Pro Audio Files

Train Your Ears Become a Member

Thoughts and Ideas on Arrangement

Video Thumbnail
Thoughts and Ideas on Arrangement
Thoughts and Ideas on Arrangement - youtube Video
Matt: Quack quack. [laughs] Matthew Weiss here —, and…

Samik: Symphony something dot com. Not yet. Domain coming.

Matt: Yeah, sure, there we go. Yeah. Also,, which is a tutorial where I used one of Samik’s productions to actually teach the tutorial, so that’s cool.

Samik: Bars.

Matt: This tutorial, we’re going to be talking about arrangement, and I’m going to play a record in a moment, after we first get some ideas out, and we’re going to break it down and you know, it’s going to be all educational and stuff.

Samik: Fuck with the vision, man.

Matt: That too.

So, arrangement wise, when you’re thinking of the term arrangement, I guess I’m just asking a question that normally I’d just answer for myself, but…

Samik: Probably.

Matt: Probably, but there’s two ways to think about arrangement, right?

Samik: Okay.

Matt: You’ve got your vertical arrangement.

Samik: Which is?

Matt: When you have different elements — this is a word I’ve made up.

Samik: Stacks.

Matt: Yeah, stacks. Because we’re trying to make stacks — is when you have different elements that are happening at the same time, and they’re interplaying with each other in some way, shape, or form, and then we have what we like to call the horizontal arrangment.

Samik: Right, not stacks.

Matt: Not stacks. It’s the way things — I’m doing a thing!

Samik: Come on, man!

Matt: It’s the way things move through time, right? So you’re the kind of producer who can make records with either very, very sparse arrangements, or like, ridiculously complex arrangments.

Samik: Yeah.

Matt: And anywhere in between. So my first question to you would be, when you’re doing a sparser record, what are some of the thoughts that you have in terms of like, why you would even make a sparser record, and some of the challenges of making a sparse record, and also, how do you keep a sparser record interesting for three minutes?

Samik: Okay.

Matt: All questions go now.

Samik: [laughs] Simultaneously. Okay, so when I’m making — okay, first of all, it’s very hard for me, from someone who comes from a classical background of playing the violin and listening to like, complex arrangements, and I think music was also very different when we were coming up. It was very — there’s a lot of stuff going on.

To making something, you know, simple nowadays, it’s having good sound selection, and a lot of times, it’s mostly just about letting the artist or the vocalist or rapper or whoever, just letting them shine, and just doing enough to make that sound important.

Matt: Yeah.

Samik: So there was six other questions. I don’t remember any of them.

Matt: There were. So one of them was what are some of the challenges of making a sparser arrangment?

Samik: Some of the challenges is like — okay, so some of the challenges are, I should say, I guess just making it sound interesting over a period of time. Over three minutes, or two minutes, or however long, so a lot of times, I’ll do like, one-time events for making the record sound like there’s more going on than there is not.

Matt: What’s a one-time event?

Samik: A one time event would be maybe like a drop — in the simplest definition, I guess would be a drop. For a record I was working on last night, for example, we did this thing to go from bridge to hook, so we did a little string arrangment right before the hook came back, so we ended up putting all the focus on the vocalist and the string arrangement to give it that one time feeling.

Matt: Right, so the string — the reason it’s called one-time is because the string didn’t —

Samik: It literally happened one time in the song.

Matt: Yeah, it’s just one — the string arrangement literally comes in to act as a transitional thing from the bridge to the chorus, and there’s no other — it’s not a central part to the record anywhere else.

Samik: Right, exactly.

Matt: And you know, it’s 2017, you can’t say a drop without putting an asterisk by it and saying, meaning dropping out the record, because now if you say a drop, everyone goes —

Samik: Everybody is like an EDM drop.

Matt: Like a bass drop?

Samik: Right. A total drop.

Matt: Yeah, no, like a one time, if you — back in the 90’s, when I was only just starting to become old, when a rapper was dropping the verse, the vocals would —

Samik: Shut up, phone! Sorry.

Matt: [laughs] That’s a one-time event that’s happened too many times. When the rapper — you know, the beat would probably be like a loop at some point, or a sample and some drums laid in, so to keep it interesting, when the rapper would come up to a really, really good line, the DJ would drop the whole record out, so it would be dead silence over this one line, and if that line was whack, the artist’s career was over, and if that line was hot, the artist is now triple platinum.

Samik: Absolutely, and everybody knows that part.

Matt: No, I mean it’s a very simple — the drop is a very simple technique, but it’s an effective one, and you don’t have to drop everything too. Sometimes you can just go down to a single hi-hat, or you can —

Samik: Right, or like an open hi-hat, or a snare, or something.

Matt: Yeah, like you do those like, one time hit things where it’s sometimes — this very heavy drum will come in, and it’s like, [imitates drums].

Samik: It’s like, in your face.

Matt: Yeah, it’s like, woah, it’s a gunshot.

Samik: It’s really obnoxious.

Matt: No, it’s awesome! In really brief periods of time, it’s awesome. Over long periods of times, then it would be obnoxious. I totally lost my —

Samik: So much fun to do, it’s okay, keep going.

Matt: So I wrote an article on arrangement ideas, and I used very simple ideas, like one-time events and drops, and I got a little heat on there for —

Samik: Why?

Matt: Well, because I was using very simple examples.

Samik: Okay, so broad examples, alright.

Matt: Right, and one of the things that’s cool about thinking in terms of this horizontal arrangement thing, where you’re thinking about like, a string fill to transition, or you’re thinking about drops, or you’re thinking about builds or whatever it might be, it’s not what it is that’s special, it’s how you do it, and that’s what makes it interesting.

Samik: Also in correlation with what you’re doing it with. So if it’s a dope top line that — or like, you know, a little vocal melody that a singer does, you want to accentuate that part, that’s when you can drop something out or add something, or make that part really come through and shine.

Matt: There was a really cool example of that, actually on the record that you were working on last night. Uh, where the top liner was singing, and you introduced an element, a central element actually, this sort of like, sinusoidal organ-y kind of synth.

Samik: Sinusoidals went extinct like, thirty million years ago! [laughs]

Matt: Like a sine wave-ish sounding organ thing! He landed his note, like, the cadence of his phrase, it ended on — this has nothing to do with Cadence.

Samik: Yeah I know, I’m sorry.

Matt: Now they’re going to be confused! So the top line landed on this note, and it was the start note of your organ pattern.

Samik: Yeah, right.

Matt: So it’s like the organ thing almost acted like a reverb off of his voice, and instead of bringing it in on the one, it came in on like the four of the previous line. I mean, I hope we’re not losing anybody on this, but just to conceptualize the idea of horizontal arrangement, where if a singer is singing a line and then gets to this certain point, and you want to introduce an element that blends really well with their top line, you don’t have to bring it in on the one, you can bring it in in a place where it just seems to magically compliment the vocal, and I think this is very upper level production, but —


Samik: Yeah, it’s a little more advanced, I guess you could say.

Matt: It is, but I want to make sure that people are at least having this in their ears.

Samik: Yeah, absolutely, you can go from very simple to very complex in what you can do with a drop, I guess is what we’re saying, what we’re trying to say.

Matt: Yeah, or any kind of one-time, yeah. Or just the introduction of the central element. I mean, god, music, there’s so many things.

Samik: And there’s no wrong way to do it. You fuck around with it until you get it right. That’s pretty much how I learned it.

Matt: That is. That’s what I went to college for.

Samik: They said that’s in the curriculum!

Matt: Alright, so we talked about some sparser arrangements, and I’m going to play this record, this record is from like, 2010.

Samik: Yeah, that’s awhile ago.

Matt: Yeah, and this is like a film trailer kind of record.

Samik: It’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

Matt: I’m going to play it the whole way through.


Matt: I would see that movie. If that was a blank screen with no details except for the movie release date, I would go see it.

Samik: Bad Boys III. [laughs]

Matt: [laughs] Okay, that’s why they can’t leave the title. That would be like, “Is this really seriously Bad Boys III?” What are we teaching?

Okay, so arrangement, so vertical arrangement, this is a record that has examples of very complicated vertical arrangement, to say the least.

Samik: It’s like when you watch videos of yourself when you were younger, it’s like listening to that.

Matt: No, that’s awesome, I love this. I’m telling you, from film library, for a movie trailer, listen, someone needs to pay you $50,000 for that right now.

Samik: It’s — listen, it’s won many a beat battle.

Matt: [laughs] There you go! So when doing vertical arrangement, really, I think the things to keep in mind are theme, variation, and a word, motifs. And the motifs are the musical motifs and rhythmic motifs coming together to form your themes, and then your variations are the way that you flip those themes differently.

So like, I’m just going to play the first ten seconds again, and then if you could just like, break down the main theme, and then how you created the variation, just to get that understanding across, I think that would be dopetastic.


Samik: I’m glad there’s not a lot going on. Okay, so I guess the theme, thematically, there’s this guitar sound that goes, [imitates guitar], right? So there’s a horn that also accentuates that, and then when everything else comes in, that — all of that is accentuated with every other instrument in different harmonic levels and things like that.

Matt: Right, so the vertical arrangement sounds like something completely different has happened in these two sections, but in reality —

Samik: Right. But it’s the same thing essentially.

Matt: It’s actually the same thing, one is just an expansion.

Samik: Right.

Matt: Of that central idea. And actually, in yours, you’re doing something called a counterpoint, because there’s actually two themes that are kind of happening in the beginning.


Matt: You’ve got your guitar, but then you’ve also got that synth going, [imitates synth] or whatever it’s doing.

Samik: Some shit’s about to pop off.

Matt: So those are two separate themes that are happening at the same time that work together. That’s called a counterpoint, and so when you — by developing these two central themes right off the bat, basically everything else that happens in this record is kind of a variation of those two ideas.

Samik: Exactly. Even the drums, percussion, all that kind of stuff is kind of copying that to some extent.

Matt: Or connecting to it. Like, the way the timpanis come in right at the beginning, they kind of signal, it’s time to —

Samik: Do some shit.

Matt: Yeah, it’s time to turn up! So the failed vertical arrangement, in my mind, is one where you have a lot of different things happening that all have completely separate ideas, that don’t necessarily work together.

Samik: Basically everything I did before 2007.

Matt: Well, there’s only a grain of truth to that.

Samik: I’m just kidding.

Matt: And a successful vertical arrangement is one where your different vertical ideas work together. You know, sometimes, it can be separately, like a call and response kind of thing, which you do have here. Let’s see if I can find it.


Matt: Right? You have [imitates music]. So you’ve got your call, [imitates music] and then your response, [imitates music]. So that’s a call and response theme variation, and then you also have just your central motifs, which are your [imitates motifs], and so doing it one way or another, making sure that those ideas are homogenous in a way is what ultimately makes it successful in the end.

And again, like, you would basically have to take years of college training or just experience of constantly writing music to —

Samik: Throwing shit at the wall.

Matt: Obviously, this could be a five hour video and we would not cover everything at all, but most importantly is just to get people thinking, you know. Instead of trying to come up with every cool theme in the world and then just stacking them on top of each other.

Samik: It just makes it interesting, you know what I’m saying? What we’re trying to get at is that all these ideas make your record sound more interesting if you can incorporate the different various arrangements that we’re talking about. Or not. I mean, there are plenty of songs that get by with just doing the most — or the least, I should say.

Matt: Well, sometimes, you know, if something where the arrangement is maybe a little bit on the basic side, it can be okay if the performance —

Samik: The performance has to be dope, yeah. That’s the most important thing.

Matt: I mean, that’s all of rap for the most part. It’s like a very simple arrangement with really compelling lyrical performance, you have a successful record, but I mean, outside of the scope of rap, and also in 2017, you know, going to that late 90’s approach, early 90’s approach, tha’ts dated at this point.

Samik: Absolutely.

Matt: Not that people can’t do it and shouldn’t do it, it’s just we can think about it on a more in depth level at this point. So you know, when I’m working with producers who are maybe a little bit less experienced, I do think that it would behoove them to start conceptualizing arrangement ideas, not just coming up with, “This is a cool loop, let’s loop it up.”

Samik: Yeah, and I mean, that’s what — that’s the difference between making songs and then just making beats.

Matt: Right, and as a producer, if you ever do want to get into R&B or Pop or something like that, you’re not going to be able to get by on just a loop.

Samik: Right, exactly. It’s very rare.

Matt: Yeah. It’s happened.

Samik: I mean, it’s definitely happened, but it’s just rare it would happen anymore these days.

Matt: Right. So anyway, yeah, I think this is a sign off point.

Samik: Yeah, I think so.

Matt: Okay. Maybe I’ll make you sign off and then I can copy yours this time.

Samik: Okay, cool. Guys, this is Matt from The Pro Audio Files, and —

Matt: Your sense of humor sucks.

Samik: Quack quack.

Matt: Quack quack. Until next time!


Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

FREE Masterclass: Low-End Mixing Secrets

Downloaded Over 19,455 times!

Discover how to make your kick and bass hit hard by cutting (NOT boosting) the right frequencies! Plus, more counterintuitive ways to get fuller yet controlled low-end in your mix. Download this 40-minute workshop by Matthew Weiss, now for FREE!

Powered by ConvertKit