The Role and Skills of a Music Arranger

Remixes, Remakes, and Fleshing Out Simple Music Ideas

George Martin and Ringo Starr
The Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, appearing with arranger and producer George Martin on Yorkshire TV Production 'With a Little Help from My Friends' presented by George Martin, 1966. Photoshot / Getty Images

Consider this. You have just created a song. You have a melody composed in your head or you have written it down. You also have lyrics scribbled on a notepad. You, your band, or your producer love the idea. Now what? Now would be the perfect time for you call in a music arranger to help you craft your idea into a completed piece.

The best of the best in the music business had music arrangers. The Beatles had George Martin, and Michael Jackson had Quincy Jones. Music arrangers are a key part of the music industry.

Remixes or remakes of a song are another way of taking an original song and recreating it into a different arrangement. That is what a music arranger does. A music arranger can add different instruments, they can alter the tempo and key or change the time signature altogether.

Description of the Role 

The primary role of a music arranger is to arrange a piece of music based on the needs or requirements of a performer, a group of performers, a conductor, producer or music director. The arranger makes sure that every aspect of a music piece is well harmonized, from the instruments down to the tempo. The music that an arranger works on may either be an original or an already existing music piece.

The best time to involve an arranger is early on after the music and lyrics are written, but before the structure of the song is locked in. A music arranger is fine with a stripped down version of the song, all an arranger needs is a simple melody, perhaps a voice with a guitar or piano.

Tools and Equipment

Many music arrangers today have their own music studios equipped with necessary tools of the trade including various musical instruments, synthesizers, computers, plug-ins, software, mixers, and microphones. The equipment used usually depends on the arranger's forte and clientele.

Skills Needed

Arrangers generally know how to play several instruments, have a good grasp of music theory, ability to read and write music, ability to transpose and transcribe, and a strong background in orchestration, harmony, and composition. A good arranger must be original, creative, and adaptive.

Good arrangers must be able to work well with others in a collaborative manner. Often, the artist, producer or music director sets certain guidelines on how a composition or song should be treated. A good arranger is one who listens and works within these guidelines but is also able to make adjustments that will make the piece more effective.

Music Arrangement as a Career

You can run your own studio and can earn a decent living as a music arranger. Aside from the possibility of being a lucrative career, it is also quite rewarding, especially if you love working with people and bringing their music to life. Often, arrangers gain clients by word of mouth, so always treat everyone with respect and each project with professionalism. Arrangers work on various projects from demos to film scores. You can find related jobs on The Berklee Music Network.