Stop making boring beat arrangements!
I recently had a question from a subscriber:
”Do you have any tips for arranging? I'm starting to get tired of the
"sample -> sample+drums -> sample+drums+bass" formula.”
Thanks for the question, Zer0Spinn!
I’ll share my approach to arranging beats with you.
And, if you follow my technique I guarantee that you’ll be creating fresh arrangements next time you cook.
First of all, what is musical arranging and why is it important?
Musical arranging refers to how you arrange the various musical elements throughout your song. Therefore, the arrangement of your beat is how and when your bass comes in, how and when your sample comes in, or how and when your drums come in.
Your arrangement is so incredibly important because it’s responsible for creating the overall flow in your song.
A good arrangement can take your listener on a journey 🌈
A bad arrangement can drive your listener to skip to the next song 💩
So how the hell do we prevent people skipping our beats?
The answer: By arranging our beats in ways that surprises the listener and keeps them engaged.
The problems with arranging beats using a formula
Let’s refer back to Zer0Spinn’s question.
The first thing I want to point out is this little word ‘formula’.
Formulas are great.
A tried and tested formula gives you specific results by revealing in detail how to achieve those results.
But if our problem is a monotonous beat, we have to break the cycle by doing something different. Something less... formulaic.
And that, my friend, is not where the formula shines.
So we have two options.
- Find a fresh formula OR
- Approach our old formula in a new way
Actually, we have a third option.
Ditch the formula altogether!
Dare to try?
Learning to work without a formula
Formulae in beat making are very helpful, but they only help you achieve very specific results. If you want to break out of that predictable sound, you’re going to have to do something unpredictable.You’re either going to have to come up with a new formula that sounds fresher, or abandon the formula completely.
So I want to help you do both.
I want to help you overcome any dependence you might have on a formula, as well as give you tools and ideas to come up with new beat arrangement ideas.
Step 1: Mix up your melodic elements in new ways
To help illustrate my point, let me tell you the story of how I learned to cook.
It starts with the ‘more-n-koek’.
Let me explain.
Apart from eggs and pasta, I didn’t learn to cook until I met my now husband, Gareth.
During our friend zone, I used to visit him and help him cook for his digs mates.
The dish he was most famous for was his self-invented ‘moer-n-koek’*.
*Roughly translated from Afrikaans this means ‘to savagely beat down and cook’.
The recipe goes something like this:
- Open fridge.
- Take out all food that isn’t moldy.
- Combine in pot with dry oats.
Although it made some people very constipated, it tasted pretty good.
Plus, I was learning to cook by working with what we had. No plans. No rules.
Were the results unpredictable? Yes.
Were they monotonous? Oh hell no. No two meals were the same.
This 'recipe' was specific enough to give us a plan of action, but vague enough to allow for tons of variability and creativity.
With making beats it’s similar. If you want to get an arrangement you haven’t heard before, you need to relax the rules a bit, or create space for variety.
You have to try something you haven’t tried before.
And to do that, you have to get comfortable with daring to do something that may or may not work.
Here are some beat arrangement ideas:
- Why not throw in a random sample and see if that spices up the section?
- What about a section with just drums and bass?
- Or what about chopping up your sample in an different way and creating some variety?
- OR, what about rendering out your song and then chopping up the whole song again to make a whole new section in your beat?
Will these ideas generate good results? Why don't you give them a try and find out?
Step 2: Study the arrangements of other beats
If there’s a beat you particularly enjoy, listen to it and take notes.
Write down how many bars the intro is, how many bars the main idea is, where the bass and drums come in, etc.
In fact, write down any and every change in the music.
That way you can begin to reverse-engineer the blueprint of the beat.
The more you get used to making and reading blueprints, the stronger your intuition for creating a winning beat blueprint will become.
Do this for all the beats you like and start studying your notes.
Imagine the beat without hearing it, just by looking at your notes.
You will begin to get a feel for how certain song structures make the music flow.
The more you do this, the easier it will be for you to create your own song structure on the fly while you’re in the studio.
Eventually you’ll be able to create your own dope arrangements with no blueprint at all.
And once you do that, you can start playing around with amazing transitions that act as a bridge between sections. The world is your oyster.
How reading recipes for fun helped me write better beats
When I was learning to cook I became quite obsessed with reading recipes for fun.
I’d imagine the taste and smell of the ingredients.
I'd visualize the whole process.
Eventually, without cooking a thing, my imagination had become so vivid that I could virtually taste the final result.
It was as though I had ‘lived’ through so many recipes that making good food without a formula became easy.
Similarly in the studio, through sensitively listening and feeling other songs I got such a strong sense for what works and what doesn’t.
And that, my friend, will be the secret to growing your own intuition for making your beats flow.
The thing stopping you from improving your arrangements
Often we want to ignore what our ears are telling us.
Often we know that something isn’t working but we are in denial.
Often we think that because this formula worked for someone else, it will work for us too.
And so we rationalize what the music is telling us away by saying things like “Ah but this drum break is so good I have to keep it in!” (even though it doesn’t fit), or “but this really cool sound took me 3 hours to make so I have to keep it in” (even though it’s killing the mood).
Being overly attached to your ideas (or the ideas of others) will block your progress. You need to listen to what your ears are telling you, and trust what you feel.
If you notice that the beat is feeling boring, you've literally got to face the music and make a change.
There is no easy way to accept that something is not working in your arrangement. But the only way to fix it is to trust your feeling and make a change.
And I feel your pain, because this happens to me too. All the time!
And I have to cut out beautiful parts of my music. I have to sacrifice a part for the whole.
But I've learned that it's a worthwhile sacrifice.
Even if you don’t know what to change, make a change.
You can always undo (unlike adding too much salt in the kitchen).
But you’ve got to be brutally honest with yourself and accept when your arrangement isn't working. Only then can you begin to fix the problem.
Once you begin to make changes your arrangements are going to get so much better, trust me!
A final word on using beat making formulae
Now I’m not saying scrap the formula – formulae and checklists are amazing ways to implement systems that guarantee prescribed results.
But by shaking things up through your own sense of trial and error you’ll grow your musical intuition.
By growing and trusting in your musical intuition you’ll get better at making spicy beats that are unique to you.
And that’s better than any formula!
So are you going to give it a try?
Are you going to:
- Challenge how you usually arrange beats?
- Study your favorite beat arrangements?
- Be honest when something isn’t working and make a change?
The results might shock you.
They might not be what you expect… lol
Seriously though, now that you have new tools for how to arrange lofi beats, you might even fall in love with arranging!
I’d love to hear how this works out for you.And If you want some practical formula ideas to get you started, let me know and I’ll hook you up!
Lil miss beats