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5 “One-Time Events” to Spice up Your Arrangement

➥ Learn how to manipulate shape, tone and dynamics in a mix

I’ve talked about arrangement before, but I think it’s time to revisit the concept. In our battle to captivate the listener: if our song is the strength of our military, the arrangement is our battle plan. Maybe that’s a needless metaphor. Regardless, our arrangement is how we put things together which ultimately can make or break a song.

Possibly the number one problem (or just number one problem currently on my mind) when I get a record to mix is that the arrangement stagnates. People write their verse, chorus, and bridge and there’s some kind of movement and structure, but the transitions are lack luster and the sections are repetitive. So I’ll look to create moments that spice things up.

Enter the “one-time event.”

A one-time event is something that occurs in singularity, separate from the core arrangement. This doesn’t mean that a one-time event never reoccurs, just that it’s a moment unto itself when it happens.

Here are 5 one-time events you can use to dress up a dry record.

1. A Drop

Conventionally when we think of “the drop” in an arrangement, we think of the stripped down part of an EDM song that comes in after a big build. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

In this sense, when I say “a drop,” I’m referring to a moment in a record where some, many, or all of the instrumentation (and possibly vocals as well) are muted. When this happens, it breaks the expectation of the listener and snaps their attention to the record.

Drops can be used as transitions or as a way to punctuate a lyrical phrase. Or to in some way shape or form, highlight whatever isn’t muted.

2. Stutters/Glitches/Fills

A fill is traditionally a rhythmic riff used to add energy in order to “fill” space in an arrangement. However, the definition can be expanded to include any instrument really, as long as the activity of that instrument is picking up.

In the post-millenium era, stutters (digital chops) of an instrument (or instruments) can serve the same purpose. A glitch is a composition of chops and stutters that’s so active it actually causes some form of distortion. All of these things ultimately serve the same goal: to add energy to a moment that would otherwise be bland.

3. Sound FX

Sometimes a moment calls for something totally left field. A momentary borrow from the cinematic universe through the use of a sound effect like an explosion, police sirens, possibly a wolf howling, can liven up the arrangement.

4. Modulation and Distortion

Modulation in this sense refers to any kind of pitch, time or phase distortion. Flangers, phasers, pitch shifting (like the ubiquitous tape-stop effect that became popular around 2012), auto-tune, etc., are all examples of modulation effects.

Bringing these in at key moments can add some spice to a record. Likewise, a momentary clip of the drums being run through a guitar amp, or the vocals sounding like they are coming through an intercom can bring a bit of unexpected interested to the mix.

5. One-Time Melodies and Samples

Sometimes a moment calls for something really unexpected, such as a brand new instrument doing a brand new melody, or perhaps even a chopped sample from an entirely different record coming in to say hello. In this respect the possibilities are endless.

Conclusion

In addition to the examples I mentioned, you can also combine different kinds of effects.

Maybe you choose to pitch shift some chops of an explosion to make a melody out of it. Why not? The key to one-time events comes down to one word: timing.

Once a record begins to lull or lose your interest, you may want to reach into the toolbox for one of these handy effects. Or, perhaps, you’ve reached a sectional change that just doesn’t have an exciting transition — one-time events can be great for those.

Come up with any intriguing one-timers in your production recently? Please share in the comment section below!

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.

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  • Toby Patrick

    Completely agree. The most stunning production ideas and arrangements for me are the ones that peak in to say hello only to never be seen again. I didn’t think this way until I heard an absolute masterpiece album by Sam Amidon called “I see the sign”. To this day that album is still a huge source of inspiration. The producer was never afraid to spend what must have been in enormous amount of time arranging a mind boggling orchestration that happens for 3 seconds and then never to be heard again. He would take a mellow acoustic song like “Relief” and add the most stunning few seconds of woodwind arrangements that just fly in through your window and then flutter away. Since discovering this production philosophy I have kept it very close to me and try to aim to feature little moments like this where I can in a song. It really makes a song so much more interesting and the short features of one time events are so much more intriguing and exciting than find an arrangment you love and plastering it all over a song until it loses its interest. This is one song especially that executes the one time event superbly! https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KhryN1hSJKg

  • Ethan Finley

    Man, this is just pure gold! I’ve been working hard on my arrangement skills lately, and it has always been something important to me, but I’m having fun discovering the limitless range of ways you can add spice to an already solid song. Such great tips and reminders, as always. Thank you!

  • Greg Dent

    Reminds me of one of my favorite moments in music, still, the quick tchua, tchua of the symbol, all by itself, in the middle of Strawberry Alarm Clock’s Incense and Peppermints. Thanks for bringing out this great idea!

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