Creating a club track: 10 mix and arrangement tips
For many of us, the dream is not to get our tracks on the radio, but played in the clubs. However, if you want DJs to pick up your tunes, you need to ensure that they're dancefloor friendly.
If you're struggling to create tracks that can get a crowd going, check out these ten mix and arrangement tips.
1. Dance tunes generally progress in 16-bar sections. Within each of these sections, elements may consist of 1-, 2-, 4- or 8-bar repeating phrases, and elements tend to be changed (added, removed or altered) every four or eight bars.
2. For a quick logically laid-out arrangement, place the main breakdown in the middle at the 129th bar and then split each side of this in half again – so, a first mini breakdown might occur at the 65th bar and a drop to the outro beats could come at the 193rd bar.
3. The first three quarters of a track generally consists of 'build-ups' (with intermittent breaks) and dance tracks are all about what might come next. You can increase the sense of anticipation with use of rising or falling sound FX, reverse cymbals and automated delay or reverb effects.
4. Filtering a whole mix or groups of elements in a track (such as the drums or synths) is a great way of building interest and anticipation. Removing the entire bottom end with a high-pass filter (HPF) just before a new section works a treat, and opening up a low-pass filter during a breakdown can put the crowd into a frenzy, without having much change in the music.
5. Breakdowns should strip the track back to basics – removing the kick drum and bass is a good place to start. Consider dropping high-frequency rhythmic elements such as hats and shakers – these give the track extra energy and are best saved for when it's really 'pumping'.
6. A breakdown is all about anticipation. You are toying with the listener – but if what comes after the breakdown doesn't hit the mark and make them dance, or the transition is forced, then something is amiss. You don't always have to come in with all guns blazing. You could also try lowering the level of everything in the breakdown by a few dB.
7. Remember that your target audience is initially the DJ. Make the arrangement DJ-friendly – something that will make them look good and want to play it. Avoid overly melodic elements at the beginning or end of a track. This makes the record easy to mix.
8. Use silence to enable the listener to 'take a breath'. For example, when coming out of a breakdown, try muting all the parts apart from a snare hit on the downbeat just before everything comes back. Leave the reverbs engaged though, so you get a nice bit of ambience hanging over. Leaving a gap of silence also lets the compressors and limiters in the club rig reset themselves and the lets the speaker cones retract, resulting in a drop with much more impact as the compressor kicks in fresh.
9. One advantage of recording your whole tune (or grouped elements) to a single audio track is the ability to chop, change, pitch, stretch and reverse whole sections. Chopping beats and repeating them can be great way of adding more interest to a fairly simple arrangement.
10. Rules are there to be broken. It's good to have some tried-and-tested arrangement tricks, but some great club tracks throw all the rules out of the window, so be prepared to experiment. However, you should always keep in mind that it's all about the dancefloor.
For a complete guide to mixing for the club, check out the Autumn issue of Future Music (FM206), which is on sale now.