Career Overview: Transposes music from one instrument or voice to another in order to accommodate a particular musician or group; write scores for an orchestra, band, choral group, individual instrumentalist, or vocalist.
Career Salary Range: Rate varies depending on employer type and length of project. Work paid by the line, page, or hourly rate.
Become an Orchestrator
As one of the more refined jobs in the music business, the Orchestrator writes scores for orchestras, bands, choral groups, and individual Instrumentalists or Vocalists. This involves transposing a score for a song into a key that may be more suited for a Vocalist to perform. This is not done by altering the harmony, quality, or rhythm of the music. Rather, they just score the music so it matches up with the Performer’s vocal range, sometimes with computer software.
Usually, the Orchestrator works with a Composer’s or Arranger’s composition, but sometimes the Orchestrator works as the Arranger, transcribing a composition while forming it to another musical style, like transforming a pop song into an instrumental more geared towards the “easy listening” crowd, for example.
Last but not least, the Orchestrator may also act as a Copyist, transcribing musical parts onto manuscript paper from an Arranger’s score.
Depending on the circumstances of employment, this can be a full-time or part-time position.
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Like most other positions, the Orchestrator will earn a specific salary depending on how much work they actually perform and under what conditions. If the Orchestrator belongs to the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), they are guaranteed to be paid minimum rates according to the numbers set by the union.
Sometimes, the Orchestrator is paid by the hour, which usually occurs when he or she must do alterations, additions, adjustments or takedowns of the score. Other times he or she will be paid by the line or page.
The Orchestrator has a few different avenues to explore when looking for a job – they can work for orchestras, bands, instrumentalists, choral groups or Vocalists. Thus, employment prospects are fair.
The Orchestrator usually works with Arrangers in the recording field.
An Orchestrator has the opportunity to advance when their name becomes recognizable among those in the industry. They may even move on to become successful Composers in their own right. Or, they might even go into the music publishing field.
Education and Training
As in many music jobs, there is no formal education required in order to become an Orchestrator. The individual must know how to write scores for orchestras, bands, choral groups, etc., and/or how to transpose them from one instrument to another. This knowledge might be acquired at a conservatory, music school, or university, or through private study. The skills needed might also be self-taught.
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Experience, Skills, and Personality
Music Theory is something an Orchestrator must be extremely familiar with. They must also be able to transpose music neatly and accurately – they might do most of their work on the computer to ensure this happens. Thus, computer literacy is necessary for this position.
Unions and Associations
Orchestrators may belong to the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), which is the union that sets the minimum rate scale for Orchestrators.
Suggestions for Getting Started
- Check among music industry and arts non-profit contacts for available positions.
- Get your name out there by putting your business card or information flyer in musical instrument repair stores, recording studios, and practice spaces.
- Talk to local orchestra(s) to see if they have full-time or part-time work.
- Try working in a local theater by putting on a musical in order to add invaluable experience to your resume.
- Be sure to join the American Federation of Musicians.