An arrangement can be as simple as solo guitar accompaniment or it can involve complex parts for brass, strings, and choir. Either way, the aim is to fashion a piece of music to fit a specific need. To do this, the arranger creates a sonic map for a composition: organizing the various elements into a cohesive and effective musical vision. A rock group might hire an arranger to create a sound for its original songs, or retool a cover to suit the group’s style and genre. For example, if a heavy metal band wants to turn a classical composition into a hard-driving instrumental, the arranger will translate parts written for harpsichord and violins to electric guitars, bass, drums, and keyboard, and also modify the tempo and rhythm.
The ability to compromise and manage one’s ego is crucial because an arranger will sometimes need to incorporate other people’s ideas, like them or not, into the finished product.
An arranger may also have occasion to create interstitial, or secondary, material: an introduction, for example, or a coda that is based on the composition’s existing phrases and themes. Arrangers find work in many different settings—from jazz sessions and orchestra recitals to film scoring, musical theater, video gaming, and advertising—and the good ones are fluent in a vast array of musical styles. Although historically they work by hand, arrangers increasingly are using notation software for editing and printing sheet music and scores, and some clients may insist on it. A common misconception about arranging is that it is a solitary endeavor. While arrangers do spend much time in their heads, poring over charts, arrangers communicate and even collaborate with clients throughout the process, and often attend rehearsals and recording sessions to make changes on the fly, if necessary.
Arranger at a Glance
Because arranging is mainly a freelance endeavor and jobs are obtained through word of mouth, building a portfolio of good work and developing relationships with musicians, composers, and producers is the clear path to success.
Broad understanding of musical styles, sight reading, notation, theory, harmony, composition, transcription, orchestrations, conducting, communication, networking
Arrangers generally make their own hours, but they also work on tight deadlines to complete projects in time for a recording session or performance, which means the lifestyle is both flexible and demanding. As with any freelance job, workflow can be unpredictable. Until you are a well-known, in-demand arranger, plan on spending some portion of your workday hustling for gigs.