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What makes a really big hit? Why certain song are played over and over again, even after many years from their recording? Why do they never go out of fashion or become boring? I am not intending to say, that the melody, lyrics or harmony have no influence on this. But there is one more thing, which cane make it or... brake it. It is arrangement.   


Is arrangement  important at all?
Arrangement in music production


Is the arrangement important at all and actually what does it mean? After all, why to care about it when I already have recorded a good composition and it sounds great? And how the arrangement looks like on famous, world-class musicians albums?

This article will answer these questions and will give you many useful suggestions as how to achieve a great sound of your music by arrangement alone. 

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Let's answer the question first; what exactly is arranging a song? Who actually is the producer-arranger, who produces music?

Arrangement is a layout and instrumentation  of a music piece. A layout in the sense of the order and length of intros, verses, choruses, bridges, etc. And instrumentation in terms of why a solo in the song is played by saxophone for example, rather than guitar. Or, in which point a new instrument, a voice or a synthesizer is introduced for the second verse.

Because we have defined the word "arrangement" and we know now what the word means let's continue to the practical application of the skill of arrangement in the production of music. To some musicians or composers this skill is not known, so they do not cooperate with an arranger. In general, many of today's musicians (or composers) arrange themselves, they  decide on track layout, they record themselves all the tracks, they mix them themselves and they are trying to master by themselves. Of course, this may not give as good results as the work carried out by a specialist. Specialization at various stages of music production is the key to the success of music. The person who determines the length of the song, the order of verses, of what instrument should be playing and what not, and even who takes part in recording of an album and who does not is called a producer. He is the most important person in the process of creating music. Let's look at this small story:

A guitarist found some chords which did sound something quite like a start to a nice song that he really likes. He plays it over and over again and likes it more and more. He feels that this could be a good material for a song! He takes the guitar, goes to the producer and says: 'Look, what do you think? "- And he plays before him murmuring the melodic line of the song. The producer is a person with very strong sense of imagination to visualize how the song should look like, how it should be constructed. Immediately catching, he realizes the potential of these chords to become a major hit and the ideas are starting to grow in his head. The ideas of how should it sound when ready-what instruments should play in it, whether to rent female backing vocals for chorus or not, what type of mixing console is best to be used and how should it shape the final sound and who of the 15 drummers cooperating with him would be best to play drums for this song. This is the professionalism of the vast knowledge of music production collected in one man, who did not necessarily ever played any instrument - he simply feels and knows what to do with the few chords played in front of him by the guitarist to make it a hit, which will be heard throughout the world.

The music producer can be compared to the film director. When I watch b-movies, I always have the impression that they are poorly assembled and therefore lose very much. The actors playing, the pictures, etc. may be okay, but the scenes assembly suffers. Assembly should be dealt with by the director and it is a very decisive factor whether the movie will grab attention and keep it till the end or not. The producer decides how much time the scene is supposed to run, what kind of music is used, what should be the scenes sequence, etc. A well-cut movie is holding tension all the time, the viewer does not even know when the hour or two have passed  ... And if the director will make a mistake in scene cutting- everything else is for nothing! The viewer leaves after half an hour or switches the TV to something else because he is no more interested, not drew-in. So even if big money have been spent for the costumes, horses, landscapes, special fx, if they are simply hard to notice in this movie? The entire actors play, and even the best pictures will be lost if the director (producer) is not able to arrange a sequence of scenes in such a way that the viewer is perceiving it as one, whole piece of a show and is always interested what will follow next.

Similarly, with music - even the best composition will lose a lot or even all of it's artistic energy if it is not properly produced and arranged. Good phrase or riff if it is too long starts to be boring. The length of a song must be just right, neither too long nor too short, otherwise the listener will not keep with it to the end.

And he will never want to listen to it for a second time, not mentioning about spending money on it. And vice versa, if the song or track is really good, or very well produced and arranged, the listener will be listening to it in circles. The song  will be played frequently on the radio, will appear on charts and eventually will become a hit and earn big money.

Needless to mention that the producer also takes a lot of earnings out of it. And rightly so,  because he has to be done justice for his skill after all :-).

Of course, sometimes there is the situation that the whole band itself acts as a producer, having credits for the production. Situation like this took place with groups such as Pink Floyd, which was the producer of their albums, and a talented engineer Alan Parsons cared only for the quality, sound effects, microphones, etc. It is worth mentioning, that he founded the group after, an excellent Alan Parsons Project, which recalled the music of Pink Floyd very much.

Okay :-). We know now what is arranging, who is the arranger and producer, and why the production is so important. Now is the time for specific tips on how to do this, to make our music well produced\orchestrated and arranged if we can not afford us the best producer in the world, and we need to do it ourselves.

There are several things that we need to remember as we proceed to to the final mixdown of a track. They are:

1 Not necessarily all the tracks that were hardly worked out and perfected during the recording must be used in our mix. Same as not all the scenes recorded during the film making can be accommodated in the 1 or 2 hours of the movie. Usually several hours of pictures are filmed and the producer uses two. Same with music. Record 15 good solos and use one. Or none :-). Be creative and not schematic.

2 Not necessarily all the tracks must be on the same level. It is typical that, especially in young bands everyone wants to be well heard (if not the loudest) but it does not serve well the whole recording session. Therefore, the manufacturer decides who is to be in the foreground, who is on the second plane, who is in the background and who unfortunately has to resign.

3 It is much better to make a piece that is too short then too long. If the track is too short what a listener will do? Play it back again. And then again. And again. Similarly, the radio station will do the same. And if a song is too long? Well, then a listener gets bored, will turn it off in the middle and will not play it over again. Therefore, let us remember that if the song is long, having for example 7-8 minutes this length must be somehow motivated by the music, there must be something happening that justifies the length, there must be some continuity of the narrative. It can not be so long only because someone unnecessarily repeated a verse by copy and paste method simply to gain length. Sometimes, a monotonous effect is needed in styles like trance, and this can be achieved by a gain in length. But it is not always the case, it is a rather rare. From the other hand it is ALWAYS better to make it too short then too long ;-). So make it a rule.

 4 Not necessarily everything that is worked out carefully and by hard work HAS ANY VALUE. The most important thing in music is "Feel" and it does not come from a tension. It comes from a relaxed and neutral awareness and the objective perspective on everything. It is important to know what's going on in what we do - as an artist painting the image must have good lighting to see colors so the music producer or performer must hear what is happening in music-and to achieve that he has to be completely neutral, relaxed. What really counts is the atmosphere! Good music can not be recorded in a bad atmosphere. The process of recording and postproduction music is a process of "feel registration". If there is no feel and musicians themselves feel that something is wrong with their music how can they expect from their listeners to love their work and listen to it in circles?? First, they must feel it themselves and then the others will surely feel it also. FEEL IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING! It is what the people want. And they buy CD's to experience the feel. They buy FEEL, rather than empty sounds.

As for the spirit of music ..... this is the spirit of art. And the art is all about the transfer of human emotions, the feel. People love what they really feel and they pass by indifferently if the things do not move them. Therefore, the artist must feel what he does. This is his profession. But to be able to feel he must have his tools set up and mastered well enough to make everything automatically and not loose the time and energy on struggling with the technical side. This is the only way to achieve creativeness in music. Only what is done lightly, has any value as the emotion is. Then it will live forever in the sounds. And therefore it will be listened repeatedly by the people all around the world.

5 The simplicity of approach. Often, it's likely that some perfectionists are trying to do everything so perfectly that it all breaks. Do not repeat this mistake and do not add anything by force if a track is already fine. Very often, removing some instruments will do much more then adding something.  Deleting some tracks from the mix can clearly improve the whole thing and adding too many can completely and permanently ruin it. Add something only if the whole thing gives the REAL impression that there is something missing.

6 Contrast principle. Human psychology and sensitive perception has something strange to it: it likes contrasts. We perceive beauty in general, thanks to contrasts contained in it in comparison to ugly things. Therefore, a good producer uses the contrasts in sound, tempo, dynamics and using the effects.

Let's take a look at the way in which film producers attract viewers by the contrasting scenes. It seems the same with music. If for example we contrast 2 tracks - making one dull but loud and the other setting at lower level but much sharper we will get a better effect than setting both tracks at the same level and equally bright. Similarly, if we use reverb on one, but the second will remain quite dry a human ear will be able to find a contrast effect and the both tracks will sound more interesting against each other.


Monitoring in production

There is much talking about importance of monitoring in music production. Well, it is just as important as the camera's lens for a professional photographer-through the lens the photographer sees what he photographs. Similarly, it is also with the film tape used for filming - each type casts  colors and lighting in slightly different way. The monitoring system should satisfy our sense of music-if we lack in it high frequency sounds, for example (which is unfortunately not uncommon, even in expensive and widely recognized monitors) we should make sure we get what we really want. The best monitoring system is the one that we are just fond of and that we are familiar with. Let's not trust too much the marketing madness and all the ads, the mere fact that so many companies produce different monitors shows a clear fact that none of them are perfect. If there really existed an universal ideal for monitoring it would not be needed to produce as many types of monitoring devices and advertising each one as the best or the most faithful :-). You have to find the monitors to please you really, and make you feel that they give you information about the music the way you like it and need it. And in terms of psychology of creating it is also an extremely important factor. Listening must create an atmosphere in which you feel well and you are INSPIRED.

Therefore, monitoring is very important - we can not paint the picture, if we do not see it clearly-we can not mix or remaster music if we do not hear what we are doing. But it is not about spending a lot of money to get something that does not meet our requirements. You have to know what you want, and take advantage to the maximum of what you actually have right now. That's the whole key of the success.
Monitoring is not just an amplifier and speakers, but also the room. Important thing here is that it does not have a lot of reverb and it does have a nice, quiet atmosphere to work. More about monitoring the music during the production can be read here.

Monitoring in music production has to give us a total picture of what we do with all the music. At the same time it has to create such general atmosphere that inspires and draws us in and gives us a sense of participation in the entire music spectacle that just takes place in front of us. Then, what we do will be much, much better.

Ego in production. Psychology of making music.

Well, we are all human beings ;-). Competition is something very natural to us, it is a thing developed over the millions years of evolution. We have to assume that we usually want to be better than another. If we are musicians, we have a tendency to hierarchy -I am better, you're a little worse, he is the best and he just is a mere "the boy for beating". I play eight years and you play only four, I'm better and I have a main vote here.

Those who feel better than other musical colleagues feel generally very good :-). Especially when they are actually not that good :-). You can say that their pride and ambition is met. Be careful not to act like this, do not take such an approach to the arts, and hence treat the music and the collective work as a team play. We are all imperfect, if we cooperate with someone, we need to accept him along with all his advantages and disadvantages, and we need to treat him as part of ourselves. It really requires a wealth of skills and experience to look at the music work this way, as a common effort, and at the same time to remain humble, being aware of the fact that music is endless ...

The best bands always played in such a way that the musicians listened to each other and got inspired. Mutual inspiration leads to the fact that live music is attractive to listen and gives the impression that there's some immanent intelligence into it. If we look at the aspect of EGO in the production, we will discover that it teaches the importance of mutual relations in the process of creating music. An experienced producer is also an experienced psychologist. So he approaches his musicians to squeeze everything good out of them, that is all that they are capable of in the good sense of it. And while he is doing this approach he manages somehow, that everyone respect his decisions, which can sometimes be confusing or even annoying to a musician. For example, the drummer makes a roll and he considers it the summit of a real high fashion and a peak of decorative work, and the producer tells him that his role is to play very sparingly, with no rolls. Ego of the drummer here must give way before the authority of the producer, who must always have a decisive voice and comfort of making free decisions. Otherwise he would not be able to produce music.

The impression of immanent intelligence in rock music comes from the way in which musicians cooperate and listen to each other, getting mutually inspired. An example of perfectly sounding bands may be The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Weather Report, Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies, Sonny Rollins Trio, Miles Davis Band, and some newer things such as Iggy Pop, Metallica, Guns and Roses. And, of course, many others.

From the other hand, the production of music based on a wide range of techniques and styles of Techno-type, such as House, Ambient, Acid, Club, Trans, Jungle, Industrial, etc., during production, mastering the workshop is of utmost importance. The workshop must be constrained so that the music feels to you when you create it exactly the same what the listener will feel at the moment of listening. The music group "The Prodigy", e.g., especially in their older recordings has the impression that the music is all alive, has intelligent rhythm and possesses a kind of an internal intelligence, awareness, although this is just pure techno music. This is the result of excellent production. This is not about sound quality, but the general sense and feel, the extent to which this is done, and it reaches the listener. People do not respect in the musician a fact, that he uses most expensive and the best model of amplifier or that the band is recording in a very expensive studio, to tell the truth listeners do not give a damn about it :-). In fact, they respect in musician that he can bring them in a mood that they like, just like that. A conductor of this mood is the producer of the recording. To bring the listener into this mood the producer and performers must first bring themselves in such a mood, if they are nervous and tired of what they do for sure their listeners will receive this feeling and also will dislike it. Or even not, the listeners will soon escape from this negative emotions and will go to those who give them the feel that they really like.

Therefore, the psychology of music production is so very important.

Well, what to do with the production, if we do the music ourselves, while at the same time, we are the composer and the sound engineer, and musician-performer of all of that, and the producer making decisions-how much time this track is supposed to run, where should a verse and chorus be placed, and what instruments should be used?

First of all let yourself be relaxed, loose tension. Feel what is done, trust your emotions of the moment. If something seems to be wrong-delete it. If a song starts to bore you after 5 minutes-shorten it. If you get the impression of too much overloading of the music-get rid of several tracks :-). If you are not fully and really convinced by a solo- just delete it. It will not do anything good to music anyways. Do not expect the listener of your music that he will absolutely love it if you are not fully convinced by what you have done yourself.

Speaking in other words, "Do not give others to eat something, you can not eat yourselves. ;-)

And, most of all, do not treat what you do so DEADLY SERIOUSLY ;-). You will land in the Stratosphere.

To be continued, stay in touch ;-)


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