Study the Pros And Arrange Faster

Free Ableton Arrangement Template - Victor Calderone's "Zenith"

I listened to this tune in great detail, jotting notes down below and making a template to arrange from in Ableton. Shorten your production time when you study the masters and take the guesswork out of arranging.

The screenshot above isn't the real working session of the tune, but a template I made in Ableton using silent “dummy” audio clips.

Studying other people’s music is a great way to improve your own productions. This way the process becomes internalized and you’re no longer guessing how to finish a track.

Today we’re taking a look at "Zenith" by the  veteran techno icon, Victor Calderone.   The tune is part of a recent EP on Nicole Moudaber's MOOD.  Have a listen, read my notes, and grab the file. 

Here are some high level notes and key takeaways.

This is a superb cut that's very sophisticated.  The low end hits hard and has a subby groove but for the most part it's all about how the parts breathe and evolve.  Lots of fades and automated effects.  Different things coming in and out.  The track reaches it's peak with a catchy synth riff.  Overall it's deep, driving and hypnotic. 

What can producers learn from this?

It's DJ friendly as there's a distinct intro, middle section and conclusion, but there's no break down where nearly all gets removed.  The kick and bass bump during the whole track so sections of hi passed lows.  When you find those interesting samples or you design them yourself, don't over do it.  Once again less is more, and what shines through in this track are all the subtle complexities.  By that I mean the evolving soundscapes that ebb and flow through out.     

Bars 1 - 16 - DJ friendly intro with the kick and sub bass rocking.  On top of all this are the breathing and evolving sound scapes.  An atmospheric loop sits on top, and some metal noisy sounds swoosh about.  We here the snippet of a girl vocal sample drenched in reverb and as we move to bar 17 there's a windy swoosh sound. 

Bar 17- 32 -We hear a "growl" sound effect and a closed hi hat or shaker loop starts as well as an extra sub bass note.  Very subtle but the etra note adds some energy.  Definitely some distortion used to gritty up the sound.  At bar 25 there's another reverbed vocal shot. 

Bar 33-48 A percussion loop is added with a single clap hit.  The atmosphere or pad sound definitely gets louder.  At bar 41 toms are introduced with a white noise downshifting type effect. 

Bar 49-64 - Very similar the percussion is out, the toms are in.  The atmosphere sounds lower in volume.  The girl vocal sample we heard earlier is more present we can kind of hear the vocalist singing "la da da, ah dah dah" something like that. 

Bar 65 - 80 - 909 rides are added to bring the energy up.  And a synth riser effect is used to build energy into Bar 81 where the melodic line drops

Bar 81- 120, Here's a drop but it's not a dramatic one with 8+ bars of low end pulled out before a kick drops.  This tune isn't about that.  Now we have some melodic content.  The vocal sounds are pulled out and atmospheric sounds take a back seat.  At bar 97 we hear a variation of the main melodic line the atmospheric sounds build and moving to bar 121 is that synth riser effect. 

Bar 121 -144 This is a 24 bar middle section. Think of it as a break down only the kick and bass keep driving things forward. The percussion loop returns for about 8 bars with some claps interspersed.   Again the synth builds up to a drop w/ the main riff

Bar 145-160  The synth is back in with another glassy percussive synth sound for extra depth and energy.  

Bar 161 - 184 - Rides are back in to increased energy - we know what when energy increases there tends to be an immediate decrease right after.  

Bar 185 - 200 The rides are and so is the main melody . The supporting glassy synth persists for a bit and then fades out.  Moving into Bar 193 is a nice white noise building sound. With the heavily reverbed female vocal snippet. 

Bar 201-224 This is the conclusion or outro.  Kick, Sub, hi hats percussion and shakers, while the atmospheres fade out into the back ground.  At bar 217 the hi hats cut out for the last 8 bars of the tune

Key Take Aways

This is a very well done track due how well everything fits together.  There's many moving pieces to this puzzle but the reason they work together is because they don't fight for attention.  All the parts together are more meaningful than just 1 isolated stem.  You don't have to have a break down - it's ok to keep things rocking.  Use a middle section that's mostly just kick and bass groove.   Get your mouse or controller ready because you can expect LOTS of automation lines to make something like this work.  

Most people out side of NY probably don't know Layton has lots of productions behind him, he didn't just start doing techno a couple years ago, handing Adam Beyer singles here and there that turned into an album.  For a while he produced and DJ'd in NYC under the name "Rich Gior."  See more on Beatport.