘outro’ !?). This is solely for the purpose of being mixed back to back with another track by a DJ. There are no hard and fast rules here but generally these intros don’t contain too many melodic elements and are percussion based.
Putting together an intro that is engaging is key.
Just because these sections might be traditionally stripped down it doesn’t mean they can’t be interesting. Try using time stretched vocals or effects samples as trippy back drops. Adding atmosphere is a surefire way to add some much need personality to what can potentially be a clinical section of your projects.
Tip 4 - ‘Rehearsing’ Your Instrument Combos
Before you start your arrangement you will probably have a loop consisting of a number of percussion and instrumental parts. It’s a good idea, in fact a great idea, to kick off by performing a pseudo live session.
Experimenting with different combinations of melody is always a good idea.
This would ideally involve playing your parts together, muting and soloing sections to simply find out what works well together. It’s highly unlikely you’ll want to use everything at once so it’s always a good move to have a basic idea of what you intend to use where.
It can be sensible to take some session notes here so you have a reference to work from as you go.
Tip 5 - Vary Those Fills
During the construction of your arrangement you will hit several areas where you are moving from one set of sounds to another. Whether you are working with a traditional song structure or something more progressive these transitional sections are inevitable.
Varied fills and rolls help to keep things interesting.
Programming fills and rolls, using effects and drum parts, is an excellent way to break up sections and introduce new elements. When doing this ensure that you vary the fills you are using and take the time to produce variations or completely new parts. Constant repetition throughout an arrangement can make the best track sound a little amateur.
Tip 6 - Smooth Transitions
Regardless of whether your project is a 6 channel Minimal House masterpiece or a 100 part monster epic Electronica piece you will need to move between different parts of your project. To do this convincingly you will need to get a firm grip on your DAW’s automation system.
It’s all about the automation!!
When it comes to smooth transition effects and automation are your friends. Try using long effects samples, faded over time and layered with reverb and filter dryer parts in and out over time with lush resonant filters. Whatever you do keep it dynamic and keep everything moving to create an organic collage that evolves over time.
Tip 7 - Using Alternative Sections
A great way to keep your listener’s interest and inject some fresh energy to an arrangement is the use of alternative sections. What I mean by this is a completely fresh section of music that gels well with your existing project, inserted into your arrangement at some point.
This may sound like a strange concept but check out albums by electronic pioneers such as The Chemical Brothers, Royksopp or Groove Armada and you’ll soon start spotting these head turning sections popping up. They really work but obviously time has to be invested to get things working correctly.
Tip 8 - Less Is More
Way back in the day someone advised me that ‘...if I wasn’t happy with a project, I would be no happier with it if I layered another 10 parts on top of it.’ In other words less really can be more.
I think a track should sound good even with it’s most basic elements playing. I always think, if your rhythm section sounds good in isolation then the rest will simply fall into place. This theory generally works, so next time you are about to record a 10th synth part into your DAW to beef things up, strip the track back to it’s basics, step back and get critical!
Tip 9 - Loose The Crash
Crash cymbals are so 1993. OK, so that statement isn’t totally accurate but you owe it to yourself to experiment with new alternatives. You can literally use anything to add impact to a new section, huge reverb tails, vocal stabs or even distorted instrument hits.
Try experimenting with synth effects and hits as opposed to traditional crashes.
The real trick here is try and produce something original that people haven't heard before. There is a time and place for crash cymbals but it’s likely that you can produce something a whole lot more interesting.
10 - A Strong Finish
No matter what style of electronic music you work with you probably want think carefully about how you finish your track. If you need to have drums in place for the DJ follow the same theory that you used in your intro. Even though the percussion is there for a reason you can still use effects, atmosphere and automation to make things interesting.
Remember that not all of your listeners will be DJs and your tracks won’t always be in the mix. With this in mind it can be a good idea to do something interesting with the end of your projects as opposed to just letting them ‘run out’.