Pop music and its arrangement methods. The topic most everyone seems to be an expert of. Yeah… sigh. Yet not one of those smartass people can do it perfectly. Not when push comes to shove. No surprise there though. Arrangement, in general, is about as much of an art as it is science. And as with anything that works in this bastard ridden world, pop music is something you can learn by proper, focused observation. That of course takes quite an amount of time and patience. Not only that, but you also have to develop a feel for recognizing a good pop tune. Versus a well marketed crap. So here’s a couple of tips to make the whole thing just a little bit easier for you.
The secret is arranged in front of you
When it comes to arranging the pop stuff, the simpler the better. Yeah… it was kind of expected, right? But what does that mean concretely? It means, use only as many chords and chord extensions as necessary. And here comes the trick: spread the chord voices across the instruments. So if you have a G7 chord, the bass should play the root note, the piano can play a rootless double stop, and you can let the guitar play the 7th note. Or the background vocals.
Avoid long, legato passages, whenever possible. On every instrument, including organs, synths, strings, horns, etc. Only do the long sustaining legato stuff if it’s really needed for the expression of your message, so to say. Like quieter bridge parts of the song. Otherwise, make your pop orchestration as rhythmical and groovy as possible. Never forget: pop music needs to pop. Not just float around like whale feces in the ocean (does it float at all?).
Every sound needs to pop
As we mentioned above, spread the chords. Well, don’t just stop there. Make little sounds – hooks – all the way through your tune. Make them as little as possible, like single note melody lines. Or just single notes here and there. Even noises work perfectly. The idea behind this is to keep up the listener’s interest. Turn your entire music into tiny little rhythmic elements breathing together as a whole. Got it already?
Make the choruses really stand out. Make them brighter sounding. Also make them denser and louder. Go higher in pitch in the chorus, with either the lead melody or part of the accompaniment, compared to the verses. And preferably use either a narrower stereo image than in the verses, or fill it more from left to right. That, if you absolutely want width all the way through.
Building towards density
Keep the song getting gradually denser and busier as it builds towards the end. And don’t forget, the whole thing only works perfectly, if you started with a good song.