So what is an arrangement exactly?
Photo by Lucas Alexander
An arrangement is..."any adaptation of a composition to fit a medium other than that for which it was originally written, while at the same time retaining the general character of the original." -Britannica.com
This simply means that if you write a song on guitar and vocals, when it comes time to record that song with a full band, you'll need to rearrange it for the new instrumentation.
An arrangement is simply the parts that the instrumentalists play.
Have you ever listened to a song and been turned off or confused by the elements? Sometimes it feels like you're not sure where your attention should be and different instruments get lost. It's easy to blame this on the mix, but the arrangement is just as important to make a cohesive and captivating listening experience.
So many songs are released nowadays with great mixes but terrible arrangements. Don't be one of those people! Listen to your song as a whole and make sure to nail down the arrangement before moving forward to recording or mixing. At Fox Tracks, we always 'mock up' an arrangement for you so you can hear what the final instrument recording will sound like before actually hitting that red record button. This also allows the instrumentalists to read their parts from sheet music which saves them time and saves you money in the recording phase.
There are a few things to think about in anticipation of arranging your song for a full band situation:
Which instruments are you going to choose to use in your color palette? The sound of a bowed string instrument could add texture and warmth to a vocal line that isn't quite full enough. A synth bass might have a smoother and more rounded feel than a string bass. Drums or percussion?Will the guitarist play a rhythmic part or stick to using shimmery chords in a higher octave? Instrument parts are the different colors you choose in the painting of your arrangement.
This is so important and even though it's so simple, it's something that many artists overlook while working on the arrangement for their song. One fo the biggest issues we hear all the time is when instruments take up the same frequency range as the vocals and end up 'stepping on the toes' of the singer. Think of your arrangement as a full range of frequencies from low to high. You want to avoid having two instruments in the same frequency range happening at the same place and the same time because it will confuse the listener's ear as to what they should be paying attention to. You can avoid this by delaying the instrument part so it happens between the vocal lines, or changing the octave.
The Human Element
One of the most beautiful things about arranging your song for full band is that now you have the energy and talent of several other musicians adding to the overall experience of your song. The human element will add character, personality, and an overall good feeling to your song because the parts are played by people, not computers. But keep in mind, there are certain things that can't be played by humans. For example, horn players need to breathe. (You laugh, but you'd be surprised how many people want sustained pads played by a single brass instrumentalist!) Also, you want to tell the instrumentalists what to play for their parts, but you also don't want to limit the creativity of the musicians. At Fox Tracks we believe that each instrumentalist is the expert in their field, and so we always allow some wiggle room for creative ideas from the musicians to shine through.
All in all a clean arrangement is important not only to the final mix of your song, but to create the mood and energy you want present in your song. Don't forget about this essential step in the music production process!