In this tutorial I will show you an arranging and song structure related method that might help you to make a full song out of your musical ideas. Or at least move one step forward if you feel like you’re stuck in a loop. This may be a nothing new for some of you, but some may find this useful.
So: lets assume you have created a short mix in your DAW. Maybe something that you could use as a ‘drop’ in your song. It could be a 4, 8 or 16 bar loop and it could contain a melody, bass line and perhaps drums. Maybe something like this:
Now: how to proceed from here? how to create a full song out of something like this?
Firstly, now might be a good time to start being systematic and organized (if not already). Then, inside your DAW, SKETCH a song structure first. For example, if you’re using FL Studio, go to the Playlist and add time markers to indicate what song section starts and where.
In FL Studio, the first time marker needs to be set either by choosing “Time markers -> Add one…” from the Playlist options -menu or pressing ALT+T. The following markers can be set by right clicking somewhere in the Playlist position marker -area and choosing “Add marker…”.
If your musical style is mainstream EDM, the song structure can be divided into four main sections: intro, breakdown, build-up and drop (the breakdown, build-up and drop are usually repeated two times in a full song). Intro is usually 32 bars long, breakdown may be 32 bars as well (including build-up which is usually 8 or 16 bars) and drop could be something like 16-32 bars. Of course, the length of the sections varies, but majority of EDM songs follows pretty much the same formula.
So your song structure could look like this:
Now, if your idea is a drop, move it to the drop section:
Next, break your mix into individual sounds and start filling the song sections with the elements you now have. For example, you could start the intro with drums (really common in EDM) or maybe just with a kick. Then, after 8 bars, maybe add hihats and/or claps followed by percussion and bass line after another 8 bars. And so on. Basically, add a new sound after every 8 or 16 bars (yes, this is very basic knowledge in EDM production).
You can fill the other sections too with your current material if you think they’ll fit there.
The idea in this method is that you’re like a painter who sketches his/her paintings. Only you’re working with audio and sketching a song instead of painting (and yeah, it’s mostly copy & paste job at this point):
Yes, your song probably sounds ultra repetitive and boring right now. But at this point, it doesn’t matter as the idea of this method is to create a rough song structure ‘framework’ (or template) for you to work with. This may help you to see your musical idea in a larger perspective and perceive how it would work in a full song. It may also help you to see (and hear) what kind of elements the song needs next as some of the parts are already in place in the song structure framework.
Of course, you’re still far away from a full song. Next, you might want to start composing the missing sections – breakdown, build-up or whatever it is that’s still missing, add variation to your current drum and melodic patterns, add automation and more sounds in the mix, add little breaks here and there and other nuances.
Also remember that the song structure isn’t something that’s written in stone. If you feel you should change the structure down the line, feel free to do that. For example, the length of the sections may need changes depending on your musical ideas that may come as you progress.
However, keep in mind that even though there IS room for new ideas in song structure wise, it is recommended that it follows some sort of common and logical structure. Listeners kind of expect to hear certain things happening in certain positions. And if your song is aimed for clubs, it should at least have long enough intro to let DJ’s have enough time to mix it with other songs in their sets.
And finally, if you wonder where you can find ideas for song structures: listen songs in your favourite genre.
That’s about it. Maybe you’re not able to make a full song with this method, but hopefully this helps you to progress in your song building and maybe getting out of the loop. 🙂
Watch the video version of this tutorial below: