Composer vs Arranger: what if you can't do both?

Discussion in 'Working in the Industry' started by creativeforge, Feb 12, 2019.

  1. creativeforge

    creativeforge Barefoot Heart Music

    Hi all, sorry if I don't have the industry jargon right, but please indulge me. :)

    I'm not a professional composer, but I still compose my own music as there is nothing else I can do but work that way. Sometimes I even think some of it has potential.

    1- But can you get work as a composer - as compared to an arranger - if you don't write or read music scores?

    2- If you can't arrange your music yourself, is that a serious strike against you?

    3- Are composers who get hired on projects ALSO required to arrange their own music, or do they hire someone to take care of that, or is one hired for them by the project manager?

    Where to start?


  2. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

    Sep 7, 2015
    E. YeeHaw, Indiana
    I don't think so, especially if you have a producer. I'll elaborate: a music producer is a person whose duties include helping to arrange things in the composer's music, most often without taking credit.
    Composition means you wrote a piece of music, while arranging and orchestrating are necessarily separate and (quasi) exclusive to composition in some cases. Many composers of course choose to do everything (I certainly do, not a big fan of little helpers).

    Of course, not having people arrange and orchestrate my music could be part of the reason I'm scraping by with what I write now lol! But I follow Bernard's old credo, that orchestration can be like a composer's fingerprint. When it comes down to my copy editor, I already have the composition, arrangement, and practically all the orchestration down...but will listen to little tidbits of advice. When it comes to actual, compositional credit (which concurrently means they get a percentage of my music) I put the brakes on reeeeeal fast.

    But that's just me. Alfred Newman used arrangers and orchestrators (and conductors) quite a lot, but he was overwhelming creative force in his projects...the thing is, Alfred was more inclined to give credit to his helpers (Ken Darby for example, an incredible music master himself) much more freely than some composers today (I imagine some people get intimidated when it comes time to asking for credit from a big name composer).
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2019
    creativeforge likes this.
  3. 1) yes. But not being able to read or write music will always work against you. Score study, working with session musicians, orchestrators etc, learning your craft. Just about every element of the job will be enhanced if you have some knowledge of the way music is written.

    2) yes - especially at the start of your career. Although arrangement and composition are symbiotic to me - the nuances of orchestration are the icing on the cake, but arrangement is a crucial part of the process and I would feel like a cheat if I were just giving someone piano sketches and having them do the work.

    3) not necessarily. Again, the lower down the food chain you are, the more hats you wear. Once you're on big enough projects, there might be resources for getting orchestrators, additional music composers etc. Those will usually be hired through the composer who acts as a 'head of department' as Christian H mentions often.
    I know of at least two VERY high profile TV shows/films where the composer (who gets all the love for their music) actually just sent piano tracks to the orchestrator, who arranged and orchestrated the whole thing.
    creativeforge likes this.
  4. Desire Inspires

    Desire Inspires Senior Member

    Jul 30, 2016
    Miami Beach
    Wow, that’s awesome!
  5. Not necessarily for the people who do 80% of the work and see all the acclaim go to someone else, but hey...
  6. Desire Inspires

    Desire Inspires Senior Member

    Jul 30, 2016
    Miami Beach
    No, I meant it was awesome for the composer. I want to be in that position. The people doing the heavy lifting don’t do the work for the fame and glory, so it’s a win-win situation to me.
  7. OP

    creativeforge Barefoot Heart Music

    Thanks guys, interesting! Appreciate the input.

    Of course I'll always feel incomplete not being able to read and write music. But I think playing by ear also comes with some unique benefits (and weaknesses).

    I personally wouldn't care for "acclaim" much, but recognition for work done helps to build trust and develop a resume, and negotiate fees, so I'd consider a good history of successes to be the main thing.

    I can only imagine how much work and investment it is for those who have studied and worked toward that goal for years, decades even, competing for opportunities.

    But you got to get work first. I assume that being able to wear many hats certainly increases your ability to navigate this world in various capacities, stay close to the action, and make enough to earn a decent living.

    If it doesn't all get spent in libraries. ;)


  8. d.healey

    d.healey Music Monkey

    Nov 2, 2011
    Then learn to read and write it, it's way easier than English! You can get the basics in a weekend and after that you just need to practice. I have no formal how to read music training and I can't read anything complex and play it at the same time, but I can write it (about as fast as I can read it) and it makes a huge difference when communicating with other musicians.

    I started with the AB Guide to Music Theory books 1 and 2.

    I put this ahead of being able to read/write music - but do both, because you can.
  9. Saxer

    Saxer Senior Member

    Mar 30, 2008
    It's possible. You need your own infrastructure of people who do the arrangement work. And you need the connections to get jobs. When you have jobs/money it's easy to get a team together.
    Desire Inspires likes this.

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