Think Like a Producer

Thinking about other instruments that might go into your song puts you on your way to becoming not just a songwriter, but an arranger—and maybe, a producer.

In “The Art of the Lyric” and “The Art of the Tune,” we offered you tips on how to get started in writing your own solo songs. Now, we want you to think even more broadly with the third and final installment in our songwriting series, “The Art of Home Production.”

Being an arranger means to add more instruments and parts to your song—a process that can be done with the help of bandmates, and/or through the use of a digital audio workstation, or DAW. If you own an Apple device, GarageBand is a great program that can help get you started; if you own a PC, a popular and free DAW is Audacity. These programs don’t require professional recording equipment to use—all you need is a computer on which to run the software, and a microphone. Today, most devices come with built-in microphones which can be used to create basic recordings.

This article’s Hear the Music selections were meant to illustrate examples of full arrangements in popular songwriting. Each of the examples, which can be played here, show how a basic song melody and lyrics can be expanded to include more layers of instruments and different parts that can balance the song out as a whole. Hear more examples on this month’s Extended Play playlist.

Swedish EDM artist and producer Avicii started out at a young age producing his own music from home. His 2013 hit “Wake Me Up” has an arrangement that can easily be broken down into distinct parts. Try listening and thinking of which different instruments and sounds contribute to the arrangement.

Icelandic singer-songwriter Bjork is known for her quirky songwriting and arrangements. This is a song from her 2004 album Medulla, which she composed and arranged with only vocal parts as instrumentation (with few exceptions). Try listening through and thinking about each different vocal part you hear.