When you arrange music for a song you’ve created

Written by Anupama Roy on 08 May 2020

In conversation with Shankar Mahadevan 

– Anupama Roy, Singer, Netherlands.

Your melody is the skin of your song. It’s your way of giving shape to the words that came from your heart. It’s what gives your song touch, feel and form. Never surrender the song that was born inside you to somebody who might take its soul away, Shankar Mahadevan cautions Anupama Roy, in this conversation.

I am learning to use Logic Pro (a music-recording software) because I need to know how to arrange music for a song I have composed. Where I hit a roadblock is how do you communicate to someone else about the kind of music arrangement you want? I find that what I explain and what someone else makes is very different.

The way this usually happens is you give your song to somebody, and you say you produce it and send it to me. Then, what happens is, that person rips the song apart; he uses his own brains, and he makes that his song. The melody is yours. He takes it up and he dresses it up the way he feels is apt for the occasion. But you should never leave the identity of the song. 

Whenever we compose as Shankar Ehsan Loy, very rarely we use music producers, unless we want some help with the string parts or something else.

Good or bad, at the end of the day, it is your production. You should have control over what kind of a feel you are looking at, to begin with; how sparse you want the instrumentation. Just take a simple thing like the way you are playing that guitar pattern – that pattern is the soul of your song. Now suppose you remove that, and you give it to somebody else and he puts in a heavy-duty piano or something else, and he sends it back to you, the whole essence of the song is lost. That guitar pattern is as important as your melody in your song. That weightage of that – maybe you can have the same part being played with the rabab (a string instrument that is used commonly in Afghanistan) or with the balalaika (a Russian stringed musical instrument) – is very important. You should indicate to the arranger that you want that pattern there; he shouldn't add his own piano line or something else. 

The beauty of this composition is its sparseness. You need that little space and that little silence for you to sink in that romance, that dedication, or that love that you have for your beloved. If you fill it up with a lot of sounds you will lose that space and that whole feeling. 

Trust me; the only way it happens is back and forth. Either you sit with the music producer, on his head, and get things done, number one. Or, if that is not possible, do it by remote control. At least 200 hundred times, it has to go back and forth. 

Then comes the sound engineer; that is the next part. He mixes the song in his own way. And I can't even tell you, every little “ting" and “tung”, we want to reduce or eliminate. We tell him we want a little reverb here, a little bit of delay there. It just keeps going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth – a hundred times.

So your relationship with your music producer should be that he should have tremendous patience. He should not be one who feels, "Oh my God, how can you dictate things to me”. It’s your song, you should remember that. See, there are things that will be playing in your head, and you are not able to convey that (at one go). But what is playing in your head should come out in your song. That is when you will feel satisfied.


And do not ever think that what you are thinking is inferior to what the music producer is thinking because he knows Logic Pro. Never ever think that because it’s your song – you have the feel of the song, the pattern, and the sound of the song is playing in your head. Remember that. At the end of the day, it should sound like your song, and not sound like his song.

That is why you see in films, many a time, they all sound like factory-produced songs. Because what happens there is the melody may be very interesting, but then it is given away, and then you have lost your baby. The music arranger or the music producer has adopted that baby and given the baby his culture. The original culture of that baby is gone. 

When you arrange music for a song is there any particular sequence that you follow… like first do the bass, then the drums and so on? 

Nothing like that. Now take this particular song of yours. Just that guitar pattern can be your inspiration. Start with that. That should be your trigger point. Everything is a trigger, even in life. Everything. Something triggers something – an emotion triggers you, or one line triggers you, or a melody triggers you. 

You just play this pattern, and this melody automatically keeps coming to you. So use that one trigger point and develop on that. There is no fixed pattern that you will first put in the piano piece, and it will be only that first, and then the drums will come in later. There is no such fixed pattern. Maybe a groove can inspire you. Maybe a rhythm pattern can inspire you. Anything can inspire anything, actually. 

Read next.

A song is a journey of one musical note.

When you work with melody and rhythm.

When you join two parts of a song with a melody.

The fine line between imitation and inspiration.