How to nail your first song arrangement - Ian Edwards
Getting the arrangement right can turn the song you have just written into an instant rock anthem that will last forever. Get it wrong and your new song will smell like teen socks.
Remember that for many classic songs the hook or melody is going to be the most memorable part of the song. This does not need to be the lyrics; it could be a repetitive guitar or bass line. What ever you do, make sure it is an integral part of your song from start to finish.
The general structure of most (but by no means all) popular songs is fairly standard. This structure generally is: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle section, verse, chorus to end. Listen to your albums and see how many songs you know that fit this structure. And then find how many don't!
If your main hook in the song is the chorus, then try making your intro a shortened instrumental version of it. This way, by the time you actually get to the first full chorus, the audience has already heard it and will feel they know it.
Try not to take too long over the intro and first verse. Getting to the first full chorus as soon as possible gives the audience the chance to sing along. A good example of this is ‘Let Me Entertain You’ by Robbie Williams. Remember the important advice: "don't bore us, get to the chorus!".
Remember to use ‘light’ and ‘shade’ in your arrangement by dropping out lead instruments while the singer is singing. Many bands just have the drums and bass guitar accompanying the singer during verses. Perhaps bring in a simple guitar line half way through to help build the verse.
Dynamics are really important for the truly classic tunes and bringing in those massive guitars in the chorus can really pay dividends. Think Nirvana ‘Teen Spirit’ and Radiohead ‘Creep’ for good examples of how this works when done well.
A really important part of any arrangement is to focus on discipline and detail when going from one section of your song to the next. Think these sections through very carefully and be as precise and neat as possible. No sloppiness accepted here!
There are many tricks used by professional songwriters and arrangers and one of the most popular is the key change for the middle section or ending. For example if your chorus is made up of the chords E, G, A, when you get to the middle section or solo, shift your chord sequence up a tone by playing F#, A, B.
By the time you have got to the end choruses you should have everything (including the kitchen sink) in your song. Gospel choirs, a wailing diva, a serious searing harmonised guitar solo, drummer going bloody mad, etc. Go on, give it a go. You deserve it!
Of course there are many different styles and types of arrangements, but if you stick to these simple rules your songs (the good, the bad and the downright ugly) should start to sound pretty good. Go for it.