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What makes a great arrangement?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Mixerman, Aug 22, 2001.

  1. Mixerman

    Mixerman Active Member

    Feb 27, 2001
    I feel that the arrangement is probably the most important parts of the actual mix. So what makes an arrangement great? What sort of things happen in a great arrangement? More importantly, what sort of things can we do as mixers to make an arrangement great?

    I think that if we can figure this one out, we'll be half way to great mixing. So help me out.

    What makes a great arrangement?

  2. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    Jun 29, 2001
    Simplicity, freedom from showboating too much...and not going with the same old 8/16/8/16/8/8/16/fade sydrome.

    Good arrangement practice for novices can be found at beatnik.com

    If I get bored...I still have fun rearranging Thomas Dolbys "blinded me with science" for kicks and grins. ( I know...it is rather lame...but fun)

    Knowing pickup vibes on and of 2 and 3 (4/4) or e of 3 etc...helps.

    Vibing with the producer...etc..

    If it is a vocal mix...throwing in the right "answers" to vocal phrasing is fun.

    Wear out those mutes folks.

    Just have fun with it and try a few examples..
  3. warlock

    warlock Guest

    Simplicity, Dynamics and Soul.....

  4. Dave McNair

    Dave McNair Active Member

    Mar 6, 2001
    Along with a great "flow" to the song, I love instuments/sounds, that give a lot of musical value without taking up too much space....
  5. Bob Olhsson

    Bob Olhsson Distinguished Member

    Feb 13, 2001
    Nashville TN
    Home Page:
    Has anybody ever graphed or outlined a really great single describing exactly what happens in the arrangement, how it works?
  6. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    Jun 29, 2001
    .....Yep...They are usually like this..

    Intro....usually instumental with minimum of tracks...then the first verse(usually solo or double tracked) with tight rythum and it usually goes 16 bars...then a Chorus (usually doubled)(8 bars)....then a second verse(with ad lib Voxes on the last few words of each sentence)...then chorus, then turnaround...then chourus with all instruments up..(with ad lib lead vox and usually a little rearranging of the chourus)...then fade...or back to intro...then fade....sometimes a 3rd verse is thrown in before the turnaround..

    It is the formula that happens in about 85% of the popular culture.

    Copying this formula sells...unfortunantly,...it is all too expected in mainstreme music be it country, &/or POP...

    Common old thing again....
  7. zip

    zip Guest

    I believe a proper arrangement and subsequent mix need to focus on dynamics. Artists and engineers alike need to understand everything can't be loud and uniform....

    Unfortunately this is not the current trend today. :(

    ....vary the dynamics and capture the listener.

    zip >>
  8. td

    td Guest

    Hmmm - great question ......... I can only answer this from my own personal aesthetic. I like to hear changes!! Meaning chord changes. Modal vamps are cool and I dig and use them, but what makes an arrangement for me are the harmonic twists that take a tune to an unexpected place. If a tune lacks harmonic movement it's one of the first things to make me hit the FF button when checking out tunes.

    As in all great music that evokes an emotional response from someone experiencing the tune ......... tension and release is a primary composing/arranging tool - build, build release - build build build release etc. In my mind, this not only applies to harmonic movement, but also rhythmic, dynamic and textural elements.

    As far a what's possible after all tracks have been laid down, I think texture & dynamics would be the biggest players at mixdown.

    just thinking ....... I guess trying to stay true to the spirit of the song is probably most important and listening to the version of it that you hear inside your head ...... the internal sonic guide - and having the chops and balls to go for it.

    Plus an extremely hot lead singer never hurts.

  9. Ang1970

    Ang1970 Well-Known Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Telling a story. Each element of the arrangement should help with the storytelling process. (Not just vocals, music too.)
  10. Mixerman

    Mixerman Active Member

    Feb 27, 2001
    All right, I guess I’m not being specific enough. Let’s assume we’re all mixers here. We wouldn’t usually have to deal with form. So let’s forget about that. Verses, Choruses, Bridges, they’re pretty much all there, and in the order they’re supposed to be in by the time we get the tape. Now sometimes arrangements are great when we get a tape (or HD), but sometimes, they’re a bit confused. Sometimes the people that recorded it didn’t have a clear understanding of arrangement themselves.

    So what are some things that we can do in the selection process as mixers to enhance the arrangements. What sort of things would you look for and what sort of things would you look to do?

  11. Teacher

    Teacher Guest

    When i mix something down i try to arrange everything wit the artist flow of lyrics, which attempts to make the artist sound better as well as the beat
  12. drumsound

    drumsound Active Member

    Feb 12, 2001
    Bloomington, IL
    One thing I try in mixing arrangement is to have thinner and thicker sections. For example, I've been on a 2 mics per amp kick lately. On a recent quick and cheap metal demo I used 2 amps with 2 mics each. In the mixes I not only muted one amp in certain sections, but also muted one mic per amp for other sections. That was very effective especially on a song where each mic had it's own space in the stereo picture. I muted the harder panned of each amp, and opened them up as the song itself got more intense. This made both the sound and the stereo image open up or narrow depending on the section of the song.
  13. Tymish

    Tymish Guest

    Melodic instrumental parts or phrases that say something that sticks in your head. Something that feels like part of the song, without it the song would be missing something. Play all tracks up and mute one at a time selectively. Did losing that part really change anything? Is the mix muddier with it? Parts that don't step on each other and especially don't step on the vocals.

    I think it may have been Michalangelo that said something like this.
    "The statue is already in the stone, I just remove what does not belong."

    I sometines think of mixing this way.
  14. Hi,
    The bare guts of what is required to make it work ONLY!!!, then add back in a little of the wired stuff where applicable to add the magic.
    My Rule of thumb. If the song doesn't stand up with just the melody line on it's own, Dump the act .They cant write music!!!!!!
    They are just another bunch of impostors!!!
    Regards Michael
  15. Kevin F. Rose

    Kevin F. Rose Active Member

    Feb 14, 2001
    There are three things to a great arrangement other than flow.

    The first two are constants throughout the song and although they might change these elements are essential throughout.

    1. focal point (focus)
    2. pulse

    The third one becomes slightly more of a flavoring and less of a base ingredient.

    3. event(stunt)

    It can come up in any form (ie. keychange, reverb tail, bad cable)and seperate the men from the boys. Without the first two the event is BS: We've heard a lot of BS lately.

    If the song doesn't speak to you and have a life of it's own the mix is/was moot.
  16. Nate Tschetter

    Nate Tschetter Active Member

    Feb 28, 2001
    Arrangement is where you put the spaces.
  17. Jon Best

    Jon Best Active Member

    Mar 18, 2001
    I think it's a fine line between always supporting the song, and the story of the song, and introducing change and flow with different parts, so that support is never stagnant. Especially with repeats- repeated verses, choruses, etc.

    A lot of my favorite mixes have little mini-hooks and tags that grab your ear just long enough to *prepare* you for an upcoming vocal, without *distracting* from the song itself. Bits of an unused guitar part, rhythm instruments popping out, even a tiny snippet of solo instrument copied and flown over to a needy bit of the song.

    Even weird stuff- how about the cow in the middle of Crowded House's 'Chocolate Cake' on 'Woodface?' And the distant, delayed, quiet copy of the line after the cow? Everyone that has that album go listen to it, and tell me that part doesn't have some wonderful motion.

    Parts can be introduced at a high volume, and faded completely to nothing- people will swear it's there, if you ask them after the song is over, but really it's just their expectations, and you've just created some great space and movement.

    I find myself selling bands on the idea of 'tracks as mute fodder' from pretty early in the recording process, so noone is married to every little bit of everything they happened to lay down on tape.
  18. Jon Best

    Jon Best Active Member

    Mar 18, 2001
    OK, now I'm listening to Woodface, and it's a bunch of great ^#$%ing mixing icing on a great musical cake.

    Hm. There's a song with cake in it. I may need to go get some cake.
  19. Mixerman

    Mixerman Active Member

    Feb 27, 2001
    Some great responses here guys. Thank you for that. I love the concept of focus, and I love the Michelangelo quote, it’s so true. I’d like to put down some of my thoughts on the subject.

    Arrangement is probably the most important aspect of a mix. Without careful arrangement, there is no mix. I’m not going to go into all the rules of arranging, as technically, I’m not an arranger. But I do know a few things about how an arrangement can help a mix.

    I’m going to stick to arrangement principles in songs with a vocal, as it’s the most prevalent form of music. With a vocal, you must constantly be aware that the vocal is the most important element of the mix. The vocal is King. You can make it the focal point with sheer volume, but you dwarf the track, so arrangement techniques allow you to bring it down in the mix, without being distracted from it. The following are some concepts that I find very effective in arranging a mix.

    1. Don’t step on the vocal. If you have a guitar doing noodles all over the place and you’re mixing. Edit the thing. Open up the phrases that the guitar player does in the ‘holes’ (where the singer isn’t singing). Don’t let instruments play melodies under the vocal, unless they are designed as true counter-melodies.

    2. Use the frequency spectrum to your advantage. If you have too much in the same frequency range, it becomes very difficult to mix. Try to give everything that you use in a mix its own frequency range. Sometimes this is impossible, depending on what the producer gave to you, but if you can, think along these lines. It makes for a more congealed mix.

    3. Use contrast. If you want the chorus’ to lift via the mix, you have to allow it to do so with contrast. If you need to make the verse sparser for the chorus to appear bigger, then do it. B-sections on a songwriting plane will accelerate the song into the chorus. You must find the element in the mix that offers this section lift from the verse, but doesn’t over do it, because the chorus is what needs to explode.

    4. Mute what doesn’t work. If an instrument doesn’t clearly help the mix, then don’t use it. Every instrument in a mix should have a purpose. It should do one of the following: Provide lift, groove, contrast, a frequency, or take the focus when the vocal is not present.

    5. Consider doing drastic mutes (called drops) that allow most of the instruments to drop out before a big section, or to add interest along the way. This technique is very common in hip hop, but works great in all forms of music. Sometimes they seem a bit unnatural, but you have to make the determination whether that is OK or not.

    6. Reduce and add reverb or delays (I prefer delays as they don’t tend to wash up the mix as much) on different sections. On big sections consider giving the singer more of a tail, so he seems bigger with the track.

    7. Listen to the lyrics, and use those as cues to do things in the arrangement. These are the subtle things that really make a mix special. Do not underestimate the power of this. I can’t really explain this any other way than giving examples. If a singer is singing a big long “meeeeeeee” do you really want that background part there? If the singer is singing about an off-topic, and the production isn’t quite off enough for the subject matter, use an effect that throws it from being typical to the production style (I consider completely dry an effect as well). If normally the production style would call for a big reverb then use a flanger or something that lets the listener know that the subject matter is off. If the singer sings “stop” do a drop mute at that moment. If the singer sings “bang bang” add a shot of reverb on the next snare hit. If you get creative with this, it can really be the icing on the cake for a mix.

    8. Use groove to your advantage. If a shaker is playing the same pattern the entire song, consider halving it on the b-sections, and then letting it rip in the chorus. Rhythm is a powerful tool in causing a song to push forward. Make sure you are aware of what its doing for the mix. Allowing a relentless groove to disappear for a beat or 2 in the right place can do wonders towards rejuvenating it.

    A good songwriter can achieve a forward motion in a song with rhyme structure, rhythmic structure, harmonic structure, and melodic structure. A good production should help this process as well. The whole purpose of a modern song is to get to the chorus. It’s the payoff. Make sure you’re using arrangement to maximize that payoff. It makes a huge difference in a mix.

  20. Ang1970

    Ang1970 Well-Known Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Originally posted by Mixerman:
    Sometimes the people that recorded it didn’t have a clear understanding of arrangement themselves.
    So what are some things that we can do in the selection process as mixers to enhance the arrangements. What sort of things would you look for and what sort of things would you look to do?

    That's a pretty wide question. The answer is "whatever the song tells you to do." It could be as simple as muting a track or two, or it could come down to convincing the producer to hire a horn/string/mariachi/________(insert whatever is needed) section. Maybe splitting tracks to different channels so the same instruments seem to move into a different space, maybe some delay throws... Who knows? Got a specific example?

    p.s. Duh. I hate when that happens... LOL

    Ok, good examples MM. :) Now that I know what you're talking about, this stuff is like second nature to me. Also, I throw many of these little tricks in during the tracking, so by mix time it doesn't need a whole lot to help the arrangement. I love it when someone says "can you put a delay throw in right... he-... oh, you already did it, cool!"

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