Community Albums are the rage nowadays, or at least, they are in my immediate surroundings. Quite by coincidence, the time when S*T launched its Community Album was also about the same time when I launched the third version of the Community Album for my Anime Club. It was that great for a community activity.
Having spearheaded these 3 Community Albums for my club, I have some small experience in how to assemble an album. It’s more than just putting in a number of songs, especially when not all the songs are of the same genre or even the same language. For the last album, I really just arranged them by chronological order, but before that, I spent quite a bit of effort assembling it, based on what I’ve observed from other albums and my own preferences. Let me share some principles of arranging songs into an album.
Let me put in a caveat here that if your album has an underlying theme existent, there is no need to follow all my principles. Albums with themes have their own way of presenting the music according to a narrative. For those which are more conventional, however, here is some advice I humbly present.
1. Never put too similar songs together.
This is one of my pet peeves in albums. When you have 2 songs that sound alike, please at least insert a different song between them. Whenever I listen to 2 songs that sound alike consecutively, they invariably sound like I’m just listening to the same song. While this tip sounds pretty obvious, many albums don’t seem to grasp the concept. When I listen to what I think is the same song for too long, I zone out, and fail even further to notice the subtle nuances in each song. What do I mean by songs that sound similar? Firstly, if your album comprises different singers, songs by the same gender of singer tend to sound the same, unless one is much higher or lower than the other. Secondly, if the speed or genre of the song is alike, such as both rock music or both slow-paced, they will sound the same too. The easiest thing to do is just to alternate between male and female singers. If your album is all by the same singer, and the singer sings somewhat the same songs, here’s an additional tip to resolve it.
Certain songs have memorable lines. Maybe the title of the song is repeated many times in the chorus, or it just has some element that is memorable to the listener. These songs can be placed with similar songs without much of a problem, as they easily distinguish themselves from the adjacent ones.
2. Put the best at the first and last.
When I say that, I don’t mean that the same song can apply either at the first position or the last. In most professional albums, if you notice, there is a certain trend in songs occupying the first position, and those occupying the last. Both songs are of course the highlight of the album, but here’s the difference.
The first song should embody the best of how the singer usually does, or in the case of a mixed-singer album, it should be the typical song that you would expect from the album. This sets the expectation for the listener of what they should prepare for in the album. Simply put, the first song should be the best of what you would expect.
As for the last song, it should be just as good and just as memorable, and it should also bring a creative twist to the album. Some albums have remixes of their best songs, or they have a ballad for a metal band (sung very well, of course). Something refreshing and interesting to stay in the listener’s mind, to tell them that the album is capable of its own surprises.
Remember, both the first and last songs are what the listener will remember most in the end.
This is pretty much it for all the important advice I have. Some albums tend to put action-packed songs in the beginning and slower ones towards the end, but I believe this to be a matter of preference (and they also tend to commit the fallacy of putting too similar songs together, doing that). Of course, the beauty of the final product can only be judged on a case-by-case basis, and I’m sure any album that has had its compiler’s heart and sincerity put into it will always shine. So have fun creating the album that best represents you!