April 14, 2024
What is Arranging

November 5, 2020
I work as a Composer-Arranger-Orchestrator & Conductor. I have worn many hats in the music business as well, but writing music and conducting are what I most enjoy and what I mostly get hired to do and frankly am damn good at! (do I have to apologize?).
I’m finally getting around to doing some blogging. Why? Because I also like to help others who do what I do and encourage them.
So, I’m going to start at the beginning which will be an explanation of what arranging is. For some of you, you can just yawn for a bit.
Arranging is basically composing but the primary elements are someone else’s, namely the “melody”.
Arranging projects can vary widely. I do a lot of what I (and others) call “work-for-hire” arranging. It is kind of like commissions but also different.
Much of my work comes from songwriters or their producers. Sometimes jobs come from record labels but less so these days. The songs I receive can be very complete or…not so much. Therein lie’s one of the things to be determined in this line of work. Frankly, how much do you “fix” someone’s song as a work-for-hire arranger forgoing any co-write credit and residual (royalty) income. I can do a whole book on this subject but for now will only say that that is something that you have to determine where you draw your own lines. I have those parameters built into my production/writing contracts.
For now, I will continue with what arranging is. So, it is composing but using someone else’s material – again…mainly meaning the melody but could also include there basic chords, form, etc.
I recently completed a very lengthy project where some of the songs I did I added quite a lot harmonically, added sections (Intros/Interludes/Outros) and many other things aside from the orchestration.
I also recently completed an arrangement of a Bach Menuet where I did do some re-harmonization but still within Bach’s harmonic frame. I changed what I call the “micro” harmonies within the “macro” harmony. It is still obviously Bach but with my twist (I kind of “French’d it up) .
So, arranging tasks can vary greatly depending on what you are hired to do or determine yourself to do.
However, again, being basically still composition all compositional techniques can be applied in arranging though you have to determine what is and what is not appropriate. I would most likely not include 12 tone rows in a pop string arrangement.

I have told many a student and in many arranging classes that I have taught that by no means is arranging easier than composing. Task-wise for the most part they are the same. However in arranging, you are dressing up someone else’s baby and it is to be approached with care.
As example, if you arrange “Amazing Grace”, even for yourself, having not been hired to do you still need to consider your listeners association with that very well-known and popular hymn.
I chose “Amazing Grace” because I have done quite a few arrangements of this hymn from fairly tame to much more wild like the one I did for jazz band a few years ago.
People have associations with songs they know and though you can’t know every listener’s associations you can be respectful of possible ones. I always say: A great writer is a smart writer. This is something that can make arranging a bit harder than composing because in composing new material no one comes to it with prior associations-just something to consider.
In my early days I liked to show off my compositional chops in my arrangements. Coming off years in the “serious composition” world, I had plenty. I would employ just about every technique I could throw in. I don’t recommend that.
In my early composing days I was fortunate enough to study Art Song with Bryant McKernon. He was a master of song and I learned a lot about prosody which is one of many things that has served me well in arranging.
To be continued…  

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