Starting In The Middle

I read a good piece on musicradar the other day about approaches to arranging (or what I usually refer to as ‘sequencing’).  A couple of the tips in that article really resonated with me (namely 1 – ‘start in the middle’ and 5 – ‘draw it out’) because they were things that I ‘discovered’ myself during my work in 2016.  The most useful of those was the idea of ‘starting in the middle’ so that’s what I’ll discuss today.

Sequencing is one of the things that I find more difficult in the production process.  At the point of starting sequencing you’ll usually have a bunch of track elements or layers you’re happy with, and you need to get from that point to having a rough form of a track, making sure that the sequence remains interesting throughout, and showcases the element or layers as you’d intended.  This is a pretty big step, and the path to get there is ambiguous… and in fact there’s not one, but many paths that could eventuate… i.e. there’s actually an almost infinite number of possibly sequences which could turn out good.  I think because of this I used to sometimes experience hesitation at starting out (similar to what I wrote about in my procrastination post).

For some reason I always used approach sequencing in a linear/serial way… i.e. starting from the absolute first beat in the intro, and working through the sequence to the end.  But I found this was difficult and often lead to uninteresting sequences (like the first 2 minutes of the track ended up just predictably introducing a new element every 16 beats).  At some point during 2016 I decided I needed a new approach to this, and that’s when I found the same ‘start in the middle’ technique described in the article…

By the time you start sequencing, you would have likely been working on the individual track elements for a reasonable amount of time… hence you’ll have a good idea of which elements/layers sounds good together, and which combinations and build-ups of layers you want to showcase as the main theme of the track… so since that should be clear in your mind, start by sequencing that part… i.e. create the main build/peak part of the track first. You might also have other ideas for kind of ‘precursor’ builds to the main build/peak point, so put those in the sequence too. Once you have these main ‘points of interest’ in the sequence, you can more easily ‘fill in the gaps’ between the points (more easily than trying to build the sequence start to end). Most DAW platforms should be capable of inserting and deleting time measures (and preserving automation lanes etc…) if you need to extend or contract the gaps between the main points, so there shouldn’t be any technical limitations either from working this way.

I now find that the intro and outro are usually actually the last parts of the sequence that I make… and they often don’t require too much attention, given that in club music your main goal for these parts is usually not to make them interesting, but to make them easy for a DJ to mix with the next or previous track in a set.

This was a technique which I found a huge help in expediting the process of arranging/sequencing.  The ‘draw it out’ technique also mentioned in the article was another, so I’ll write about that (and maybe include a real sequence drawing I used for a track) in a future post.

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