Making an effective record is like a vacation. Let’s say the sweet spot for a vacation at a beautiful resort is 11 days. When you leave after 10 days you feel like you’re leaving paradise and you want to come back again. This is the greatest place you’ve ever visited and you’ll tell the world about it!
Now imagine you leave after 16 days, 5 days after the sweet spot of your vacation. The bed isn’t as comfortable as in the beginning, the pool isn’t really as big as the one back home and the hotel staff is starting to annoy you. Get me out of here!
The same goes for music. It’s better to leave your listeners with an urge to hear it again and again than with a feeling of “Jeez, how long does this record last, it’s getting boring.” Hence the reason effective arrangement is extremely important. So apart from feeling like we desperately need a vacation where does this leave us?
After creating a groovy beat and getting the fundamentals for the record down it’s time to pave the road. Making a beat and writing a record are two very different aspects of making music which compliments each other. You can’t make a good record without a great loop and you can’t make a good record without effective arrangement.
You could copy/paste your loop one after the other until it’s six minutes long, but it probably won’t be very effective. So, are there any rules on writing the arrangement of your record? No, not at all, but many effective house records follow sort of the same arrangement route.
On average my own records have a playtime around 5:45–6:15. Again, this isn’t written in stone, but for me, this is a good starting point to work from. To get a better understanding of how and why it’s easiest to break it down part by part.
Below is a snapshot of the premaster of my record “Shadows of Destiny”, with the six different parts highlighted with both a bar and time ruler.
Part 1: The Intro – 32 Bars (yellow)
The intro has one function and one function only. Giving the DJ time to properly sync the record with the one he’s playing right now and giving the elements to make a proper intro for the next record. Almost all my records have an intro of 32 bars (around 1 minute). My intros consist of the beat without the bassline and usually some minor details like vocal chops or a synth stab here and there to introduce the record and to keep it interesting.
After 32 bars I add the bassline to the drums and let this play for another 16 bars. This gives the DJ the ability to get the drums to fully pump under the previous track, giving it a smooth mix from one track to another. I use the extended 48 bar intro on more tech house oriented, groovy driven tracks.
When I make a record which has a more housy feel to it, with the focus on the melody and vocal I go straight to the break after the intro. For me, intros need to have at least the basic drums in it. When an intro has no drums in it it’s very hard and annoying for the DJ to mix it, which could lead to skipping the record in DJ sets and that’s something you don’t want.
Part 2: The First Break – 16 Bars (red)
The first break is a great opportunity to expose the character of the record. Most of the times I take the bassline and the kick out, but I let the other drums continue to keep the groove alive. Now is a great moment to build up to the drop with the elements that make the record. I don’t go all out in the first break because I want to focus all the energy on the second break. 16 bars (around 30 seconds) work great for me.
Part 3: The Main Part – 24/32 Bars (blue)
This is the part where all your hard work and dedication comes alive. When you play your own records, this is the make it or break it moment. When the record is really housy and energetic I tend to go for 24 bars to keep it interesting. When I’m in techy groove mode 32 bars is great. Best way to determine what works best for the record is to let it play and get in touch with your experience. Does it feel boring or is the big break coming too soon? If so, act accordingly.
Part 4: The Big Break – 24/32 Bars (red)
The big break is my favorite part of the record to produce. When I have an energetic house record I often stretch up the break to 32 bars, taking it all the way down and building it up. For groovy tech, I will limit it to 24 bars because I want to keep the party people moving. Let’s focus on the breakdown of the long house break for now. In the first part, I will take it down creating a moment of rest and atmosphere. After this, I usually throw in a surprise element to build anticipation.
After 16 bars it’s time to get the hands back up in the air and build it all the way up again. The further you took the record down, the bigger the rise will be when you build it back up. When the build-up is big and interesting 16 bars work great. This is the time to bring out the bells and whistles!
Part 5: The Second Main Part – 32 Bars (blue)
In general, I make this part a bit more exciting than the first main part, just to keep it interesting. You’re about to sign off and want to leave a good impression. This is your last chance to grab their attention.
Part 6: The Outro – 32 Bars (yellow)
All good things come to an end and so does your record. Once again I go for 32 bars just like the intro, giving the DJ sufficient time to mix. Most of the times I mix in my next record right after the big break. When I mix records with this arrangement it creates really smooth transitions. It gives me 2 minutes to mix, where the bassline starts in the new record at the same point it usually stops in the other record.
This is the blueprint I use, with little tweaks here and there depending on the record I’m making. Obviously, this isn’t the only way to go about it, but it’s a nice starting point. There are great records with only 1 break and also killer grooves that last for 11 minutes. It all depends on the record you’re building. In the end of the day, it’s your record and you’ve got to do what feels good for you. Whatever you do, please don’t feel trapped by certain rules you think apply. There really are no rules. You are the artist and whatever you say goes.