Stuck with a loop? Here are five song arrangement hacks to help take your song past the finish line. And a video for the top three!
Following your intuition and letting the song take you where it wants may be ideal, but the ability to do so takes a musical vocabulary that comes with experience. Some days it just doesn’t flow naturally. We’ve made a few frameworks of song arrangement hacks for you to help move along your process.
A good rule to make sure you don’t get stuck with a repetitive loop is to strike while the creative iron is hot. The first three methods are all based on that. Let’s dive in head first!
The Skeletal Sweep method is all about putting the structure of the composition at the center of attention and making a rough horizontal outline of the song before anything else, while inspiration is still fresh. Sound choice, sound design, mixing, or anything remotely detail-oriented should be avoided entirely during this stage.
Pick a generic but stimulating sound of choice such as a piano and pour all of your energy into building the chord progression throughout the entire song before looking up. At the very most, lay a drum beat down first (if the song is rhythm-centric), but don’t start adding too many other sounds until the core skeleton is there.
Voilà! The song is nearly finished, and you didn’t even notice it happening.
Stack ‘n’ Spread
While the Skeletal Sweep method progresses horizontally, the Stack n Spread method is its vertical opposite. It’s slightly riskier because of its loop-oriented nature and you may find yourself unable to break out into other sections of the structure if you hang around in one area for too long. Consider it the master level of song arrangement hacks.
Start with a 2-8 bar chord progression, loop it and keep stacking new sounds until there’s way too much going on at once. At that point, you can mute some of the tracks, take a short break and come back with fresh ears to pile on some more. Don’t hold back from choosing sounds that are complementary in timbre and character, but remember not to linger.
Now you have a complete set of shiny puzzle pieces longing to be assembled into a coherent and meaningful picture. Make copies of the entire stack, and subtract sounds to make different sections then fit them together in a way that flows well. Top it off by creating transitions and bridging chords where needed.
Start to Finish
The Start to Finish method is essentially a combination of the Skeletal Sweep and Stack n Spread. Its order of construction is zig-zag or sawtooth-shaped, in other words, you work in blocks of song sections from start to finish. Recycle what you can as you progress to each new section and remember to be bold when it comes to removing sounds that don’t add anything vital to the song.
This is the most challenging method because it takes a patient and focused mind that is resilient to distractions. But, if you’re determined to make it all the way through in one session, the chance of the song ending up in the hard drive cemetery is greatly reduced.
Use a Different Song’s Arrangement as a Template
From now on, make it a mission to listen more actively to the arrangements of songs you like. When possible, take notes on how the song develops over time.
Stealing is the best form of flattery so don’t be afraid to rip a well-written song’s arrangement off entirely. Nobody will notice, and honestly, in this day and age, you’ll need to work pretty hard to come up with a completely unique one.
Collab on the Arrangement
Bringing a trusted friend in for a second opinion is generally a good idea. Invite them to your project to give you some feedback and poke around (after doing a backup, of course).
Maybe this is even the right time to let your baby bird leave the nest and let your partner in crime take care of the whole duty. You must be open to being “wrong,” because another person will most likely have a vision different from yours – and that’s a great thing.
Hopefully, these tools have provided you with a mental framework that with a couple of deep breaths will help you wrap it up the next time you’re ready to smash your laptop to pieces.
Be sure to read our previous blog post here and stay tuned for the next one to be mentally geared up as a creative warrior. And don’t forget to try out our awesome web-based DAW Soundation for instant music creation in your browser.
You are on a good path to mastering your own mind and making great music!