Simple Arranging Tips for Songwriters
When you hit a writers block, shifting your creative focus can be immensely helpful.
Can’t seem to find the words? Play around with some chord progressions.
Struggling to put your melodies in context? Perhaps some loops can help you get in the mood.
Even if you’re a traditional songwriter who prefers composing with an acoustic instrument, you can benefit from learning basic arranging skills in a user friendly Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
There are many options to choose from. The most important thing is to find the right fit for your creative process and dive in.
- Writing with a DAW will help you sketch out your songs faster.
Sometimes, it can be really nice to work on a song that doesn’t have a set tempo. But in most cases, as soon as you have a few concrete ideas, it’s helpful to sing or play them in different tempos and keys until you find the right feel and fit for the song.
Most DAWs come with markers, which can help you make important decisions such as how many bars you want to spend in each section and what kind of a structure you want to go with, a lot faster.
2) Loops are your best friend.
If you’re new to music production, browsing your preferred DAW’s loop library or downloading sample packs from sites like Splice or LANDR can help you flesh out your ideas more quickly.
Most songwriters have a knack for top lining beats made by other producers. If this is the case for you, top lining drum loops or some vintage keys with a few chord progressions can help you get in the mood to write.
If the song you come up with gets to a point where the loop doesn’t make sense with it anymore, that’s okay! The point here is to find a grounding starting point.
3) Stick with minimal arrangements first.
One of the biggest arranging mistakes beginners make is putting in way too many notes and layers into their sessions. This mainly happens because they’re not happy with their sound choices or the mix. Either way, adding more to conceal the underlying issues will eventually result in a gigantic arrangement that overwhelms you.
Try a step-by-step approach instead. If you’re a pop or rock artist who usually performs with a four-piece band, try writing for the instruments you’re used to hearing the most first.
If you’re a folk singer who wants to get better at arranging for strings, you don’t really need more than a guitar and a piano in your arrangement to guide you.
Exploring electronic sounds can be really enjoyable, too! But there’s a time and place for everything. Don’t let searching for sounds and samples to add to your arrangement derail you from your purpose.
4) Remember that you can always replace sounds once you have the notes in your session.
One of the best things about working with today’s technology is the fact that we can keep changing our minds about pretty much everything we record or produce.
Say you have a drum loop in there but you don’t like the way it sounds. You can search for an alternative when you’re done with the first draft of your production, or, you can try recording claps and snaps to make the beat a bit more authentic and humanized.
Say you have some MIDI strings but you don’t have the expertise to make them sound realistic. You can search for other sample based synths and sound banks on the market, or try layering the MIDI strings with live recorded ones in the future. Getting better at MIDI programming is always an option, too, and when all else fails, a long reverb can make all the difference.
Even when you record vocals with a chain of virtual effects, you don’t have to commit to them. As long as you have a well recorded vocal performance in your hands, you can always take it to the next level.
Use this to your advantage. Put the essentials first and edit afterwards.
5) Pay attention to your strengths and limitations.
If you’re a guitar player, but you don’t play keys at all to the point where even working with a MIDI keyboard intimidates you, you’re not alone.
There are several electronic music producers out there who uses their computer keys to program not only beats but also melodies and chord progressions. Some of them don’t play an instrument or sing and a lot of them can’t even read music.
If you’re a singer and play no instruments at all, remember that you can use your voice as an instrument, too.
By recording multiple layers of your voice, with syllables like “ahh”, “mmm” or “ooh”, you can build the chord progressions you hear in your head, and even pitch your voice up or down to build open chord structures.
The point here is to be resourceful and open minded. Every single music producer in the world has their individual strengths and weaknesses. The ones who turn their disadvantages into their signatures are the ones who succeed.