When people talk about a song, they praise the vocalist or a great soloist. I barely hear people discussing songwriters, composers, lyricists and producers. But there is another underrated role: the arranger.
If you never heard the term: The arranger is the person who decides about the instrumentation and structure. Will the singer be accompanied by a piano or a guitar? When will the strings come into play? Should background vocalists support the main vocals, and if yes: What do they sing?
What’s the difference between a music arranger and a composer?
A composer writes down the melodies, chords and sometimes even the lyrics – An arranger can turn the composition into multiple different songs by changing the instruments, the articulation, the dynamics, the tuning, extending / shortening, rephrasing, transposing. It will be the same song in a completely different vibe. Even with the greatest musician and producers, an arranger can turn a great composition into a smash hit or into an odyssey of 10 minutes length.
Reading the small prints in CD booklets, you may not even find the word arranger. It’s hard to believe why arrangers are so underrated, but let me tell you something: Most of the time, it falls together with the conductor, producer or songwriter. Next time you listen to a song, imagine how it would sound in a different genre or instrumentation.
The special power of an arranger is knowing your people
What I love about arranging music is the challenge to tailor a song for a given band. You have to know strengths and weaknesses of individual members and find the sweet spot. There are plenty of side conditions like vocal range, instrumental range, technical expertise or genre. I would never give a song and let people play it exactly like it’s written in the tabs.
You could also think of an arranger as somebody who tailors a song for the audience. Especially in scoring, arrangers can make a song fit to a certain scene by changing the tempo, mood or showdown. They’re like conductors in a recording.
I hope that this posts raises the awareness, that artists, vocalists and soloists are not the only important roles in music. There are many people involved in a good song – So appreciate them all 🙂