The arrangers dilemma: how to find work in the new world of self produced MIDI projects.

This isn't intended to be a b******* or grumbling session, but a realistic discussion of the functions of the arrangers in todays music market.

I was fortunate to begin my career in the 60s where live musicians were the norm ,and arrangers were therefore necessary in most projects.

In the early 70s, withe arrival of the Moog, the Arp 2600, and the Mellotron ( Chamberlain ) the rise of electronics began and developed in sophistication logarhythmaclly .The immediate impact of this was the precipitous drop in employment for live players -and also the "need " for arrangers. In fact, the cheesy sounds emanating from these early instruments actually became part of the musical styles of the era.

This all culminated in the quite sophisticated "home project " studios which enabled musicians
to created professional level master recordings.

Here's where the rub comes in :

Many Great song writers while being quite facile at composing music and /or lyrics , were not experienced in knowing how to construct the proper arrangement for their material .This was not a necessary part of their skill set , and often resulted in clotted, overlayered masses of sound with no sense of the arrangement building to a climax ,the use of thick and thin background textures and other basics of effective vocal arranging.

( In all fairness, there were guys like Johnny Mandel, Hank Mancini, and Michel LeGrand who could perform all these functions masterfully, but they were the exceptions )

My feeling is that even in these days of the project studio, a good songwriter should hire an arranger to present his song in thhe best light.
( electronically or live -we arrangers also know how to use the tools available to us all these days
and to better effect from a presentation standpoint )

comments ??

Phil Kelly
NW Prevailing Winds
SW Santa Ana Winds
Origin Records

Views: 175

Replies to This Discussion

on another related question...I'm trying to get the small (in size and budget) label I'm signed with to hire an arranger for my new project. While I have a composition degree myself, I feel too close to the songs--since I'll be singing them. I've got a fantastic composer/arranger, but am not sure what we can afford. Pay per song? Pay per hour in the studio & call him a co-producer? or give him a percentage? What are the standards here?


There are no standard fees -whatever the traffic will bear. Back in the the 70s, ( considering large lables and at least mid level ( commercially ) acts, fees would range from $500 - $1500 +/- per score.depending on the complexity and size of the orchestra. Other projects would be offered on a project basis.

Other factors that would affect the price was what the arranger was expected to do other than write the arrangements: conduct the sessions, booth supervise ( and sometimes if a co-producer, supervise the final mixing and mastering ) Each task would be compensated on an ala carte basis.

These days, if I'm not the producer of the project, a lot of time all I'll be required to do is send a Finale file ( or a PDF of the extracted parts ) over the net to the location of the session. ( The artist has already heard the score as a Finale mockup, so all changes have been made.

Phil Kelly
NW Prevailing Winds
SW Santa Ana Winds
Origin Records
I was BORN in Bellingham! (raised in Mount Vernon, MVHS 1982). Moved to Texas to get my degree at NTSU (now University of North Texas--). You tied in with Western up there? I almost went there...
once again--a small world.
No :

But I had a production company in Dallas for 30 some years endind in 96 when my late wife Kathy and I moved to Bellingham. And I also know a batch of people @ NTSU / UNT. ( Including one of your likely former teachers -Paris Rutherford )

small world indeed!

Phil Kelly
NW Prevailing Winds
SW Santa Ana Winds
Origin Records
Good points, Phil. I live and work in a part of the world where there is still a small shred of a market for my writing skills (I actually make more money writing music than by playing it), but it's not nearly enough to support me in the manner to which I'd like to become accustomed.

Even with my scoring skills (a lot of which I developed under the summer clinic tutelage of Herb Pomeroy, and as a Composition major in college), it took me years to actually develop the ability to vary the density of what I was writing to make its presentation interesting. Most songwriters and singer-songwriters do a great job of creating lead sheets, but you're right, they don't know how to make compositions out of their charts.

It might even be worthwhile to create a clinic course for people of that sort to where they either figure out how to do ensembles or they develop the sense to have someone work with them to create their charts or synthetic whatevers. There's a whole area of arranging that doesn't get taught very well, during the academic process. Maybe it's our turn to turn that around.
Hi Lea:

Actually, I do some of that kind of thing at the college level (as a part of my "semi -retirement" activities ) . I have a sort of modular dog and pony show where I cover both film scoring and music in media and is open to discuss the craft of arranging if asked . I agree that college level so called"orchestration " courses really tend to short change the student on the practical aspects of arranging. I really feel that in regards to orchestration ,I learned more by listening and analysing classic scores on my own than I ever did in school.
( Of course, I was fortunate enough to at least catch the tail end of the live orchestra era of recording when I went to work, so I was able to get away with a bit of "learning by doing" )

As I mentioned earlier, I feel there are aspects to constructing an effective chart that are necessary to understand whether you're employing acoustic players ( ha! ) or dealing with sampler /sequenced tracks .

I would love to be able to hire an orchestrator/arranger on my music, and I would love to hire live musicians too. The problem is that most of the gigs I get are so totally void of money to pay for anything more than my time, it just isnt feasible. Hopefully as I get better and better gigs this will change

I hear ya ..

Even when I got out of the actual "business" in the mid 90s, most of my gigs fell into two categories:

1. Cheap MIDI gigs with no humans and ...

2. Orchestrating MIDI projects for younger composers when the client requested
live musicians be added to their MIDI scores and they needed help. Often, I had to ask them my "litmus test" question: "Do you want me to do what you did here, or would you like me to take your themes and rescore them so they'll work better with live instruments ?"

Those who said " Sure -do whatever you have to to make it sound good " ..I'd work with ( for a fairly hefty price )

Those who said " What's wrong with what I did? -just write it all out for instruments"
Those gigs I said "no thanks" to.

Funny thing: one of my last year long "live gigs" in '94 ( a PBS series called "WISHBONE" )has been taken out of the trunk by PBS for another run and thereby is making a small burp again on my ASCAP royalties!
I agree with you - arranging is good, it's a specialty, a skill, and a necessity...but, it's also labor. Until an artist/songwriter/producer is to the point of being able to operate, hire and enhance their productions out of cash flow generated by previous productions, they will have to either learn about arranging themselves or else suffer for the lack of it.

Unfortunately the fact that something should be the case - for example, people who need arrangements should hire arrangers - doesn't mean that it will happen. The economics of the business have shifted so much that the money is just not there for most independent producers to hire arrangers... however, collaboration has also become much more possible with the exchange of electronic files. The trick is marketing - how to use the internet to offer ones skills to the proper target audience? It seems that marketing (and promotion) is the #1 challenge facing content creators at all ends of the creative spectrum.

Just thinking out loud - is the domain "" available?

I guess thats what websites are for -plus, I participate in a lot of online peer groups these days.

As I mentioned early on, the electronic tools that now exist make it easy to work over the internet. I've done arrangements ( on Finale ) and then been able to make a decent rough for the talent to hear what I had and mind ( and to be able to tweak the chart if necessary to the clients satisfaction ) unlike the old days, there are no unknowns with this system.

I can then send either the Finale score or PDFs of the score and parts anywhere in the world for printing -OR: I can send either MIDI files or ETF files to a synth /sampling guy if the chart is of a contemporary nature.

Phil Kelly
NW Prevailing Winds
SW Santa Ana Winds
Origin Records
I love all the Midi stuff and the arranging tools like Finale & Sibelius. I use Sib. I don't use midi to write, I put all the notes in by hand, But I do know all the short cuts.
I also use a Korg Triton to sequence arrangements. I insert all the instruments separately 1st trp. 2nd trp. etc. I also do all the string the same way 1st violin, 2nd violin, viola, cello. This makes the synth. more lush. It makes a better sound than just playing a chords in one pass.
Below Attachment is an example

Very nice chart ( and quite decent samples as well ) . I can tell a "Farnonite" when I hear one :)

I'm a Finale guy myself , but I get similar results
from the Garritan Sound fonts in F2009 .If I knew how to post an attachment , I'd add an mp3 of a Finale rough of "Youv'e Changed " I did a while back.












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