This blog post is totally unprompted, but I thought I would help get things rolling. I think Donna & Neal have a great post about the lyric comps coming up, too.
I’m certainly not the best at arranging, but I do believe that when an arrangement is made for slipping into other music, it should not only work with the music in question, but be able to stand on its own. Though this is not a hard and fast “rule” - for example, you might have strings doubling something else in piecemeal, only on a few notes (though not really an arrangement), or you might have lines in octave/unison that pretty much need the other instruments to be understood.
In “Crocodilly Lilly”, after chorus one is a small string part. Isolated, this is it:
Again, this is just me, but I think the string arrangement should be able to stand on its own, should be pleasant enough on its own. And going further, the individual instruments should be pleasant enough on their own. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule. You may have something acting as a pedal, for example.
My first time to use this principle was in an old project called “Maya Had the Gun”. In the song “My September”, there is this string arrangement:
The violin is lead for the first part, but all of the instruments have their own story going on. In the second part, the viola takes over on lead, while wind instruments double the violin and viola.
Now the idea was to have this as something playing off of a record to serve as a backdrop to the memory of the story being told, as a catalyst for the woman telling the story. So I ran it through iZotope’s Vinyl (a free plugin), and got this:
That was used in part at the very beginning of the song, and in full in a later verse. (1:12 < Demo posted below)
Also, I want to point out here that you can reuse this stuff for more material. I resampled the arrangement and “mangled” it a bit, getting an effect used at the very end of the song, heard at 3:14 and 4:28.
Here’s the song. (The Maya project was never completed. It was done around the same time I did that “Old” song, and the demos sit on my hard drives and at the Library of Congress. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to it.)
So anyway, that's my thought/approach/process on that matter. You?