While the job of an arranger includes a ton of different skills, the main focus of it all is to remake a previous composition with updates in melody, harmony, rhythm, chord progression, emotion, and tempo.
Creating a music arrangement is a lot like creating a remix or a remake of a popular song. When arrangers create their own version of a song, they use the original work as an outline and expand on the musical work with their own creativity.
As a songwriter who has done some arranging myself, I'd like to attest that arranging is an amazing experience. It's creating your own version of a song without having to do the hard part of making an idea out of nowhere.
Arrangements happen for many reasons in almost every genre you can imagine, so the possibilities can seem endless.
New arrangements are often made from songs in the public domain that is available to use without copyright infringement, so old tunes can make the perfect option for song remakes that you can release onto streaming platforms.
Songwriting and composing can often be interchangeable, but while composing and writing music often overlap, a composer usually has more creative input into a song in comparison to a songwriter.
Oftentimes, songwriters will need to work with music producers who are more familiar with instrumentation to complete the song.
Since they work more simply, songwriters often don't go as deep as a composer or music producer would when it comes to music theory. Many good songwriters don't know how to write or read music.
Composers and arrangers, on the other hand, write out the musical parts for all types of instruments as well as the vocal line, although they will likely need assistance from musicians for a recording or performance.
But there is no need for full production and instrumentation in some genres, like singer-songwriter, and the piano or guitar with the vocal creates a complete song, so this is an example of an instance where songwriters complete the song.
While songwriters and composers create original works from scratch, arrangers always start with a previous work (usually from someone they admire) and then build upon it with their own take or interpretation of the song.
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The difference between producers and arrangers can also be a challenge, especially when it comes to pop genres like hip-hop, R&B, and dance music.
While arrangers create songs for a group of musicians, producers create songs usually for one person or one small group.
Producers often incorporate live or computer-generated instruments in their beat, while arrangers mainly work with live instrumentalists.
Arrangers also have the job of incorporating live or computer-generated instruments in their instrumentation, but they are again working from a piece of music that was already released.
But the lines blur when you think about how a lot of pop music uses music samples, which are instruments or vocal lines that are borrowed from other songs.
Many of the most successful producers in genres like EDM and Hip Hop use samples for their beats. Kanye West is a popular example of a producer known for samples that many people in the music industry and fans respect in terms of his craft.
A lot of well-known producers in the EDM realm, like Olly James and KSHMR, use sample libraries like Splice to make their beats as well.
So in this sense, the producer and the arranger can be the same thing.
Jazz is a genre with many different arrangements going on because they take a lot of their inspiration from the hits in the golden years of the jazz age.
Covers in the jazz world are almost as common as original song releases, if not more. Because of the way that jazz has so much potential in terms of complex creativity with remakes and new arrangements, new releases of old favorites never get old.
Arrangements are often made to highlight a particular instrument or groups of instruments that the original version of the song release didn't include.
For example, Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" was originally made with a vocal lead, but plenty of other arrangements are made for piano only.
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Just like jazz music, classical music arrangements also take songs and arrange them for the purpose of being performed by instruments or voices that were not involved in the original arrangement.
For example, a solo voice and piano arrangement can be derived from an original song written for a four-part choir to perform with a piano.
Piano music from the 19th and 20th centuries that standout composers like Beethoven and Bach created was often rearranged into versions that a full orchestra or a string quartet arrangement could perform.
In some cases, the song's original composer will rerelease a different arrangement of their own work. Beethoven, for example, created a string quartet version of his original work "Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major".
Anyone can be an arranger these days, just like anyone can become a songwriter. But to become a successful arranger that actually makes a solid career and income from their arrangements, you will need to establish yourself by heavily networking.
The best way to find yourself surrounded by the right people in the world of musical arranging is to go to a music school and surround yourself with teachers and other students that can expose you to career opportunities.
The most successful arrangers have found themselves in good relationships with music publishers, especially when it comes to the classical and jazz music world, where arrangements are often transcribed into sheet music.
Becoming a successful arranger is very similar to the challenge of becoming a successful songwriter, producer, or composer.
You will need to put yourself out there and submit your work to the right people, as well as advertise yourself as someone who is available for paid work.
Check out some of the tips that I listed here for becoming a successful writer in the music world.
The same skills that are needed for composing, producing, and songwriting will come in handy for those who wish to pursue a career in music arrangement.
Depending on the genre of music you will be arranging for, you may find that you will need some formal music education training in order to study the fundamental elements of music theory.
Skills needed can include the following:
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her recent collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!
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