Last updated: Oct 13, 2021
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Career Overview

An Arranger reworks an existing musical composition for a live performance or studio recording, adapting the instrumentation, vocals, and harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic elements to create a new version of a song or musical composition.

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Market Adapter, Transcriber, Music Arranger

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Career Description

Arrangers write original new adaptations of existing pieces. An Arranger reworks and adapts existing compositions by changing instrumentation, adding orchestration, and changing harmony, tempo, and musical style or genre. Arrangers are employed in the live music and recording industry, as well as in film, musical theater, radio, and TV. Arrangers are sometimes also called Music Arrangers.

An Arranger might write string or horn parts to be added to a pop song written by another artist. Most arrangements will keep the melody, lyrics, and structure of the original piece so that they can be easily recognized, while reworking the song or composition by restructuring certain musical elements, adding new harmonies, or paraphrasing different sections. They take an existing melody and provide variation by adding to or detracting from parts of the music.

Many Arrangers are also Bandleaders, Musical Directors, Orchestrators, Conductors, performers, and Record Producers. They may work as specialists in music preparation or as music proofreaders. It’s common to see musicians working in various segments of the music industry using their skills as Music Arrangers.

Arrangers have a lot of creative freedom to express themselves in writing arrangements. They might decide to use new chords to support the melody, increase or minimize the instrumentation, adapt for a completely different style or instrumental setting, change the tempo or meter, change the key, add a new intro or ending, or add vocal harmonies. An Arranger can have as much influence on the final version or a piece as the original Songwriter, Composer, or Producer.

To learn more about what it’s like to work as an Arranger, we spoke to:

  • Stevie Blacke (Dua Lipa, Rihanna, Lady Gaga)
  • Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)
  • Randy Waldman (Barbra Streisand, Beyonce, Frank Sinatra)

What does an Arranger do?

Randy Waldman (Barbra Streisand, Beyonce, Frank Sinatra)

An Arranger can take a really bad song and make it sound good, they can take a really good song and make it sound amazing, or they can take a good song and make it sound bad. An Arranger can make or break how a song is recorded and how it’s presented.

It’s funny because the Arranger usually makes or breaks the song and gets the least amount of credit. They usually don’t get any of the royalties, whereas the Producer–who sometimes does as little as just ordering lunch–ends up getting the royalties. It’s not really understood, and part of the reason is that it’s a grey area.

For instance, a perfect example is The Beatles. They wrote a lot of very basic songs just on guitar and piano, but when their Producer/Arranger George Martin got involved, he said, “Hey guys. This song would be great with a string quartet.” (I think it was the song “Yesterday.”) They said, “A string quartet? We’re not interested in that.” He said, “Why don’t you hear it? Let me arrange it and record it. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it.”

All of a sudden, this simple song that was done on a guitar just went to a whole new level. Of course, they loved it. The next thing you know it was: “Hey, why don’t we add a classical trumpet to this song? Why don’t we do this? This thing could use an orchestra.” That’s what arranging is about. These are very, very basic songs that were brought to an incredible new level.

Stevie Blacke (Dua Lipa, Rihanna, Lady Gaga)

That depends on the type of music and show you’re arranging. For me, I work more in records and live–pop, rock, and more modern music–rather than film or TV, which is kind of a different job in some ways. Someone sends me a song and says, “We need a string arrangement. We need strings and horns in this song. Can you write out all the parts and record it?”

And for me, I record everything myself–not the horns, but the string parts. So I’m adding string parts and melodies to their songs. Most of the time I get to play everything myself. I’ve been doing it for eighteen, twenty years. I’ve built a reputation; kind of laid the groundwork. Not a lot of people play violin, viola, and cello as well. It’s more common to play the violin and viola, but the cello is a totally different beast. And then also, double bass. So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll add string parts, and record them, to lots of different style songs.

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)

I am always in some way, shape, or form working with an orchestra or a group of musicians. I might be working with a rhythm section, a string quartet, or a seventy-piece orchestra but I’m either rewriting music for them, rehearsing them, or conducting them. Everything I do has to do with a group of musicians.

It could be a solo musician but more often than not I’m working with a group of musicians, writing arrangements and orchestrations for them. What I do is step in a room by myself for about maybe a week, maybe a month sometimes (maybe three months sometimes on the big projects), and write lots of notes.

Then I either go out on the stage for a performance or go in the studio and I conduct what I’ve written. It’s a lot of calm followed by a lot of really intense activity– short but intense activity.

I work with clients, who are generally speaking Producers and artists. They come to me and say, “We’re envisioning a project that will be realized by a group of musicians.” The artist may have some songs that need to be arranged or orchestrated and they say, “This is our vision for them, you take the reins and supply the specifics” (i.e. write the notes that are involved to realize this vision they have).

They come to me on the front end and initiate the process. Their vision might be to have a rhythm section accompanying the artist or a choir accompanying the artist; it comes in any permutation you might think of. Even three Banjo Players! That’s the fun of the job. I write the notes and we either go into a studio or on a stage together with the group of musicians and we realize the vision.

Orchestrators and Arrangers are very closely related. It’s overlapping quite a bit because Orchestrators arrange and Arrangers orchestrate and it’s not always very clear who’s doing what. There’s a very elastic definition on both sides of the fence.


Arrangers work almost exclusively on a freelance basis. Their pay can fluctuate based on each project’s budget and the scope of work. Some Arrangers charge a flat fee for each song or for a completed project, or they might charge by the written page or even by the hour. There are a few salaried positions, for example, working for a TV show or recording studio, but these positions are usually combined with other roles such as Bandleader, Music Director, or Producer.

Being able to arrange music is a helpful skill for anyone making their living in any area of the music industry. Musicians with top-notch arranging skills have more opportunities to earn additional money as part of their day-to-day duties. While there are a few people who mainly specialize in arranging music, usually Arrangers also fulfill other roles as independent musicians which are supported by their arranging skills. This can lead to higher earnings than reported for just arranging music.

The average annual salary for an Arranger is approximately $54,400. The salary range for Arrangers runs from $40,000 to $60,000. Starting out, one is likely to earn below this range, while top Arrangers can earn much more, and some Arrangers also earn recurring royalties from their arrangements.

How do Arrangers get paid?

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)

There’s no industry standard [for setting up a fee structure]. It all has to do with knowing what your client wants and what they can afford. So it’s tricky, at first, to set your price when you have a Producer come to you and say, “I need you to write some arrangements for me.”

Be fluid and find out how much they have in their budget. The amount will vary depending on the profile of the Producer you’re working with. If you’re working with a very high-profile Producer, obviously that Producer will be dealing with projects that are very well-funded so you can afford to charge a little more on those projects.

On the other end of the scale, if you’re dealing with an independent Producer with very small projects you have to make sure you’re making things affordable. The Producers understand that, too. You just have to learn how to set your price.

Typically there is an Arrangers’ scale with the Musicians Union, and most Arrangers belong to the Musicians Union because they are musicians. It’s propitious that you get to work on the same jobs that you get to arrange. That happens fairly often.

But, quite a lot of Arrangers do not work through the union, so typically it’s like service for hire. You send the Producer an invoice and they pay you. Occasionally, not very often anymore, you can get into a royalty situation, but that’s less than 5% of the time. You get paid your check when you hand in your notes.

Randy Waldman (Barbra Streisand, Beyonce, Frank Sinatra)

Arranging is a little different from working as a musician because a musician has a scale; you go do a recording session and there’s a union scale or double scale. The Arranger pretty much makes up his own price by figuring out the value of the arrangement and the budget of the project. Then people can say yes or no or negotiate.

It also depends on what kind of arrangement it is. You can arrange for just a trio or a quartet, or for a big band or an orchestra. It depends on the project. If it’s for a big-name artist with a record deal, there’s definitely more budget to afford a higher price. A lot of times people are paying for it themselves and you just come up with a price you think is fair. If it works, you go from there.

Stevie Blacke (Dua Lipa, Rihanna, Lady Gaga)

How do you get paid? You set a price and you stick to it. I used to have a Manager that would deal with it, and now I just do it all myself. I listen to a song, and I’ve been doing it long enough that I pretty much know how much work is gonna be involved. I figure out how many hours it’s gonna be and how much I wanna make from a project.

I more than likely will charge an unknown artist who has no label and a small budget less than someone like Dua Lipa or Madonna. There’s a sliding scale. It also depends on the size of the song, how big of a string section I’m gonna have. Am I doing the arrangement, or am I just playing someone else’s parts? All those factors go into it.

If I’m working with someone I’ve never met before, never worked with, especially if they’re on the other side of the world, I’ll usually get a deposit first and then finish. Or I won’t send them the completed project until I get my cash.

[The performance rate] really depends on what I’m doing, because I could just play a solo cello on a song one day, and then the next day play a 40-piece orchestra on something. I try to stick to what a union scale might be as far as the solo thing. I think it’s like $350 or $400 a track or a session these days for a solo instrument. It’s a starting point and [it’s] negotiable.

Some of the jobs I do are union, so I have to get paid at least a minimum. Again, it’s different if I’m doing a string quartet, or a 10-piece section, or a solo instrument. And then for the arrangement part, that’s a different thing. I’m trying to figure out how much time it’s gonna take to actually do the work and whatnot.

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Career Outlook

Arrangers usually work for Producers, Composers, artists, and music publishing companies. Industry demand comes from the recording industry, music publishing, musical theater, live music, radio, film, and TV. Artists and Producers will always need Arrangers.

As with most music careers, it can take a lot of effort and time to get a foot in the door and work your way up.

Because arranging is often a freelance job, work is found through word of mouth. Having a strong professional network of relationships with musicians, Composers, and Producers is a key to success. It’s also important to build and maintain an updated portfolio of quality work to show to prospective clients.

Once an Arranger has built the connections they need so clients will think of them when they need arrangements, finding work should come naturally. Be aware that work hours will vary based on the project, who the Arranger is working with, and any deadlines involved.

What's it like to be an Arranger?

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)

It’s not a job for everybody in the sense that the social aspects are limited. You’re working in kind of solitary confinement for most of the time so you have to make sure when you get out, you really go for it in terms of networking and being social are concerned. You don’t see other colleagues that often. There are pluses and minuses, but it is a very rewarding job creatively.

In my dreams, I would love to hold regular office hours! It’s a double-sided problem [because] chances are, as an Arranger/Orchestrator you’re going to be a very curious person and when you’re creating you’re going to take the extra time to delve into something to learn more about it.

So every job takes longer than you estimate, but it fulfills you creatively. The other side of the coin is that when you’re dealing with Producers and artists you’re aligning with creative people and you can’t really spell out a real time table effectively. If you say “I have x number of days to work out this arrangement,” halfway through the artist says “I’ve just had an inspiration! Let’s change everything!”

So sometimes you end up working long hours with deadlines and that can be challenging. You have to be the type of person who can be loose about their schedule and can allow things to flow and can realize the value in letting those things flow.

You’re not only going to be satisfying your clients but you’ll be raising the ante to another level of creativity. You just have to have that philosophy and that outlook.

Career Path

As in every creative field, there’s more than one possible path to becoming an Arranger. Arrangers end up making their living in many ways. They might be a Bandleader creating new arrangements for their ensemble to perform, or a Music Director adapting songs for stage or film musicals. They might work for a film or TV studio writing new arrangements of popular songs so studios don’t get stuck paying a lot of money for the rights to existing recordings.

Arrangers might also work as Conductors, Orchestrators, Music Directors, instrumental or vocal performers, Event Managers, and Record Producers. Working in the greater community of musicians and in music-related roles helps aspiring Arrangers to network and collaborate to enhance their likelihood of success.

Going to music school can also lead to relationships that could potentially boost future professional success, especially if the school is in a major urban area with a music industry presence. New York City, Los Angeles, and Nashville are considered primary music industry centers, but there are others, such as Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Austin, TX, and others, including overseas. It’s probably important to be in a large city where there’s enough work to keep an Arranger busy.

Like many careers in the music industry, advancement for Arrangers comes in the form of working with more well-known artists and Producers, with bigger budgets and more prestige. The musical know-how and industry connections that will help one prosper as an Arranger take time to build but are likely to pay off in terms of job satisfaction and increasing skill level and accomplishments.

How do you become an Arranger?

Stevie Blacke (Dua Lipa, Rihanna, Lady Gaga)

Play. Get out there. When I first started, I was going to every gig I could possibly take and meeting as many people as I could. Just getting out there, getting my name out, doing the work, and doing a good job. It’s all been word of mouth.

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)

You can’t expect it to just happen overnight because it’s a deep and wide system and it’s cumulative. The best Orchestrators and Arrangers really come into their own after about twenty years. Of course, there are exceptions but not very often.

So you have to be ready to learn how to fall and pick yourself up again as you accumulate the knowledge you’ll need for the vocation. By the same token, once you reach that point there’s a sense of job security. But to get to that level you have to go through the passage of accumulating that knowledge.

The way you do it is you try and put yourself in the situation where you’re around other people who might at some point in time need an Arranger. When hopefully one of them eventually turns to you and says “We need an Arranger for this. You can arrange right?” you say yes. (You never say no.) Then you learn how to do it, quickly.

The job is just too wide and varied; you can’t just start out having all the skills clients need. When I started, I was in a rock band and we had a recording contract with CBS Records. The Producer turned to me after one of the sessions and said, “We need some strings. You’re in music school; you can write a string arrangement, right?”

I said yes. I didn’t have a clue. I started talking to all my friends who were String Players and had some intense conversations for two weeks and I pulled it off. It was the beginning of my career as an Orchestra Writer. You have to have enough faith in yourself to just say yes and jump and let the net appear.

Go on the internet and find out who the great Arrangers have been in the past. Go hear examples of what they’ve arranged and go see why they say these guys are the greatest. Limit yourself to five of these people and listen, listen, listen. Start to get the idea. That’s really the best way to approach it.

Hone your music reading skills and learn how to read scores. Learn orchestration. Orchestration can be self-taught, although it makes it easier if you have Professors to teach you in a college course.

Familiarize yourself with a program like Logic or Pro Tools where you can learn how to write your arrangements on the computer.

Randy Waldman (Barbra Streisand, Beyonce, Frank Sinatra)

That’s a good question. If you’re already working as a professional musician, if somebody’s working on a project and they’re working on a song, you can volunteer and say, “Hey, let me do an arrangement on this.” Or without even asking, just start putting together simple arrangements, come in with ideas, and say, “Hey, how about if we do this?”

You just have to be proactive and let people know that you can arrange or want to arrange and it snowballs from there. Once you’ve done something and it sounds great and some people hear it, they might ask you to arrange for another project. I know at least for me, it’s been word of mouth.

Experience & Skills

Arrangers work in collaboration with many others in the music industry, sometimes as members of a team. They need to have a strong musical vision and enjoy working with everyone from Composers and Songwriters to Producers, performers, technical people (like stage crews and Recording Engineers), and performers to bring the musical vision for a piece to life. As is the case for all musicians, professional networking skills are a must for Arrangers.

In addition to strong interpersonal skills, Arrangers should be great at verbal communication and have impressive leadership abilities. They need a complete understanding of music theory and should be able to read and write music quickly and easily. They should also be able to transcribe and orchestrate music and know how to conduct musicians in groups large and small.

Arrangers must have a deep and thorough understanding of a variety of musical styles. They should be able to use Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) and know how to access music and software libraries and collections. They should be able to play an instrument well, and able to sing rhythms and melodies reading from the page. They should understand how harmony, melody, and rhythm work together to create beautiful music in all kinds of musical settings.

Arrangers use compositional techniques such writing new thematic material for introductions, endings, transition, and modulations. They can take an existing melody and provide musical variety by changing the instrumentation, tempo, rhythmic feel, and harmonic setting. They need to gain mastery with the entire musical lexicon, using it in new and fresh ways to create something completely new from an existing song or composition. This requires a certain amount of technique, talent, skill, and artistry.

Arrangers must be organized, as well as creative. They need to be able to figure out which instruments in the musical ensemble will play which parts, write those arrangements, and sometimes even perform themselves. Attaining the experience and skills necessary to become a skilled Arranger is a process that takes place over the course of many years.

What skills does an Arranger need?

Randy Waldman (Barbra Streisand, Beyonce, Frank Sinatra)

The main thing is you have to have a feel for a song and how it should build, what makes it interesting, and what makes it exciting. As far as the actual mechanical skills you need, you have to understand all the different instruments and how they sound in an arrangement, what notes they can play and what notes they can’t, what they can do, what they can’t.

Most Arrangers learn that just through experience. You’ll write something and if it doesn’t sound good you go, “Hmm, okay. Next time I’ll do this differently. Probably turn it up a notch.” You learn what sounds great and what doesn’t necessarily work as you go.

Stevie Blacke (Dua Lipa, Rihanna, Lady Gaga)

You need to be able to read and write music. You need to understand the instruments that you’re working with … what kinds of sounds you can get out of them, what their range is, what the tones are gonna be like mixed in–especially with vocals and how to keep them separate, that type of thing.

You have to be personable. You have to not be a jerk because no one wants to work with someone who has an attitude.

I also learned years ago that when I’m working with other people’s songs, it’s just that: it’s someone else’s song, so I need to learn to take my ego out of it and not stress if they don’t like what I did. I’ll try it again. I’ll do something completely different. Which is rare. Usually, they like it. But sometimes I’ll get, “Can you redo this whole thing?” Sure. It’s your song. I’m more than happy to make that happen, you know? Because at the end of the day, their name’s on it.

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)

They would have to know the basics (at least) of every instrument out there and if they don’t know the basics they need to know where to get the information quickly.

For instance, if you’ve never played a sitar before, you need to know exactly who to call to ask them how to play it and what’s possible on it. It certainly helps to have a working knowledge of as many instruments as possible and a very specific knowledge of as many of them as possible. Of course, you have to be able to read music fluently and systems of music (i.e. scores) because you’ll be dealing with scores for orchestras and bands.

Also, be able to understand the different genres and what gives them their peculiar sounds. Indie pop bands, for instance: you have to understand what makes them sound like indie-pop bands and how to put that together. You have to understand how to make an orchestra sound like Schubert. So you can see how you can’t just accumulate all this stuff overnight.

You have to be the type of person who likes to organize large systems because you’re dealing with quite a few questions. I’m dealing with maybe a seventy-piece orchestra and how do I decide who’s playing what? It’s the same with a band or a classical music genre. It takes quite a bit of background to listen and understand what those things are about.

If a prospective Arranger has that sort of sensibility they’ll do well, [especially] if they’re very meticulous and put a lot of attention into detail and organizing what can be a really large system before them. [This career] really is for someone who has a vision for their life and what they’re going to do over a long period of time. It’s not something where you can say, “Well, this week I’m going to learn this job and start looking” [for work].

It’s the type of job where you have to have a long-term vision for yourself and you have to take on a long-term commitment when you take on the job. But those who have the vision and the commitment don’t seem to have a problem with that.

Education & Training

Most (if not all) Arrangers complete some program of formal music training to learn the skills needed to be successful in a competitive music industry environment. This might include earning a college degree or diploma from a university or conservatory program. They could major in commercial music or in (song)writing and production. There are even arranging majors and minors offered at some schools, and master’s degrees in music writing and production.

As undergraduates, future Arrangers take all the core music studies, such as harmony (music theory), ear-training (solfege), music notation, and take arranging classes. They take classes in stylistic analysis, scoring, manuscript, and music technology. They also take private lessons on their principal instrument, take basic keyboard classes (if not a piano principal), and can participate in numerous ensembles, jazz combos, orchestra, chorus, and chamber groups. They may have the opportunity to write for the groups they perform or sing in.

One important advantage of being in music school is that there are many chances to have student arrangements played by groups of live musicians. This might be difficult to achieve outside of school. It’s very important for the student who is learning the art of arranging to hear their arrangements played by live musicians. It should be stressed that hearing one’s music played is a crucial aspect of learning to arrange for musicians.

The musical education and networking possibilities provided by a college education can be extremely useful for aspiring Arrangers. It’s most important early on to become well-versed in the fundamentals of music and gain an intimate understanding of how it’s put together. College is one of the best places to learn how to arrange and to make connections that can benefit your future music career. Being around lots of musicians will afford opportunities to arrange music for others and get a good start as an Arranger.

Other than attending a good school, an aspiring Arranger could choose to study privately with a professional Arranger who also teaches. There are specialized Teachers for arranging, just like there are for other aspects of music. Finding a good private Teacher could also lead to professional opportunities if the Teacher is willing to hand off some clients they can’t service.

Studying in a music program for college is probably the best way to break into the field of arranging. Having a website with a good portfolio of works, and a business card you can pass out at concerts and other places musicians gather is another way to find work when starting out. There might even be a chance to do an internship with a Composer, Songwriter, studio, or artist.

Eventually, word of mouth should do its magic and you will have no shortage of clients asking you to arrange music for them. You can also take pride in your work and your creativity, whether arranging music for your own group or for other artists and groups.

What degree would be good for an Arranger?

Stevie Blacke (Dua Lipa, Rihanna, Lady Gaga)

At Berklee, you can major in arranging. I did a professional music major, which is kind of a create-your-own major, and I had an emphasis on arranging and performance. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. Most music programs would include arranging–that’s a very big part of music. Production, arranging, any of that kind of stuff: it’s all kind of the same.

With college, not only will you learn the skills, but you’ll make connections that will last a lifetime. I’m still in touch with some of the people I went to Berklee with back in the day. As well as just having that pedigree, to be able to say, “I went to Berklee” has gotten me jobs just because someone understands that there’s a certain amount of skill level that it takes to go there and get through it.

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)

It doesn’t hurt at all to take orchestration or composition courses in college, but where you’re really going to get your valuable training is first of all by listening, then by applying what you’ve learned to your writing. That’s it in a nutshell. The more you listen you realize what’s possible. It’s an enlightening process.

I had no training in arranging or orchestrating. I was a Bassoonist in the classical world and I was a Session Guitarist and a Session Keyboard Player. The most important thing to do is immerse yourself in music: listening and analyzing music.

Randy Waldman (Barbra Streisand, Beyonce, Frank Sinatra)

I don’t think a college degree is necessary for anything to do with music whatsoever. Probably all of the greatest musicians and Arrangers are pretty much self-taught. Knowledge is great and theory is great, but it’s more about your ears and what sounds good to you and what sounds good to the listener. I don’t really think that can be taught. What you can learn in school is more about the different instruments, but I don’t think it can really train you at all as an Arranger.

Additional Resources

Although there is no union for Arrangers, as has been noted, many Arrangers belong to the American Federation of Musicians.

Marsh believes college is one of the best places to make connections that can benefit your musical career. He says, “If you’re in college, it helps to be around Commercial Music majors; people who might end up needing some kind of arrangement at some point in time. That’s a decent springboard for getting to exercise your arranging chops early on.

“It also helps to go to a college that’s close to a thriving music community. In Nashville, there’s a college called Belmont College that has a fabulous Commercial Music program and music school.

Because all the Professors work in recording and work on Music Row, when they see a prospective standout student, they focus on that person so it becomes easier for that person to work their way into the industry. That’s actually one really good way of doing it. Otherwise, it’s difficult.

There are no real organizations for young people to network and get into arranging. NARAS (The National Academy for Recording Arts and Sciences) can be expensive. You have to go to lots of concerts that are of the type of music you want to arrange, introduce yourself and network with those people. Find a way to slide backstage and introduce yourself and give out cards; that’s about the only way if they don’t go the college route.”


What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)

“Listen to the best Arrangers that have been out there for the past seventy-five years and study the scores of the best classical Composers. It’s all about getting the information that people before you had and that’s what you’re trying to learn.”

Is there anything else that you think that aspiring Arrangers should know about?

Randy Waldman (Barbra Streisand, Beyonce, Frank Sinatra)

The most important thing is just to listen. When I hear stuff on the radio, one of the things that always gets my attention is a cool arrangement idea like, “Oh, I would not have thought of using woodwinds there,” or, “Wow, what a cool chord progression.”

I’ll talk into my Apple watch and go home and look it up on YouTube, and sometimes even write out what the Arranger has done. You’re always listening and if you hear something that sounds cool or different or interesting or gets your attention, you just go, “Oh, that’s cool.” Make a note of it. Figure out what they did. Write it down if you have to, then try and incorporate that in the next project you work on. That’s how you build up tools to draw upon each time you do an arrangement.

Stevie Blacke (Dua Lipa, Rihanna, Lady Gaga)

Anyone who wants to go into the world of music, don’t do it unless there’s nothing else you can do. If it’s the only thing that you love and the only thing that you really feel passionate about, then go for it. You have to persevere and you have to keep chugging away.

What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)

“You have to make plenty of mistakes along the way. I think the biggest mistake is to just throw in the towel and say ‘I can’t do this. I’m not moving at the rate I want to.’ You have to stay in the game.

“I’ve seen people start out and become kind of dismayed that there’s not immediate gratification, when all they needed to do is keeping plugging away at it, being assiduous about it and having faith in themselves that things will happen, because they don’t happen very quickly at first.

“As I say it, this sounds like it’s an impossible field to get into but it’s not. Like anything worthwhile it’s tricky, but if it wasn’t, everyone would be trying it.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)

“‘What are the challenges of working with artists and Producers?’

“Some people expect the job to be a paint-by-the-numbers job, the sort of [job where you say] ‘I think I’m going to invent a widget today. This is how you do it; you put the two parts together.’ It’s not like that. You start out with a part [for your widget] then someone gives you an old shoe and says ‘Put that in your widget.’

“And someone gives you an ice cream cone and asks you to add that, too. You just have to figure out how to creatively flow [to work with others to create music]. If you want it to have a description it’s going to defy you. You just have to roll with that.”

What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)

“I’d say, it’s a fun job inasmuch that you get to travel a lot with somebody else paying for your expenses. So if you like to travel that can be really fun. It’s an interesting job. You meet a lot of really interesting people and once you get to a certain level, you get to make a lot of really great music and it’s a pretty nice scenario one you get to that certain point.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)


Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?

Carl Marsh (Eminem, John Prine, Etta James)

“This is really difficult for me. I appreciate the adventuresome aspect of the Beatles and George Martin and his mentality. The orchestra side of me makes me really love that. I just adore some of those things.

“On the other side, I come from Memphis and my background is rhythm and blues so the Stones, of course, I feel are the greatest rock band in history. Good grief, those guys are incredible! I have equal admiration for them both. There’s a side of me that appreciates real raw, visceral music and another side of me that appreciates very complex high art music. I’m just kind of all over the map in that respect.”

Carl Marsh

Carl Marsh is a Grammy-nominated Arranger, Composer, Orchestrator and Conductor. Early in his career, he performed as a classical bassoonist and as a vocalist in a band signed by Clive Davis. He regularly works with the Portara Ensemble.

Over the course of his three decades in the music business, Marsh has written arrangements for Big Star, John Prine, Millie Jackson, The Bar-Kays, Etta James, Trisha Yearwood, Emmylou Harris, Shania Twain, Keith Urban, Garth Brooks, Art Garfunkel, Amy Grant, Kelly Rowland, James Otto, and many others.

His pioneering work with cult rock band Big Star has received nods from Vice, The New York Times, Stereogum, Consequence of Sound, and Brooklyn Vegan.

Strings Arranger Stevie Blacke
Stevie Blacke

Stevie Blacke is having an illustrious career as a String Arranger and “one man orchestra.” He works with some of the world’s biggest stars and best musicians. He’s played on dozens of top ten hits and hundreds of albums. Artists such as P!nk, Timbaland feat. Elton John, Dua Lipa, Kylie Minogue, Beck, Gary Clark Jr, Avenged Sevenfold, Alice in Chains, Colbie Callait, Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg, Garbage, Foreigner, Cher, Rihanna, and Joe Cocker have all taken advantage of Stevie’s talents. Steve Vai raved “He has the most diverse and impressive resume I’ve ever seen.”

Stevie has arranged, contracted, and appeared on TV and film with artists such as Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha, Shawn Mendez, Dua Lipa, Kylie Minogue, Snoop Dogg with Chingy & Ludacris, P!nk, Mark Ronson, and Seal to name a few. He has appeared on MTV Unplugged, The Tonight Show, SNL, Jimmy Kimmel, numerous awards shows, and in a few movies as well including Popstar and All Nighter.

Recently Stevie has been writing with and producing new artists for his Flagship Artists record label. He has taken time with each artist to develop and help them each find and create their own unique sound. It’s given him a creative outlet to explore more writing as well as playing bass, guitars, and his otherworldly instruments such as Esraj and Mandocello.

Arranger Randy Waldman
Randy Waldman

Randy Waldman was born in Chicago, Illinois on September 8, 1955. He is an American Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Conductor, and Producer. He began playing piano at age five, at which time he was considered a child prodigy. He was hired to demonstrate pianos at a local music store at age 12. While in high school, he performed with the Northwestern University Jazz band. In 2019, Waldman’s arrangement of the “Spiderman Theme” on his Superheroes album garnered the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement, Instrumental, and Vocals at the 61st Grammy Awards. Waldman also co-arranged Barbra Streisand’s “Somewhere,” which was awarded with an arrangement Grammy in 1985.

He has served as Streisand’s Pianist and Conductor for over 35 years and has worked with numerous artists including Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder. He is also a Helicopter and Airplane Pilot and Instructor and holds a 2003 flight speed record in a Bell OH-58 helicopter.

At the age of 21, Waldman was hired to go on tour as the Pianist for Frank Sinatra. He was then hired by The Lettermen to go on tour from Chicago to Los Angeles. After the tour, Waldman relocated to Los Angeles and, within a year, he toured with Minnie Riperton, Lou Rawls, Paul Anka, and George Benson, the last of whom kept Waldman around as his Pianist, Musical Director, and Arranger for the following seven years.

Eventually, Waldman began a session career in Los Angeles that would go on to span 40 years. He has performed on hundreds of albums, motion picture soundtracks, television shows, and jingles. In the 1980s, Waldman worked on soundtracks such as Ghostbusters, Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future, Nuts, Beetlejuice, Salsa, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Abyss, and Weekend at Bernie’s.

In 1983, Waldman was nominated for a Grammy for Best Vocal Arrangement for The Manhattan Transfer’s “Code of Ethics”, from their album Bodies and Souls. Two years later, Waldman’s co-arrangement of the West Side Story song “Somewhere”, on Barbra Streisand’s The Broadway Album, won a Grammy. Waldman has been Streisand’s Pianist for over 35 years and is featured on many of her albums, movies, and live performances.

In the 1990s, Waldman worked on the soundtracks for numerous films including Forrest Gump, The Bodyguard, Mission: Impossible, and Titanic. He also worked with numerous artists over the course of his career including Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Patti LaBelle, Celine Dion, Beyoncé, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Olivia Newton-John, Barry Manilow, Ray Charles, The Stylistics, Michael Bublé, Quincy Jones, Johnny Mathis, Stevie Wonder, Andrea Bocelli, John Travolta, Kenny G, Katey Sagal, and others.

In 1998, Waldman released his first solo album, Wigged Out, on his own WhirlyBird Records, featuring Bassist John Pattitucci and Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. The album consisted of a collection of classical songs reworked with jazz arrangements. His second album, UnReel, was released in 2001 and featured a variety of themes from different films and television shows. In 2002, he worked on the soundtrack for Ice Age before releasing a third album, Timing is Everything, in 2003.

In 2017, Waldman appeared on Seal’s Standards album which features Frank Sinatra’s songs. He was also Barbra Streisand’s Pianist, Music Director, and Conductor for her Barbra: The Music, The Mem’ries, The Magic tour. A filmed version of one of the shows was released on Netflix in November 2017.

In September 2018, Waldman released the studio album, Superheroes, with Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Carlitos Del Puerto on bass, featuring guest appearances from artists Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, George Benson, Take 6, Chris Potter, Steve Gadd, Till Bronner, Eddie Daniels, Randy Brecker, Joe Lovano, Arturo Sandoval, Bob McChesney, James Brolin, Michael Buble’, Jeff Goldblum, Josh Groban, Olivia Newton-John, John Travolta and several others. Waldman’s arrangement of the album’s “Spiderman Theme” would go on to win the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement, Instrumental, and Vocals at the 61st Grammy Awards in 2019. His arrangement of the “Batman Theme” was also nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement, Instrumental, or A Cappella.

  1. 1Multiple. "Salary for Music Composers and Arrangers". Recruiter. published: . retrieved on: Dec 16, 2019
  2. 2Multiple. "Salary for Music Composers and Arrangers". Recruiter. published: . retrieved on: Dec 16, 2019
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