Hidden Texture in Music Arranging

The subject of arranging is extremely vast and quite interesting for someone wanting to delve into the x’s ond o’s of it all. One aspect of writing that I had the chance to explore was the use of hidden texture in music arranging.

I’d like to share some musical insights I’ve picked up from times I was working and learned something valuable. The tangible lesson one gets from a real “voila” moment in the line of fire is one that stays with you.

I had a job working in a production studio that recreated pop songs for a Japanese Karaoke company. They had 3 studios going at all times–I mean ALL the time. My job was to transcribe strings and horns from anything like Todd Rundgren, for example to Dolly Parton, play and produce the recording sessions and babysit anything that came up along the way.

The way they main guy wanted it– you quickly learned– it was better to have too much than miss something. I’m sure I orchestrated a few notes that did not exist and were just reverb return, but if you heard it, it would be in there. The manager was not cheap when it came to musicians–he just wanted it right. Since I was in charge of booking, I’d use extra cats on tunes so they’d have a little better payday, they were there anyway.

We were doing a session one night and one of the tunes was a straight up horn section—trumpets, bones and saxes –I always checked liner notes for personnel (really an arranging hint) and this was an Earth Wind and Fire tune but not with french horn although I do believe some tracks would use horn. The other tune was something from Broadway and had a wind section more comparable, flutes clarinets, horn, etc.

I decided to use the horn on the EWF tune also, just to beef it up.
I may have just doubled him on some lower trumpet or upper trombone notes—nothing soloistic, nothing even “hornlike” just in the blend.

This is what I learned that stayed with me all these years–the horn added a smooth, rich texture to the section, despite being buried in the mix—I mean buried. It made me reconsider texture in arranging. I used to think it had to be audible to “add” something. Well my lesson that night was that a properly placed (even accidentally) instrument can affect an element of “weight” in a horn section. The internal overtones can correctly add up and give you more than you bargained for. Arranging and orchestrating suddenly got a bit deeper — as in more options to consider. And of course, more to learn.

About Tim Ouimette

Tim has arranged, produced and performed for artists such as Ray Charles, Keith Richard, Delbert McClinton, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Mike Clark, Lenny White, Ray Barretto, Danny Aeillo, and hundreds of TV shows and jingles for all variety of media. He is currently busy producing and arranging at Sound Q's in NY.

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