So there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to arranging music, there are helpful pieces of advice that stand the test of time.
It’s one thing to write a good song, but a song needs a great arrangement to become a hit. Arrangement is an art that requires balancing elements in a track to create interest and movement. Here are a few ideas on how to create better arrangements in your dance tracks.
Some of the best electronic arrangements use contrast to maintain the listener’s interest. Skrillex and Diplo’s ‘Where Are U Now’ contrasts a minimal verse arrangement with a chorus that’s fuller and livelier. In the verse, Justin Bieber sings accompanied by a piano and soft synth line while the chorus has modern sounding percussion, a happening bass line and a mallet. Due to the song’s strong arrangement, this tune has quickly become a dance floor favorite.
If you have a great melodic idea to express in your track, or want to use instrumentation that’s not commonly used in dance music, go for it. It just has to be placed correctly in the track and be done well. Sander van Doorn & Firebeatz’s ‘Guitar Track’ (Original Mix) is a perfect example of this; the middle of the track breaks down in a beautiful guitar melody. The guitar is unexpected and offsets the hard synth sounds in the rest of the track. This is what makes the track original and stand out amongst the millions of EDM tunes.
Listen to the guitar part at 1:33
If your song is starting to sound crowded, try muting tracks and find out which ones you can leave out. It’s more about how little you can make a song work with, rather than how many elements can be included in a track. If you have more than one instrument sitting in the same frequency spectrum, you may need to remove one or at the least EQ them differently so that the frequencies are balanced in the track.
Plastikman is one of the masters of minimalism:
Listen to arrangements of your favorite tracks and study them. This is the best way to learn about arranging. Listen to tracks in the genres you produce, but be open minded and listen to arrangements from other styles. You might hear a new arrangement idea or two that could be applied to your own songs.
5. Know Your Target Audience
You will need to know who your target audience is and arrange accordingly. If you are creating underground techno or house, longer club cuts will be the norm and there is more time to stretch out your arrangements. If you are crafting pop dance or pop music for the radio, a three to four minute mix will be necessary with shorter 8 to 16 bar intros and outros. It’s a good idea to create the radio version first and then create the club mix afterwards. This will help you to understand what the truly necessary parts of the song are and build from there.
6. Remember the DJs
If you’re producing dance music, it’s important that your tracks have intros and outros that DJs can mix. If you want DJs to be able to play your tracks, they are going to have to be structured so they fit into contemporary DJ sets. Historically this has meant percussive intros and outros but the digital DJing age may change the need for this.
7. Hook at the Beginning
If your song has a great hook, try putting it at the beginning of the song, before the verse. Although it’s not electronic music, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit is a great example of this.
8. The Spice of Life
Vary the arrangements in your verses and chorus by using slightly different instrumentation, switching chords or adding a new riff. Although it’s certainly not typical to hear major changes in the arrangements of the chorus, subtle changes will keep your listeners intrigued and wondering what’s coming next. Surprise them.