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Arranging songs for your album release

Just because you can write a catchy or beautiful song doesn’t always mean you will automatically be the best arranger, too. Or maybe orchestration just doesn’t interest you. Some wonderful composers and songwriters have reached out to me because they find arranging to be such a challenge. Since I enjoy creating fills, instrumental bridges, and generally changing musical juxtapositions, I’m happy to get these requests!

Musical arranging is an important aspect of the album release cycle. You may choose to organize the sounds and structure of your song either on your own or by hiring a professional arranger.

Arranging Yourself

So many singer-songwriters accompany themselves on an instrument. If this is your story, start by taking a video while performing the song. View the video, paying attention to the way you play the accompaniment. Here are a few ideas and questions to get you started thinking about arranging:

  • If you default to strummed or block chords, what happens if you arpeggiate them instead (or visa versa)?
  • How could you change the accompaniment to undergird the singing in a different way?
  • Obviously, if you’re in a band, you’ll be using the instrumentation you have. But if your style changes, do you need new instruments? In any case, an album release is a great time to augment your sound and experiment with new instrumentation.
  • What instruments would complement the style of the song? What is the mood of the lyrics? How can you enhance that mood with the instrumentation?
  • Did you budget enough to hire session musicians for your arrangements?
  • Can you emulate those instruments in your DAW? You can learn a lot about arranging by listening to other recordings and the real instruments that create them.
  • If you will be emulating real instruments or even synthesized sounds, you must learn about your virtual instruments. They are likely to have dozens or even hundreds of ways you can create subtle changes to make the sound more alive and natural-sounding. Finesse is the key.
  • Don’t assume that you can arrange on the fly. While it might be tempting, having the arrangements ready when you go to record is a much better way (especially if you’re paying for the studio time).

Getting Arranged

Though arranging can be fun for many musicians, others find it to be a huge pain. The good news is that you can hire someone (like me) to create orchestrations for you. When you do this, you can create the final recording from any place around the globe.

song arranging

Each arranger will have a process for you to follow. A typical process may go something like this:

  1. Record a “scratch track”. This will consist of you singing with piano or guitar. You don’t have to perform it perfectly, but you will want to give a lot of attention to tempo since the arranger will use your tempo as a guide for the arrangement.
  2. Send it to your arranger in the format they request. They should provide you with a Dropbox, Google Drive, or similar place to upload the audio file.
  3. Let the arranger do magic stuff with your song. Depending on your contract, you may be able to request enhancements to the arrangement after you hear early drafts.
  4. Pay the fee for this helpful service and you’ll receive the final, arranged audio files to be imported into your DAW.
  5. Re-record your voice or even multiple vocals over the new arrangement.

And, just like that, you’re beginning to record the album.