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What's your approach for doing VGM arrangement ?

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Hello, I use Ableton Live as a DAW for a couple of years.
But my question is more general.
I would like to know your workflow of doing VGM arrangement.

I would guess that I should first find out the chords and melody ; put them into midi. And then get my prefered VSTI and VST to get things moved along to build my arrangement.
Would you mind sharing your workflow with me ?

Second question, do you do start to finish only one track per time ? or do you work on 5 (or more) tracks !?

Thx in advance :)

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When i first started using a DAW i used to spend a solid month per remix/rearrangement getting everything together.  I would load up an instrument, play around with it and if nothing came to mind, delete and load up something else.  It's a fine way to experiment and discover new applications for the resources you have but I found that it tended to kill the spirit of what I was working on long before I finished it.

To spit music out quickly it's a great idea to make a bare outline of what you want, break it down into music's three core components which are melody, harmony and rhythm, use a vst that runs light on you pc/mac and doesn't make the entire project so cumbersome that it discourages you from making simple changes.   I treat most of my outlines as simple high school piano renditions of what i want and develop them from there.  Usually I will also keep melodies and harmonies in separate midi tracks just for the extra layer of organization. After the outline is more or less done I develop the rest of the arrangement starting with the rhythm section and ending with the lead instruments. 

Keep in mind that writing (coming up with the piece of music), arranging(deciding what instruments should be used and how), and mixing(how the frequencies of everything fit together) were all once (and still are) separate skills to learn.  Now the lines are blurring and everything is becoming more and more inclusive. Which is great but it means there is a lot of information that needs to be learned and you are going to be learning it all at the same time. Because of this, it's important to recognize that there are different skills that are needed depending on what phase you are at when writing a piece from start to finish.  If the harmony doesn't create the proper mood for the melody, it doesn't matter how much compression you use on that cello sample that you have programmed as playing all up-bows, It's still not going to sound right.   

If you keep your outline as simple as possible then you can get your idea out much faster and with fewer obstacles. When artist makes an image, they don't worry about properly shadowing the reflection in the window just right when the rest of the canvas is still blank.  They do a quick sketch of what it's supposed to be then spend significantly more time developing it.  It's the same deal with music.  

Sort of went off there but hope it helps!  I still remember well the frustrations i had when i first started working with a DAW but it all lead to me developing a process I can use as a base to approach anything i want to now.  

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I start with my brain and pen and paper mostly. That doesn't mean I start writing score from the get go, it means that I listen to the source track a few times, let that inspire me to get some ideas on what kind of style, genre, mood I want to achieve and I write those down on paper. In the next day or 2, I think about it some more and write some more stuff down.

What I write down can be pretty broad, here's some stuff from a track I worked on a week ago: "vocal track. start slow with piano and vox. add strings. first part should be calm and reflective in minor key, second half should be more optimistic, higher speed in major key. use traditional verse-chorus structure. use accordeon in second half. add violin solo somewhere.". So basically it gives me a blueprint of ideas on what I want to do with the track, and in combination with the source material I can steal the melody from that and incorporate that into my blueprint.

With that input I start the arrangement, usually in 1 or 2 iterations to get all the concepts and ideas down. Instruments in this phase are pretty rough usually, mostly ballpark of the kind of sounds I have in mind. Tweaking and polishing things a bit is next, that can be things like adding harmonies, fixing timings, choosing better instruments and humanising the performance. Last step for me is mixing and overall production. This is typically where my skills aren't as good and thus it takes the most time and self doubt :P

As for your second question: I typically have a few tracks in progress most of the times (atm I count 8, yikes!). A good reason for that is that I like to collaborate with other people to get some live performances in, and that usually involves a lot of waiting for people to find time to record. I typically fill up that time with working on other/new tracks.

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Hi Garpocalypse,

thank you for your answer, very complete. I wouldn't expect a so well constructed answer in a few time :)
I didn't know that writing and arranging was 2 different jobs ! (by the way you forgot mastering that comes up after the mixing process).

What I struggle the most is arranging, I have so much choices (I have a lot of vsti), that I freeze by chosing what I will use for each part.
I like the comparison with an artist that you make in your post, I'm not a sketch artist, but it makes sense what you say.
Some vsti needs more expression when playing (it could be playing with the midi keyboard mod wheel), I could use some automation, but it would be more work. I will try the "sketch artist" approach by "erasing" part of midi melody (duplicated track of course) to redo in the style of the vsti selected to give more realism.

Thanks for that new interesting approach that you have : " music's three core components which are melody, harmony and rhythm "
I usually do the melody and harmony (in one or two tracks, whatever) , but the Rhythm, I didn't think about it. It is a great component for inspiration and to get into the mood !
It should be what I was lacking until now : the rythm !
I know that Rythm isn't only about drum (but most part of it does the job), it can be a line of bass also, etc.

Me too, when I began using a DAW, it was terrible, I couldn't even make a descent sound. I had to learn by myself with lynda.com video / youtube video / books.
It took me a lot of time, patience, and money to get something from Ableton Live. But I'm happy now that I didn't give up ; yey, the love of VGM has gave me the strengh to continue ^^

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30 minutes ago, Jorito said:

I write down can be pretty broad, here's some stuff from a track I worked on a week ago: "vocal track. start slow with piano and vox. add strings

Yo Jorito,

Thx for your answer, very interesting concept that you have.

I try also to get a whole idea of where the arrangement should go. But my ideas usually get overwhelmed (and forgotten) as I go deep into the process of choosing instruments.
It is a good idea to write down for good your arrangment and keep your mindset with this blueprint. It is like having a real client task to fulfill ;).
Maybe I should try to reorganize my folders in order to take in consideration multiple genre of one track (mostly if I go with a changing tempo).

All the best

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13 hours ago, hleet_tahiti said:

I would like to know your workflow of doing VGM arrangement.

These days, what I do is listen to the original songs for a few days to a few weeks, until I naturally internalize them. There comes a point where I'm then able to hum to them, and so I come up with some ideas before going into FL Studio. At that point, if I feel pretty good and think I can finish a remix of the VGM I was listening to, I give it a shot.

Generally, when I actually start writing...

  1. I start by selecting an instrument/sound that is the basis for my soundscape.
  2. I build my remix from beginning to end, mixing as I go and layering my soundscape as I go.
  • I usually write the melody first, then hum the bass line, and then fill in the chords. I listen to the melody, and it implies one or more bass lines that can work. Once I write in my bass line, it pretty much flows from there. Bass lines outline chord progressions when paired with a melody, so I basically hear the chords I want to write once I have both down.

I'm always open to going back and adjusting parts of my remix that I wrote in the past, even if I've already progressed to writing the latter half of it, and I usually do that. In fact, that's what I think gives my mixes the polish I think they need---the will to go back and revise older partwriting, mixing, etc, and the desire for improving the mix until I have no crits towards myself (even if it's a few months later).

Here's an example where I did exactly what I said above.

Maybe you can find the differences, and track when I went back and adjusted older partwriting/mixing (it's usually near the end of the current WIP, but it might be in the middle). Sometimes I add transitions, sometimes I add new parts, and sometimes I refine the mixing.

V1 - https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/59338379/PSMDWIPV1.mp3

V1.2 - https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/59338379/PSMDWIPV1-2.mp3

V2.1 - https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/59338379/PSMDWIPV2-1.mp3

V2.2 - https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/59338379/PSMDWIPV2-2.mp3

V3 - https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/59338379/PSMDWIPV3.mp3

Final - https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/59338379/PSMD - 'CONNECTED!' [Revelation Mountain%2C Tree of Life (Roots)%2C Final Fight (PMD2)].mp3


As for your second question, I usually have WIPs lying around to keep me busy. Right now I have 5 ReMix WIPs, and 4 original WIPs. :P Darn it, I had less last year!

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2 hours ago, timaeus222 said:
  • I start by selecting an instrument/sound that is the basis for my soundscape.
  • I build my remix from beginning to end, mixing as I go and layering my soundscape as I go

Thank you timaeus222 for your time to explain your workflow.
I learn some more techniques own to you : having some basics instrument/sounds to elaborate my soundscape, it would be easier to stay in the creating process instead of taking too much time focusing on the perfect sounding instrument right off the bat.

3 hours ago, timaeus222 said:

if I feel pretty good and think I can finish a remix of the VGM I was listening to, I give it a shot.

I'm not good enough to have this kind of feeling of getting all the remix in my head before going to work on my DAW.
But as stated by Jorito, I could use a pen and paper to get my arrangement written down, and stick to it.

3 hours ago, timaeus222 said:

I didn't think about working in "parts" instead of going for the whole mix in one shot. Maybe that's why I feel overwhelmed by all the stuff to think about.
I listened to the tracks that you have put in your post, I like all theses little FX samples (I can hear some kind of bow) that contribute to the universe that you want to share.
If I could permit myself of an opinion, the final version At 2:30, some chords progression are a bit weird to my ears.

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Yeah, though that's never really been a problem for me, I usually have less to keep track of if I've already polished each section well enough by the time I've started writing the next. That being said, if it's not something you're comfortable with doing (mixing as you write), you don't have to do it that way. I just find it easier if I hear all my sounds in the most recent mixing context, to know what I should do next. But hey, maybe arranging in chunks like that can help you. It makes my arrangements more spontaneous, I think.

Thanks for your feedback; I personally don't hear the weirdness you say you hear at 2:30, though I can understand how since there is a lot happening there. :) It's basically a tension-and-resolve, just with more complicated voicings (like 7ths and 9ths).

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