First Things First

The arrangement of a song is the way each section is structured and how the song flows from one section to another. The goal of an arrangement is to introduce all elements to the listener as effectively as possible. If the listener didn’t care about how the song is presented to them, you could just have all your elements play from the start to the finish of the song. But it doesn’t work that way; you want to tell a story that develops over time. So it’s good to step into the shoes of the listener. Here are a few things to consider.

  • The listener’s time is limited. Because there is so much music today, there is an immense amount for a listener to choose from. Therefore, a listener does not have much time to listen to every song entirely. So ideally, you want to capture the listener’s attention as fast as possible. This is usually within the first 15 seconds of the song. Of course, you don’t have to show everything of the song in the first 15 seconds, but you want to give the listener a clear idea about what type of song it is. Remember the idea of the song in the Songwriting part. You want to introduce the listener to that idea as fast as possible.
  • Because there is so much music, the listener’s attention is limited as well. When a section of the song takes too long, the attention is lost, and you have lost the listener. So don’t take too long to introduce the sections of your song. Of course, this differs per genre (more on this below). This is why it’s more common to see short songs today (even 2 minutes or less).
  • The listener has expectations. When you make a song, it will always be within a genre to some degree. Some songs follow every characteristic of a genre and some songs only a little bit, but a listener will likely categorize something within a genre for themselves. Within that genre, there is usually a typical structure (or structures) that a song follows. Try not to stray away too much from this structure, or you may confuse the listener.
  • On the other hand, some listeners want to be surprised (most don’t). So it can be nice to stick to the typical structure, but stray away from it here and there to add an element of surprise.