Arranger Job Description, Education, Training Requirements, Career, Salary, Employment

Job Description: Arrangers transcribe and adapt musical compositions to a particular style for orchestras, bands, choral groups, or individuals. They often write the parts for all the instruments that will play the composition as well as the score for any vocals. Components of music including tempo, volume, and the mix of instruments needed are arranged to express the composer’s message. While some arrangers write directly onto staff paper, others use computer software.

Training and Educational Qualifications: Musicians need extensive and prolonged training and practice to acquire the necessary skills, knowledge, and ability to interpret music at a professional level. Formal training may be obtained through private study with an accomplished musician, in a college or university music program, or in a music conservatory. Courses typically include music theory, music interpretation, composition, conducting, and performance in a particular instrument or in voice. Music directors, composers, conductors, and arrangers need considerable related work experience or advanced training in these subjects.

Job Outlook: Overall employment of musicians, singers, and related workers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2016. Most new wage and salary jobs for musicians will be in religious organizations. Slower-than-average growth is expected for self-employed musicians, who generally perform in nightclubs, concert halls, and other venues. Growth in demand for musicians will generate a number of job opportunities, and many openings also will arise from the need to replace those who leave the field each year because they are unable to make a living solely as musicians.

Salary: The median hourly earnings rate of musicians and singers is $19.73. The middle 50 percent earn between $10.81 and $36.55 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $7.08, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $57.37. Median hourly earnings are $23.37 in performing arts companies and $13.57 in religious organizations.

Significant Facts:

•    Some arrangers write directly into a musical composition, while others use computer software.

•    Arrangers need advanced training in music theory, music interpretation, composition and performance.

•    Musicians need extensive and prolonged training and practice to acquire the necessary skills, knowledge, and ability to interpret music at a professional level.


After graduating from college, I started as a music copyist someone who prepares the sheet music players read. This is literally a case of taking the score and copying it by hand or nowadays, preparing the music electronically. It’s steady, well-paid work but it’s boring, stressful and creatively bereft. Luckily, it wasn’t long before I got my first orchestration gig. Initially, I assisted other orchestrators and then gradually began to take on my own clients. Roughly 80 percent of my work is in the film and television industry and 20 percent is for classical crossover and pop artists. What I do as an orchestral arranger varies immensely from client to client. For example, some composers produce very detailed electronic demos where it is a case of transcribing the music note for note, adding dynamics, articulations and phrasing, ironing out basic problems in the voice leading and tweaking timbral color. More typically though, a composer will provide you with something that requires a bit more work; you, as the arranger, are required to add (or subtract) harmonic, melodic and rhythmic elements as you see fit. As my business has grown, I have earned more clients by word of mouth and personal recommendation.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

The hub of the film and television industry is Los Angeles. In the United Kingdom, London is the best city to live. However, once established, an arranger could live pretty much anywhere so long as he or she has access to an Internet connection since the basic material we work with is sent and received via email/ftp.

What is your typical day like?

It varies. I work from my home studio. Deadlines in film and television/commercial music can be very tight. There are long days. If there is a last minute rush, I can work 14 to 16 hours a day for weeks on end. But there are also periods when I have no work at all.

What are your job responsibilities?

Principally, to produce an orchestral score that reflects the composer’s intentions. Insuring that the finished score is error-free is also extremely important so that the recording session can run smoothly.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Hearing the scores performed once they are finished. I spend months in a basement working with the music in my head. The culmination of all my effort is the recording session, working with world-class musicians, and hearing the music performed.

What do you dislike about your job?

The hours are very tough. And it’s hard work sometimes. It impacts on family and social time. I think an arranger has to be mentally tough to deal with the often rigorous schedule.

Have you had any turning-point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?

I haven’t had any moments like that. It’s been a gradual process. The depth of knowledge you’re expected to have as an arranger is so vast that you can’t do anything but continuously improve. If you get a phone call from a new client about an exciting project, it’s a good feeling.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

I didn’t make a conscious decision to become an arranger. I was helping out other composers and realized I was good at it. I work in a niche market. In the United Kingdom, there are only a small number of arrangers who work at a consistently high level. I am one of the younger generation and although I’ve done well so far, I’m still working my way up.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

My latest accomplishment that I am most proud of is working with Andy Price on the BBC’s new production of Robin Hood.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

I might have gone into music therapy.

To what professional associations do you belong?

I am a member of the Musician’s Union, British Writers’ Music Council and the MCPS-PRS Alliance.

What professional publications do you read?

Film Score Monthly.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

Listen. Listen. Listen. Get out and hear orchestral performances. Play in orchestras yourself so you can experience how they work, how they read, how they interact with both good and bad music. Get scores out. Read relevant books such as Instrumentation and Orchestration and The Study of Orchestration. These books can be dry reading but if you use them in the right context, they can be very helpful. It’s also expected

that you will have a decent knowledge of the relevant software programs. To generate work as an arranger, contact composers directly but be prepared to have a thick skin some composers won’t mind being contacted and others will. Also, do your own composing and arranging and try to get someone to perform it.