Harness the power of Studio One’s Arranger track and Scratch Pads to reshape your material.
Once upon a time, arranging was the process of casting a composition into a context, including orchestrating it, creating parts, and employing musical gestures to enhance the song. Today, the term ‘arranging’ is most frequently used to mean composing by placing sections of a composition in order. Hence, Studio One’s main window is called the Arrange window. However, a host of new functions centred around a new Arranger track have recently been added to aid this form of composition. Since logical, consistent terminology has never been a strong suit of Studio One, we’ll just get over having an Arranger track in the Arrange view and get on with the work, because these arranger functions can be really useful.
The essence of arranger functions lies in delineating ranges of time as sections of a song. Sections are designated in the Arranger track; and, once marked out, these time range sections can be moved around, duplicated, and generally handled like events, making it easy to experiment with the structure of a song.
The basic process is quite simple. Click the Arranger track button in the row of show/hide track buttons above the track list in the Arrange view of the Song page to reveal the Arranger track. In the Arranger track, drag from the start to the finish of a section and a new arranger section will be created with a default name based on the most common song structure (Verse, Chorus, Bridge). You can rename these sections and should plan on doing so. Once created, arranger sections can be manipulated like events, dragging to reposition, option/alt-dragging to create and place a copy, and so forth.
You also can create an arranger section from a selection with the Add Arranger Section from Selection command in the Event menu. This command can be assigned a key shortcut, but there is no default shortcut, so go add one!
Once sections are created, you can move, copy and duplicate them in the main arrange area, but there is also an Arranger inspector that substitutes for the track inspector. Press F4 to show the track and event inspector pane, then click in the label area of the Arranger track, and the Arranger inspector replaces the track inspector, as seen in Screen 2.
Sections can be dragged in the list to rearrange the order or to replace one section with another. Make sure to watch the pop-up tool tip, or you might replace when you wanted to insert. Option/Alt-dragging creates a copy, and the Delete key removes a selected section; the Duplicate and Delete buttons at the top of the list perform these same functions. Clicking the left end of a section locates the cursor there, so you can audition sections in different orders on the fly by clicking a section during playback to jump there. The section currently playing is indicated by an icon looking sort of like a guitar pick that appears on the left end of the section in the list. Right-clicking a section in the Arranger track also presents management options.
The arranger functions are most fully exploited when used in conjunction with Studio One’s scratch pads. Scratch pads allow material to be copied to a ‘safe’ location (actually just far down the timeline), where you can mess around with it to your messy heart’s content without affecting the original material at all. When the material in question is an arranger section, this is an ideal mechanism for developing ideas or creating variations of the section, which then can be dropped back into the main window to supplement or replace the original material. Scratch pads are optimised for creating variations. Not only can you add or edit parts, but you can experiment with the musical context, setting a different tempo, time signature, and/or key for each scratch pad, if you so choose.
The limit on variation arises from the fact that you are actually using the same tracks in a scratch pad as the ones in the main timeline. A scratch pad cannot, therefore, have different virtual instruments or MIDI channels on its instrument tracks from those on the same tracks in the main timeline. Your scratch pad tracks also share the same mixer channels as the main timeline channels. If need be, you can always use automation to implement sonic changes.
You can copy material to a scratch pad (or move it there, if you prefer) and play around in the scratch pad while leaving the original in the main arrange area; alternatively, you can copy the original to a scratch pad for safekeeping and play in the main area. In either case, the key is keeping things straight as you play around. Material copied to a scratch pad is not a clone, but a separate copy, so confusion will flare up like a lit cigarette thrown into a match factory if you don’t rename each section as you change it. Say you create a chorus and copy it to two scratch pads, then edit one scratch pad to be a half-chorus and the other a double chorus. The names of both variations and the original chorus in the main area will all be ‘Chorus’ (or whatever you might have renamed the original), making it necessary to actually examine one of them to determine what it is. Change the names to ‘half-chorus’ and ‘double chorus’ and that problem is solved.
There are a number of ways to get arranger sections to scratch pads and back, and I’m going to suggest a few new ones. The simplest method is dragging, as is typical in Studio One. Create a new scratch pad and copy a section from the Arranger track in the main area by dragging it to the Arranger track in the scratch pad; hold down Alt/Option to move rather than copy the section. Dragging from a scratch pad to the main area is just as easy. Note, however, that if you drag in the Arranger track the events move with the section; by contrast, if you drag the events themselves, the section will not go with them.
Composing in a structured fashion, such as the Arranger track facilitates, frequently entails looping sections to build them up. The Copy Loop to Scratch Pad command is useful, but doesn’t contribute to the Arranger track model of the song. I made two simple macros, shown in Screen 4, that create an arranger section from a loop or a selection and copy it to a new scratch pad.
You won’t find scratch pad commands in the main menu, so scratch pads are managed using the drop-down menu next to the Scratch Pad button in the toolbar. I strongly encourage you to assign shortcuts to the Rename, Add, Delete and Duplicate Scratch Pad commands in the Keyboard Shortcuts dialogue, as well.
Beneath the Arranger track inspector is the Scratch Pad inspector, which shows all arranger sections on each scratch pad. As in the Arranger track inspector, clicking on the left end of a section activates it, making it visible in the Arrange view timeline and currently playing. This means you can click around between sections in the main timeline and any of the scratch pads while Studio One is playing. This makes it terrifically easy to audition all sorts of structures on a whim by combining the many wonderful sections and variations you’ve devised.
There is a great creative expansion gained by combining arranger sections and scratch pads. Styles of composition from EDM to pop to more formal efforts benefit from the ability to easily build a library of ideas and variations, audition them in every combination, then quickly construct the structure you deem best simply by sequencing chunks. To get the best from arranger sections and scratch pads, key shortcuts and macros are essential. With those under your fingers, composition and arranging can go very fast.
Certainly, not all genres of music are best composed with the ‘building blocks’ method that arrange sections and scratch pads make easy, but the usefulness of this method goes beyond obvious candidates like EDM and pop. Give them a try and you might find the ‘new’ arranging a powerful addition to your box of brainstorming tools.