Arranging Music: 5 Easy Tricks For More Interesting Mixes

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Getting an interesting mix isn’t just about leveling, EQ, and compression.

These tools are great to use before you consider mastering your music, but they aren’t the complete solution for fixing a boring mix.

You need to think about what’s happening before you use these tools.

This is where arrangement comes into play.

The term “arrangement” is sometimes used to describe the structure of the song and how the parts are arranged over time.

While that’s technically part of the arrangement, I’ll be talking about the arrangement in terms of the instrumentation, and how it all plays together to make up a big sounding track.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five arrangement tricks you can use to make your mixes more interesting.

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Trick 1: use a spectrum analyzer

People are always saying that you should use your ears, not your eyes. And for the most part, that’s good advice!

But actually seeing spots in your music where your arrangement is lacking can help your ears hear the problem.

Actually seeing spots in your music where your arrangement is lacking can help your ears hear the problem.

This is where a spectrum analyzer comes in. It’ll show you the amplitude of the frequencies from 20hz to 20Khz, so you can actually see what’s taking up the most space in your mix.

Put it on your master bus and take a peek once a while when you’re writing. See which areas you might be neglecting.

For example, if you see a bunch of energy missing in the top end, maybe it’s time to sprinkle in some more hi-hats.

If you see a big dip in your low mids, consider which low-end element is taking the sub frequencies, and add a low mid-bass instrument.

While this isn’t a foolproof solution to better arranging, it can certainly provide helpful hints in making your track sound more full and punchy.

Trick 2: use top loops

I’ve noticed that many producers look down on using loops. The truth is that if you use them creatively, you can achieve incredible things.

Top loops are particularly useful. Typically they’re sparkling hi-hat and percussion grooves that tilt towards the upper end of the frequency spectrum.

Sparsely adding top loops to your arrangement here and there can really add some shimmer and shine—especially if you’re lacking energy in the high end.

If you’re able to place them in the right moments and not overuse them, they’ll add that width depth you’ve been looking for.

Trick 3: sample the things around you

This one is a no brainer. Sample the things around you—inside and outside. The magic behind this arrangement trick is that no one else in the world will capture these samples the way you do.

It’ll make your music sound more organic and original.

Billie Eilish’s brother Finneas took this concept to another level when he sampled things like matches being struck, or noises from cars and airplanes.

These samples made Billie’s biggest singles extremely original and engaging.

What I like to do is take my field recorder and go for a walk. Maybe I’ll bring a mallet or drum stick with me. It’s a great way to get away from the computer if you find yourself in a beat block.

There are tons of objects in the real world that have a timbre that could fill a hole in your arrangement.

Just collect them, upload them, and process them with effects. The possibilities are endless.

Trick 4: use ambience to fill out space

Have a sparse arrangement? Maybe your track consists only of guitar, vocals, bass and synth—and that’s all you want.

Take an element of your track, and duplicate it. Pan one hard left, and one hard right.

If panning and automation aren’t cutting
it and you’re still striving for width and depth, consider adding some ambiance underneath.

Adding ambient loops like city life, ocean sounds, wind, or vinyl sounds can really make a track standout. Loop them under certain sections of your track to add a different feel.

Hot tip: Use a sidechain compressor on your ambient loops to make other elements of your track standout. Having some ocean sounds duck whenever your kick drum hits will definitely get the party started.

Trick 5: use creative effects on existing elements

This last one isn’t an obvious one, but it’s a quick fix if you’re in a pinch.

Take an element of your track, and duplicate it. Pan one hard left, and one hard right.

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On your duplicated track, use effects like distortion, reverb, detuning, delay—anything to make it sound drastically different while maintaining the same musical information.

The timbre change between the two tracks is going to create an immediate effect on your track, especially if those are the only two elements that are panned hard left and right.

It’s important to note that this arrangement trick won’t work well on instruments that like to live in the middle. You don’t want to pan your bass instruments or lead vocals, unless you’re looking to get really experimental.

Interesting mixes need bold choices

There’s no way around it, mixing is hard.

Bold choices and small arrangement tricks can go a long way. Don’t be afraid to have elements standout that usually wouldn’t.

Keep that in mind when you approach your next arrangement!

Anthony Albanese

Anthony is a composer and producer at RVRSPlay and founder of the jazz pop duo Elluisoir.

@Anthony Albanese

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