Arrangement: how do you build a song? (from sketches, ideas, etc.)

I’m a one instrument kind of gentleman. I don’t want to own lots of gear. I want to write compositions with simple, almost naive, melodies and harmonies, buried in deep and complex audio landscapes and warped beats. And I’m okay with using a computer as a host, but I don’t want to use Push2, Maschine, none of that. They don’t appeal to me.

The grid does, however.

The one thing I don’t get is, how do you build a song? I get the different apps, I get the starting collection of apps, but what I don’t get is - how do you go beyond the one pattern that evolves to something, but is still one pattern?

How does song structure work? Is it built like clips, like Ableton, or is it linear with motion recording options within apps, like the Circuit or Korg’s stuff, or chains like Elektron’s instruments?

How does one string together a series of solid ideas into a proper song?

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  1. hit record
  2. make sounds
  3. hit stop
  4. repeat as needed
  5. arrange
  6. mix
  7. master

Most of us use a DAW for the last three steps. Some use Octatrack. Some have less traditional notions of “song structure” that don’t require arrangement/mixing/mastering.

Also note that I just described a solo workflow. If you had bandmates you might not need an “arrange” step, because you are making sounds simultaneously.


I don’t do a lot of arranging in my DAW. Rather, I like to prepare a series of steps and movements then record the live take. My songs tend to gain structure through the live manipulation of effects and/or insertions of silence. For example, I might get some sequences going with any one of the many Monome apps, route that audio through a variety of effects, and either automate or live tweak the effects parameters to add dynamics to the resulting audio, which is simply recorded live to a stereo track in a DAW or my portable recorder.


Thanks. So there’s no app or similar whose sole purpose is to string it all together?

I use only a Circuit now and use Sessions to build song structures, which works great. I connected patterns and built scenes with transitions when I had an Octatrack. Also great.

Point is, there were options there for songs, not just patterns or beats. No such thing within the monome universe?

You could use Mark Eats Sequencer pages for song sections.

But in general I don’t think song structure has been a very high priority for the monome community. Maybe you’ll build a new app that better fits your workflow.


it seems like what you are asking is more, “how do i write a song” and not “how do i organize a song”? correct?

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No. I’ve written a few songs, I have an idea how that’s done. I’m just wondering if there’s a tool designed for that purpose, like the Arranger in Octatrack, sessions in Ableton, tracks in Squarp Pyramid and so on.

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Pages in Mark Eats. Give it a try.


monome is largely app and module-focused, nothing that would replace the role Ableton holds as a DAW – some of the apps are Max audio/midi devices (meadowphysics and sum), some are standalone MIDI sequencers (Mark Eats) or even suites (mlrv and The Party Van/Block Party are pretty comprehensive yet specific audio workstations), some of them are Max For Live capable (re:mix, terms). you can route audio from any of these apps into Ableton or another DAW. and vice versa.

what I love about the monome universe is that it is one of tools – insane, deep, constantly changing, beautiful tools. string them together, make your own, build an environment and a workflow that is perfect for you. but you’ll want to record it all into something – tape or OP-1 or DAW, it all depends on the routing.


From how I perceive it, monome’s been conceived as an open-instrument (which can be many things), as opposed to an open-DAW-arranger. And pretty much the same way you don’t ask your guitar to organize your piano, and drums and open electronic landscapes together, I never asked the monome to arrange the songs. But then again it’s “just a box with buttons and lights” so it might be a nice way to arrange if you create a max application for it or something, I just don’t see it being that intuitive for that kind of tasks when indeed, there are octatracks and DAWs and various controllers aiming at that very purpose on the market.


It’s probably worth that the grid on its own is just an interface, and it’s the combination of a grid + an application (whether it runs on a computer or in a Eurorack module) that (to my mind, at least) becomes the instrument. Kria or Earthsea or mlrv feel like instruments.

To that end, one possible option is as with any instrument, playing the song from start to finish: many of the possible instruments (such as Earthsea or mlrv) are entirely possible to perform things that are not just fixed loops with, or to manipulate them as you play.

I mean, to that end, I can really recommend Brian and Kelli’s SF performane, simply to see music that very much resembles songs - not just in that there is singing, but also in that there is very obvious sections and changes - played in part on an isms setup where the grid is a key part.

A lot of people here have described only using the DAW as a tape-recorder, but it’s there nontheless as part of the landscape for this sort of work.

And, as a lot of people in this community seem to have ended up doing: often, the lack of the ideal option has led to them creating the tool that suits them.


Thanks. Great community, great people, great replies.

What appeals to me with monome, is that while each tool appears pretty defined and limited in a healthy and interesting way, the combination of them offers no limits. I know I could go down the Push / Maschine / MPCTouch route, but they’re set in environments that don’t appeal to me.

It’s like going modular without going modular, kind of. And I have all these ideas I just can’t realise with the Circuit. They’re not complex ideas, they just don’t all fit within one instrument.

But I kind of wonder, maybe they all fit within a monome and an exploration of apps.

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I think, for reference, I will post a track that I’ve made. Here:

This is all Octatrack. But it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable process to build this song within the Octatrack.

Ever since, I’ve looked for options.

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This is really good.

So: what about these environments doesn’t appeal, out of interest? (I ask as I own both a Push and a Maschine. I’ve drifted away from the latter for various reasons, but it’s very self-contained if you want it to be).

Trying to understand more about what appeals - rather than, say, what your functional requirements are - might help.

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Thanks :slight_smile: I was posting it so that you could just get an idea of what I want to do, and if the monome platform is a good toolkit for doing it, but I appreciate your comment all the same :slight_smile: :sunny:

They’re too complex. They contain tons and tons of features I don’t need, their interfaces scattered with switches, buttons, views and stuff, showing me stuff I don’t much care about, don’t want to learn.

I’m a piano player to begin with, very comfortable with hardware such as Octatrack, Tempest and so on - so I don’t mind digging deep.

I just don’t need all that much stuff or features. I just need the right combo.

And - and - this is important - it needs to look good on my desk. I’m obsessed with aesthetics. The Pushes and Maschines are design abominations. The monome grid is achingly beatiful. I’m prepare to go pretty far to learn new things or bend them in ways not intended, or just endure, if it means doing it in a beatiful way.

I will admit: you had me until you mentioned the Octatrack, which is a lovely instrument, but as interfaces go has always seemed just scattered with stuff, and which whilst I know many people love, I’ve met few people who loved it from the second they picked it up.

Until, of course, one learns it, and likely embraces the half one needs and abandons the half one doesn’t. I felt similarly about several hardware interfaces until I made them work for me.

It sounds right now like you’re going to just have to endure a lot of things or write a pile of software if the most important thing to you is how an object looks; I have found that “doing things in a beautiful way” is often not related to how the objects I’m using look. (Many of my favourite pianos have been a bit run down things; I used to have access to a Bosendorfer Imperial, which was lovely for certain things, and just not right for a bunch of stuff I played).

If I sound bemused: yes, I am, but I’m also interested because the design of instruments for people to play is a topic I’m really into right now, and making things that appeal to players is a huge part of that.

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If ever you need a subject that picks instruments and builds workflows where priorities might appear a bit odd, I’m your target. There’s probably entire chapters to write about how I’m wired, or not wired, in this regard.

To me, the entire experience of the instrument is so important, I’ve turned away from instruments that literally would fit my need at that exact time, just because I don’t like how they feel or their appearance. I threw out our tv and bought a new, smaller one, just because the design blended perfectly with my book shelf. And so on.

Seeing as I’m pursuing consistency, it does mean that I wake up every morning to a home where every single piece holds some inherent beauty for me. As a consequence, I don’t own much stuff. Same goes for clothes. I have one small closet and there’s room to spare. But whatever I keep, stays with me for a long time.

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Thanks. Checked it out. It’s along the lines of what I’m looking for. Seems powerful enough to string things together into more coherent stuff.

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