How To Get Better At Arranging Your Songs

If there is anything that us music producers always seem to have trouble with, it’s arrangement. We are great at making those 8-bar loops and listening to them over and over again until our ears drop off; but as soon as it comes to making an actual song out of that loop, our creative mind suddenly goes blank.

(If you’re struggling to even come up with an 8-bar loop, I’ve written an article on how to make music when you lack ideas/inspiration. You can read it by clicking here).

Why is it so easy to make loops and yet so difficult to arrange that loop into a full song? In this article, you’ll find tips and tricks on how to quickly improve your song arrangements, without having to become a full-time composer. It’ll just take 5 minutes of reading and a desire to make better tracks!

What Is Arrangement?

Arrangement in music can mean a few different things. However, in this article (and generally on this website), whenever I refer to ‘arrangement’, I mean the structure of a song.

Arrangement is the flow of a song from start to finish, travelling through ups and downs, highs and lows, tension and release. It is the concept of different ‘sections’ of a song transitioning between each other. This is, in essence, the actual song itself.

Think of arrangement like a story. All songs should tell a story in some way (even if it’s just an instrumental with no lyrics), as this is what makes it interesting and keeps people listening over and over again. A track can start calm and relaxed, and then become more intense and loud over time. Or, maybe a track begins with the loudest, most memorable part first; then it transitions into a quiet, calm section, and then it goes back to loud again.

Dynamics

The most important word you need to remember when thinking about arrangement is CONTRAST. Although keeping the same theme throughout, your song should be dynamic, constantly changing and full of contrast, to make it interesting and satisfy our need for variety.

This is what makes it a ‘song’, instead of just a repeating loop. If a track is just the same sounds, the same melody, and the same drum pattern over and over again for 3 minutes, people will get bored very quickly. Arrangement is where the variety comes in.

A typical arrangement may look like this: Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Bridge-Chorus-Outro.

There are many different types of arrangements that you can use to build your own songs. However, there are a few tried-and-trusted arrangement structures that are commonly used in popular music, because they have worked for decades and are easy to understand. Some genres even expect and are built around these arrangement structures.

Is It Okay to Copy Arrangements From Other Songs?

The basic structure of a song is not copyrighted. There are only so many arrangements you can possibly make, and so, in music, it is totally fine to take the structure of a song you like, and build your own track with the same structure.

Let me show you an example of what I mean:

Let’s say I like the song ‘Titanium’ by David Guetta.

I download the song to an mp3 file, then place the mp3 into my DAW of choice. I use FL Studio.

I match the tempo of my DAW to the track, and line the track up to the grid. In this case, Titanium is 126 bpm (Beats Per Minute).

Now is where we get into the arrangement, or ‘structure’ of the track. I’m going to listen to the track, and wherever a new section begins, I’m going to place a ‘marker’ in my DAW. In FL Studio, this is very easy to do. If you use a different DAW, you may have to look up how to place markers on the timeline.

Where the intro starts, I will place a marker that says ‘Intro’. Where the first verse starts, I will place a marker that says ‘Verse 1’. Where the buildup starts, I will place a marker that says ‘buildup’.

I will keep doing this throughout the entire song, until I’ve placed a marker for each different section.

It doesn’t matter what you name these markers, just as long as you know what they mean.

Once this is done, you can delete the reference track, and you now have a full structure for your next song. All you have to do is follow the markers!

Don’t worry about originality when it comes to song structure. You shouldn’t feel bad about copying the structure of another song. This is just one singular aspect of an entire project. There are plenty of other ways to make your track unique and original through things like sound design, tempo, vocals, key/scale etc.

Starting with Arrangement vs Starting by Making a Loop

Most producers like to start making a new track by creating a loop. They usually begin by making the chorus/drop, as it is the most populated and memorable part of the song.

However, some people like to begin a new track by laying down a rough arrangement. This provides a framework to build the song around. It makes it a lot easier to create a track when you already have a rough outline of where each section should be, and what each section should include.

If you always start a new track by making a loop, try experimenting by starting with the song structure instead. Using markers in your DAW, map out where each section will be, and what sounds/instruments will be in each section.

Be creative, and switch up the order of the sections to create your own, unique arrangements! Maybe you’ll start the song nice and quiet, and build up to a climax over time? Or you could jump straight into the drop from the very beginning! It’s your track, so put your own stamp on it!

Turning a Loop Into a Full Song

It’s all well and good starting a new song by mapping out the arrangement. But what if I’ve already made an 8-bar loop, and need to turn it into a full track?

This is often the part of music production where people struggle the most. They’ve spent hours perfecting the loop, and it sounds great – they just don’t know where to go next. Then they dump the song into the graveyard and never work on it again.

Resist the temptation to throw your track idea away at this stage. It may seem hard at first, but with a little practice, it can become much easier to turn your fledgling loops into fully grown arrangements.

The Ingredients Are Already There!

If you’ve already made your drop (or the most populated part of your song), then you already have at least most of the ingredients to make your arrangement!

You don’t have to go through the process of making a whole new drum pattern. You can reuse the drums from your loop and put them in the breakdown, verses, buildup and other sections! Maybe you can just use the kick in the first verse, add a clap on the second bar, and slowly add more elements as time goes on?

You can put a lowpass filter on the sound you used for your chords, and use it for your first verse. Slowly automate the filter to let more of the high end through as the verse goes on, to create a feeling of ‘building up’ to something!

Final Tips

Remember the golden word: CONTRAST.

Make sure your track is constantly changing throughout. There needs to be a buildup of tension, and then a satisfying release. Drops always sound better when there is a strong buildup before it.

Another helpful tip is to always think of your track in sections. You already have one section done – the drop. Assuming the drop is the loudest and most populated part of your song, we can create contrast by making the verse sections quieter, with less elements. By making the in-between parts quieter and more relaxed, the drop will hit much harder.

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