What separates the songs you record in your studio from the classics you hear on the radio?
How’s that for a tough question. There are a million things that could be stopping you from putting out a hit. But it’s really best to focus on the things that are in your control.
We’ll just assume that you are the producer/engineer, not the songwriter. If the song is solid, the next step in the chain is the arrangement. Hopefully, you have some say in this.
One of the biggest roles of producers is to make a song the best it can be. Sometimes, they call in the help of arrangers to take the song to new heights. Sometimes, they do it themselves.
But what is arranging? Understanding the art of arranging can have dramatic impacts on the way you produce and the way your productions sound. To more fully explain, we quote Veteran producer Paul Buckmaster from an interview with the Guardian. On the art of good arrangements:
“Being able to enhance the emotive quality and bring out the intent of the lyric and the artist’s performance,” says Buckmaster. “Adding orchestral passages and textures should give added depth and dimensionality, physically, psychologically and aurally speaking. I feel I’ve succeeded when the goose-bump thrill factor kicks in.”
One of the biggest issues with amateur recordings is the lack of thought that goes into the production. You can’t just bring a band in and record them, just as they play in their rehearsal space. Sometimes that means bringing a little more musical muscle or just retooling the current musical composition. All those fall under the category of arrangement.
Buckmaster has some good tips to help you, but this article isn’t going to cure your arrangement woes. The best way to learn about arrangement is to listen to the classics and absorb their arrangements. You can learn a lot, just by listening.
And while a load of music theory is going to help you make better arrangements, you really need to cultivate your instincts. It’s those musical decisions you make that are the meat and potatoes of arrangement. It’s often the absence of notes that really increases the weight of notes that are played. Learn discretion and your arrangements can really perk up.