The Five Stages of Musical Composition

Every musical piece has to start somewhere. And it does not matter if you write electronic, classical, film or video game music, the basic way how to create a composition always stays the same. Yet, if you just start without a proper plan in your mind, you might loose time or even jeopardize finishing the song itself.

When I started producing music, I just dived into the writing process by opening my recording software to start out “somehow” and “somewhere”. By writing more and more music, I unconsciously found a “production pyramid” described by Nicholas Di Lorenzo and Cassandra Zko:

Production pyramid (Di Lorenzo and Zko)

Basically, it starts with the composition at the ground level as the task of writing a compositional draft of harmony and melody in stage 1. From there, the arrangement of the instruments should follow, stage 3 is production and recording following mixing (stage 4) and finally in stage 5 the mastering process. We’ll go into more detail of these stages but please keep in mind you don’t always must go stage per stage but in some occasions switching between especially stage 1, 2 and 3 can be beneficial.


You lay the cornerstone of your piece in the first phase — composition and songwriting process. Here, you are drafting individual parts of your song such as verse, refrain and bridge. Furthermore, you define the key, the tempo and the beat of your track as well as the sequence of chords, the melody and things like bass lines in this phase. All in all, you are building the basic framework of your compostion.

The second step is the arrangement. Here, you take your musical ideas generated in the composition phase and build your instrumentation upon them. You decide on which instruments play and when in your piece in this part of the process. One can compare this to the construction of walls, ceilings and the roof of your “musical house”.

Once you have composed and arranged your song, the production phase begins. You tinker on synthesizer sounds, record real instruments or program your virtual orchestra. Sound design can also take place in this phase of music production which is small gimmickry in order to fill out holes in your arrangement.

When you have completed the production, the mixing phase starts. Here, you adjust the volume of individual tracks to each other and make sure everything works and sounds well in your track.
The last step is the mastering process. The mastering exists to fine-tune the sound of the individual songs of an album or soundtrack in order to make them sound like a cohesive whole. It is common practice to let somebody else do this step for you, as another person has a fresh view — or better: a fresh ear — on your own work.

Thus we have worked our way through the production pyramid with its five steps composition, arrangement, production as well as mixing and mastering. As this is just theory for now I suggest you try this out on a musical piece on your own. Have fun!

Audio Essentials

Audio Essentials is a series about basics in music and sound.

Alex Gleich (WILLIAM E. AUDIO)

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Alex is a composer and sound designer for games and media, also company head of one-man “William E. Audio”.

Audio Essentials

Audio Essentials is a series about basics in music and sound.