November 12, 2013  

Electronic Music Composition #10: Arrangement and Structure

It’s the final week of the Academy of Electronic Music hangouts! But dry your eyes – there’s still plenty to learn during this week’s hangouts. Yesterday we kicked off with a topic that’s often the most difficult aspect of producing for beginners and experts: arrangement. We decided to break down some of the tracks we’ve covered over the past three weeks and explain the arrangement trends between them, revealing that a lot of tracks tend to follow similar rules.

You can watch the whole thing below and don’t forget, we’ve another four hangouts left, starting with a hangout with vocalist, songwriter and producer Christian Burns today at 3pm GMT. Subscribe to our channel to make sure you don’t miss a beat.

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Video Transcription:

Ski:                  Hi, everyone. I’m Ski Oakenfull broadcasting live from Point Blank Music

School in East London. Welcome to this very special EMC session in the Academy of Electronic Music. Brought to you by Google, Armada Music, DJ Mag and Point Blank.

 

I’m course developer and tutor at Point Blank and I’m putting the seven winners and you through your paces on the electronic music composition course via the series of exclusive hangouts.

 

If you like what you see in these EMC hangouts and would like to enroll in a full course, head on over to www.pointblankonline.net/electronic-music-composition. As an academy viewer, you can claim a 10 percent discount off the course fees with this code.

 

So, we’re in the final week of the Electronic Music Academy. We’ve had lots of interesting guests and activities so far and the last week is certainly no exception. We have massive special guest BT appearing tomorrow and Armin van Buuren vocalist and songwriter Christian Burns joining us on Thursday. Both at 3 p.m. UK time.

 

Today, we’re kicking off the final week of the academy by focusing on arranging tracks. Which for many producers, is often the hardest part. We will look at the most effective way to use Viv May’s which we recorded live, on-air last week.

 

We’ll analyze the structures of some big-selling tracks to use as possible templates. And we’ve got the winner’s remixes of Viv’s acapella to look forward to, as well. So, I think we should kick off. And I just want to say hi to the guys, how are you?

 

Ryan:               Hey, how you doing? You all right?

 

Ski:                  It’s the last week and I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone. And it’s so nice to

have you along as well, Ramon. Because you weren’t with us on Friday for the recording session, were you?

 

Ramon:            My Internet was broken and I don’t know, it was a defect. My PC was freezing.

 

Ski:                  Just to remind everyone, we were working on your instrumental. Instrumental

you sent and Viv May came in. Yeah, it was a great session.

 

Ramon:            Well, the thing about it, I’ve heard  it and it’s really nice.

 

Ski:                  Brilliant. Firstly, I just want to go through how I went about just editing

and pitching and kind of mixing the vocal. My plan, really, was to create an acapella. What you sent me, it sounded pretty finished instrumental.

 

I was treating it as a demo and the idea was to create an a capella that I could upload and send to you guys to do some remixes, which is what’s happened.

 

It’s actually kind of quite a good way of working as well. I was using Logic as the platform to record the vocal in. But I then decided to take it into Ableton just to kind of have a different, fresh perspective on the whole thing.

 

I’m going to share my screen with you guys so you can see what’s going on. And I’m just going to head over to Logic. Here we go. Can you see that that guys?

 

[Students respond: Yes.]

 

Ski:                  Pretty much, this is what I ended up with at the end of the session. Pretty

messy, loads of tracks. We really tracked up the vocal with some harmonies and double tracks and ad-libs and that kind of thing.

 

You can see, I’ve got on the lead vocal here, just in this, kind of, first section, I used Logic’s take recording as well. I’m just going to give that quick a play.

 

I did a bit of rough comping as I went along. But after we’d finished, I sort of came to this and then started choosing the best lines of each section. Now, we were under pressure in the session.

 

We didn’t have time to do lots and lots of takes. So, some of the pitching was just a little bit off, even though Viv’s a fantastic singer.

 

To be honest, I’ve worked with loads of vocalists and no one ever gets it right the first time. Unless you’ve really got time to get it right, it’s very difficult. So, I wanted to get this vocal kind of sounding as good and perfect as possible.

 

That’s where Logic comes in with the new Flex Pitch feature. It’s pretty similar to the Melodyne, which is something I’ve been using for a good few years. I’ve really started getting into it, actually.

 

What I found with take recording is in order to get it to work, I had to use Flatten and Merge. So once I had actually comped together the vocal, I flattened and merged it, so it’s sort of like one single audio file. Then, you can get Flex Pitch to work.

 

I’m going to basically spit like what I had prepared earlier. I’m going to go to an alternate version which is post-Flex Pitch. And just sort of show you how I’ve organized this. So, like I said, there were lots of takes.

 

What I wanted to do is create a lead vocal kind of group and a backing vocal group and then, an ad-lib group. This is where Logic Track Stacks come in, summing Stacks.

 

You can do the same thing in Ableton, just by grouping tracks together. So, the first one I created was the lead vocal. Tthis was basically just one kind of comp of the lead. But in sort of the last bridge and chorus, she double-tracked it, so I included that as well.

 

What this allows you to do is to group these two tracks together. And then, you can put some compression on reverb, EQ and you can sort of treat it all as one. And I’m just going to double-click on this, for example. This first verse here. You can see this is the flex pitching I’ve done.

 

I have this as the lead vocal. And then, I’ve got the backing vocals. Let’s just close this track stack here. There we go. And these are all grouped into this one summing stack here.

 

If I just show you the mixer. What I did there was that I added some panning, just going to try and kind of stereo it out. I’ll just solo that now so you can hear what sounds like.

 

This is all coming up through one summing stack which I’ve got some compression on. And some EQ. I tend to kind of roll off some of the bottom end with backing vocals. Brighten up as well,

 

I didn’t actually brighten up too much in here because she’s got quite a bright-sounding voice. But I often quite like backing vocals to kind of cut through. And also, some reverb as well.

 

What that means, by putting those backing vocals through its own group and then compressing it, it just kind of glues it all together. Because you’re going to get varying levels and it just makes it much easier to mix. And you can solo it, mute it and just treat it as a track in its own right.

 

Let’s just have a quick listen. Like I said, I did some work with the flex pitch. I just tried it to get it as good as possible. It’s straight after the session, I went in and did some work on it.

 

It got to about half-past 5:00 and I had to go home. I thought “Well, I’ll finish it off when I get back.”

 

My ears were a bit tired. I got home, sort of working on headphones. But I knew I wanted to get to you guys as soon as possible so you could get working on the remix.

 

When I listened to it the next day, I was a bit like “Oh, no. I’ve missed it a little bit. There are a few lines I think that are still a bit out of tune.” What I actually discovered what that I found it easier to actually work on pitch tuning, just off some laptop speakers. On headphones, it’s quite difficult to tell with tuning.

 

Whereas if you’re listening on laptop speakers or maybe just some small speakers, it’s more of a MIDI sound and you can really kind of focus on the pitch. So, I did a little bit more work and I think it’s sounding pretty good.

 

[music 08:45 – 09:09]

 

I’m not going to play the whole thing. I really like the backing vocals here.

 

[music 09:12 – 09:24]

 

So, that’s what I did. Then I just muted the backing tracks and just exported the lead vocal with backing vocals. I just went to bounce and project or section. And that just allowed me to bounce that down. I made sure that it was starting at a start of a bar. I started at two bars, actually, before the vocals started.

 

I created one, kind of, main vocal. I gave a reverb, one that’s sort of a wet reverb on it and one with dry as well. And then also exported an ad-lib track as well, which I thought might be quite useful because you could maybe take some of the ad-libs that she did and treat in the samples, that kind of thing.

 

That’s what I did. The next thing to do is to think about the arrangement. Like I said before, it’s often the hardest thing. You can have all these great sections. But how do you put it all together into a finished track?

 

As with the de-constructions, often a good way to start is just by analyzing other tracks and seeing what kind of arrangements other people are using. So, I’m going to bring up another project here. And I’ve taken three tracks. Two of them, we’ve worked on. I’ve done de-constructions already.

 

First is the Armin van Buuren “Waiting for the Night.” Second one is the Florence and the Machine “Spectrum,” Calvin Harris Remix. And then, just because I heard it in the car this morning, “Disclosure” featuring Sam Smith “Latch.” Beautiful track, amazing chorus. I’d love to do a de-construction of that sometime.

 

What I’ve done is they’re all at different tempos. I’ve actually used Logic’s Tempo Track here just to kind of change the tempos. But what I wanted to do is sync it up, so that I can basically mark out the sections. There’s a couple of ways you can do that.

 

In Logic, you can use markers. You can also use the new arrangement markers, as well. But what I wanted to do is just chop up the sections. And then, just kind of color the sections and then actually kind of write in what they’re called, as well.

 

Just to give you an example, this is the first one. Armin van Buuren “Waiting for the Night.” We’ve got this intro here.

 

[music 11:47 – 11:56]

 

And it comes up to the first verse Fick forward and it comes up to the chorus.

 

[music 11:58 – 12:04]

 

I’ve tried to come up with names.

 

[music 12:06 – 12:08]

 

This section here, I call it “Tag.” Because just to kind of get back to the basics, the chorus or the refrain is normally the catchiest part, dynamics-wise. This is the bit that kind of rises up. It’s the bit you kind of really remember. And generally, the chorus stays the same throughout the song.

 

With verses, normally, verses are different, lyric-wise. But they kind of come down. That could be harmonically or just with instrumentation. But you’re generally kind of rising up to the chorus.

 

Now, there’s obviously variations on that. But even with the most, I don’t know, complex, minimal, tech-y, non-vocal track, you can still apply this classic arrangement technique to that when you’re thinking about dynamics and structure.

 

Just going back to this, we have our verse, chorus. Then, there’s like a little  instrumental section.

 

[music 13:09 – 13:12]

 

Break. And it comes back to the second verse.

 

[music 13:16 – 13:19]

 

Now, this is a completely classic technique when it comes to second verse. Is, basically, bring the drums out for the first four, eight bars. Or bring some kind of new element in. It acts as sort of a release, really. You’ve had this big chorus section and it comes down to second verse.

 

And you can see that Armin’s done this here. He’s brought in this Daft Punk-y type arpeggiated riff as well, which is like a new element.

 

[music 13:42 – 13:46]

 

Gradually building up again dynamically.

 

[music 13:48 – 13:53]

 

Interestingly, he kind of holds off with the beat coming in for the chorus as well. And we’re going to look at the Calvin Harris remix in a minute, because he employs that kind of technique.

 

So, what I’ve also done is I’ve written out the sections here. So, I just counted them, basically, into bars. Just to remind you, a bar, if you count one, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. Every set of four beats is one bar.

 

It’s pretty common with arrangements. They’re arranged in blocks of four. You can see here, we have four bars intro, then a 16-bar verse. That actually should say “Verse one” there. Then a 16-bar chorus, then 8-bar tag.

 

If we look at that, there’s going to be similarities when we look at the next one. Let’s have a look at the Calvin Harris remix here. Now this one, he just doesn’t mess about. He just goes straight into the verse. Here we go.

 

[music 14:56]

 

So, there’s no beat intro. Obviously, I’m talking about, these are radio edits. But I think there’s a real art to the radio edit because there’s that old adage of “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” You want to have the maximum impact when someone hears your track.

 

Obviously, you can do a club version. You can extend out, obviously, you can have a long intro, beat intro. But I just want to look at radio edits for the moment.

 

[music 15:26 – 15:28]

 

So, we have our verse one.

 

[music 15:30 – 15:34]

 

Now, even though the track, they renamed it “Say My Name.”

 

[music 15:38 – 15:57]

 

This is acting like a chorus, but there’s a real build-up. So, I called it the Bridge. When it comes in here, it bangs in with the chorus.

 

Calvin Harris does this quite a lot. There’s the track that he did with Florence, his own track. And it’s exactly the same kind of technique. It’s almost like the section after the verse is the chorus, but he really holds back and builds into this release section.

 

I just bring up the arrangement for this. Here we go. And, yeah. We’ve got another 16-bar verse and an eight-bar bridge. 16-bar chorus, 16-bar verse, bridge, chorus. So, you can see this common arrangement structure that’s coming up.

 

Let’s have a quick look at the last track. Which is this Disclosure tune. And this is kind of similar, actually, to the Armin Van Buren. There’s a kind of intro, a beat intro.

 

[music 16:49 – [17:06]

 

Double the length this time.

 

Going into the verse.

 

[music 17:10 17:21]

 

And then a similar thing. It kind of comes down to the bridge. It’s all about the tension. Really kind of building up to this chorus.

 

[music 17:21 – 17:26]

 

Coming into the release here. And that really is a bass line.

 

[music 17:32 – 17:37]

 

This time, the beat doesn’t come out. It kind of stays back in. But you can still hear that it’s kind of coming back down, it’s settling back down. So, these are all just classic techniques. Let me just quickly show you the arrangement for that, there we go up on the screen.

 

Again, all sort of blocks of four. It’s an eight-bar intro, 16-bar verse, 16-bar bridge, 16-bar chorus, which is actually like the chorus times two. In the end is 24 bars, which is the chorus times three.

 

These are structures that are really worth keeping in mind. And now, I’m going to shoot over to the track that we did with Viv. I’ve done my own version of a radio edit. We’re going to see that it’s kind of similar to a lot of these tracks.

 

I’m just going to quit Logic. And we’re now going over to Ableton, if it will load up for me. Yeah, like I said, obviously, we could think about a club version. A lot of the tracks that you guys, the winners of [inaudible at 00:18:47] are kind of thinking in those seven, eight-minute terms, those longer tracks.

 

I think, especially when you’re working with a vocal, it’s better to think in more song terms. And once you’ve actually got the three and half, four-minute version, it’s actually much easier than to kind of extend it out.

 

Ramon, before we did the session, he sent me an extended version of his track. Originally, it was sort of a minute and a half. That’s the section that Viv wrote the vocal over.

 

Then he sent me an extended version, but we didn’t really use that. I just sort of had it lying there. But in order to kind of piece this together, I have used some elements from his extended version.

 

As you can see, I’ve got Ableton here. I’ve got the two acapellas. This is the main lead and be the acapella.

 

[music 19:48 – 19:53]

 

It’s quite nice just dealing with one audio file. A stereo mix. It just makes it much easier to move things around. I quite like the fact that we’re working in a different door as well.

 

Then we’ve got the BV [SP] track as well. I’m going to play it to you, see what you think. It starts off with the intro, I’m not sure if you can see this. But it starts off with an intro. I’ve kind of called the first bit a verse one, then a bridge and then a chorus.

 

I’m just going to play it to you and see how it hangs together. I think it’s about three and half minutes, so here we go.

 

[music 20:30 – 20:38]

 

I kind of wanted to bring in this hook at the start.

 

[music 20:39 – 21:15]

 

 

I could’ve skipped this bit here. I think you have a radio edit, but I just love the buildup into what I’ve called the “bridge section” which is coming up here.

 

[music 21:22 – [inaudible 00:21:34]

 

This is where I’ve changed it, just coming up to this chorus here. I’ve decided just to bring everything in to the beat.

 

[music 21:40 – 21:47]

 

And I think, production-wise, maybe, Ramon, you can kind of build the beat more into that chorus section.

 

[music 21:56 – 22:04]]

 

So, remember, I introduced this use this hook here, right at the start. I just think it’s a good technique, especially radio-wise. I used a few of these here, this little kind of instrumental section, after the  first chorus.

 

[music 22:20 – 22:22]

 

And this is where I took a different section from the extended mix. I call this verse two. Same lyric, it might be nice to get different lyrics here, but I think it works pretty well.

 

[music 22:36 – 22:42]

 

We’re kind of keeping the energy here. I don’t want to bring it down too much. Because once the beat’s in, I feel like there’s really no need to keep going. But then we’re coming down here for the bridge.

 

[music 22:54 – 23:08]

 

And slam it back in with the chorus again.

 

[music 23:10 – 23:18]

 

Now, I’m employing a few more of the DB’s [SP] here.

 

[music 23:23 –  23:36]

 

And then, we just get into a nice outro section here. So, this could be a fade, just use a couple of the DB’s here.

 

[music [23:50 – 24:06]

 

 

I just added a bit of a big kind of kick at the end. I just sort of put that together and just before today’s session. I didn’t spend ages over it. But I just kind of used the template that I got from analyzing those other tracks.

 

Pretty simple. Just having the verse, bridge, chorus, instrumental break, verse two, bridge, chorus, outro. Pretty simple.

 

I think that Ramon, you haven’t sent me anything with this acapella yet. It might be nice to certainly bear this in mind.

 

The task for all of you today is to come up with a radio edit, a three and a half minute version of your winning tracks. Just see if you can be really ruthless, really brutal and just try to kind of compact it down.

 

It’s a case of choosing what you think are the most important elements. I know I think all the tracks are instrumentals, but that doesn’t matter. It still means you can look at your track in terms of sections.

 

You can still call it “verse one, chorus, verse two, bridge,” whatever. But just really try to sort of think about the dynamics.

 

So, yeah. I’m just going to shoot back to you guys.  Ramon.

 

Ramon:            Yes.

 

Ski:                  Have you been working on the track yourself?

 

Ramon:            No, I was very busy this weekend. I have to work.

 

Ski:                  Okay, cool.

 

Ramon:            I will do.

 

Ski:                  Fantastic. I think we’ve got a bit of time left. I want to have a listen to the

remixes that you guys sent in. Let’s just load up project. Actually, before I do that, there was one comment. Someone wanted to know about your arpeggio, Ramon. They loved your arpeggio.

 

Ramon:            Yes.

 

Ski:                  I’m in the strange situation of deconstructing one of your tracks now. I’ll play the

part. It’s this one here. Let me just get back to Live, there we go. It’s this one here.

 

[music 26:25 – 26:28]

 

I’ve just used kind of a stock Ableton sound here. What was the sound you used? Is it a [inaudible 00:26:35] or massive or something?

 

Ramon:            I think that it is massive for the lead sound. I’m not sure.

 

Ski:                  I can’t play it very well. Did you play it in yourself?

 

Ramon:            Yeah, of course. A lot of melodies I play myself.

 

Ski:                  I love the movement. Because you’ve got the bottom, the bottom note is kind of

changing, isn’t it, with the chords. The key signature is A-minor. You’re starting on this F here, which is the sixth chord.

 

Then going to A, which is the one chord. And then, you’re going down to the G, which is the seventh chord. And then down to the D.

 

The delay that you’ve got on it, was that a delay that you put as an external effect? Or was that kind of built into the sound? It gives it a lot of funk.

 

Ramon:            It’s an external effect from Fruity Loops.

 

Ski:                  Really? Okay. It was working really well. So, cool. Maybe you can provide that

as a MIDI file or something. Obviously, it’s getting a lot of respect and interest. Cool.

 

I’m going to load up the remixes that I’ve got. All kind of really varied and different and great, actually.

 

The first song to play is the Adoriany track. It’s so good, I want to sort of play the whole thing. But maybe we’ll play a couple of minutes of it. Let’s go from the start, here we go.

 

This is the Adrian and Vlad remix.

 

[music 28:28 – 29:47]

 

I’m going to have to stop it there because we’re pushed for time, but that’s wonderful, guys. Really good. I really like what you’ve done with the vocal, the way you’ve processed it. You’ve EQ’d it and it just sounds so bright and present. Did you work a lot on the vocal?

 

Adrian:            Yes. We used the [drive] vocal. We used the EQ’s, some compression, reverbs

and delays. We made it sound more present, more powerful in the mix.

 

Ski:                  Did you do any more tuning to it at all?

 

Vlad:               Yes.

 

Adrian:            Yes, a little bit.

 

Ski:                  Yeah, I thought so. Like I said, what I gave you, the tuning that I did on the

Friday. I was a bit disappointed the next day, I thought I could have done a slightly better job. I can really hear that you’ve worked on that as well, which is fantastic.

 

So, excellent. Let’s play Picarlo’s track and this is a completely different vibe.

 

[music 30:52 – 33:02]

 

Just want it to go on further, go on longer. It’s great. So epic-sounding. My only worry is just the tuning of the vocal at the end. I think it could be just a little bit better, which is why I sort of contacted you just before and said “Send me over an instrumental and I’ll send you over the new acapella.”

 

I’ll send that to you anyway, but great job. Fantastic.

 

Karolis:            Thanks.

 

Ski:                  We’ve just got one more to go. Which is this one, Edwan and Gabriel Lovato

[SP]. Here we go.

 

[music 33:36 – 34:46]

 

Cool. It sounds to me like, did you tune that vocal up a bit higher than it was?

 

Edwan:            Yes, exactly. I wanted to put more distortion in it. But I didn’t have time to

do it. It’s a bit too high. It’s just ten [inaudible from 00:35:06 to 00:35:08].

 

Ski:                  Really? It’s good you have some adventurous chords at the start of that as well. It

was really cool.

 

Edwan:            Thanks.

 

Ski:                  Thanks, Edwan. Great work. Really good. And like I said, if you could maybe

think about a radio edit of your track over the next couple of days, that’d be cool. If you get any time between your chat hangout with BT and everything that’s coming up. Great. Thanks a lot.

 

What we’ve been doing today is using and editing vocals on a dance track. If you’d like to learn more about this and a host of other techniques, tips and workflow secrets designed to help you finish your productions to professional standard, please head over to the full-length electronic music composition course on our website at www.pointblankonline.net/electronic-music-composition.

 

And as ever, I’m going to quickly show you that now. Here we go. This is the course. We’re into week four now, lesson four. And you can see here “Track Building-Adding Parts” and “Arranging.” There’s a whole load of videos here. “Extending the Arrangements.”

 

What I did with this is basically, in the course, is I went right from the start of a conception of a track and I saw it right through to the end. So, I’d start it off and I’d use an acapella. I started off making a radio edit.

 

Then, I went down the route of extending it to a longer version, which is what we’ve been talking about today. So, yeah. Head over to the website and check that out.

 

If you’re watching this Academy series and want to join us on a full course, remember to use this discount code for 10 percent off. So, that brings us to the end of today’s session.

 

As I mentioned earlier, we have a very special guest coming in tomorrow. To many, he’s the godfather of dance music. To others, he’s the creator of the world-famous stutter edit, so well-loved in dance music today.

 

He’s known for his film scores including “Monster” and “The Fast and the Furious”. As well as masterpieces such as “Skylarking,” “Flaming June,” “Must be the Love” and collaborations with Tiesto, Armin van Buuren and many more. Don’t miss the one and only BT here with us on Tuesday, 3 p.m. U.K. time.

 

That’s it for today. See you tomorrow live and direct at 3 p.m. UK time. In the meantime, you can get access to loads of free tutorials by subscribing to our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/pointblankonline.

 

See you later. Bye.

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