Before samplers and synthesisers were quite as all-singing and all-dancing
as they are now, arrangers were commonly employed to put the music together
and work with a number of session musicians to create a musical backing in a
style appropriate for the song.
Now, many programmers and keyboard players effectively take on the arranger's
role themselves, for the simple reason that a few modules, and a few CD-ROMs
perhaps, can supply just about any instrumental sound that could possibly be
required, and all you have to do is play the notes into a sequencer and you
have an 'instant' arrangement.
Of course, even though an arranger may no longer be necessary, good arrangements
for synths and samplers don't create themselves automatically, so this is no
For certain styles of music, arrangers are still used. For example, it is difficult
to get the best out of a string section, brass section or orchestra, unless
you have a deep understanding of the instruments, and the way in which they
interact. You could bash out a few chords on a keyboard, get your favourite
sequencer software to turn them into musical dots, and hand them out to a group
of string players. But would it get the best out of the players and the instruments?
I think not.
Arrangers seem to come in two types, lone arrangers (I think there's a pun
in there somewhere!) who work at home with a sharpened pencil and large sheets
of music manuscript paper, and arrangers who are themselves members of a string
or horn section.
I could also put backing vocalists into this category too since a trio of singers
can often work out their own vocal arrangements, saving the producer a job.
You will recognise the occasion when you need to hire an arranger when someone
says, “I think we need an orchestra on this track”, or a jazz band,
big band or even choir.
Your first port of call will be your CD collection where you will scan through
discs where you remember a song being given the orchestral treatment, and hopefully
the arranger will be credited in the booklet.
A call to the Musicians' Union will probably get the two of you in touch. Likewise,
you may find that string and horn sections are credited on the CDs on which
they appear and you might even find them in the phone book or Yellow Pages.
Of course, I have to say that London is still the centre of musical activity
in the UK, as are New York, Los Angeles and Nashville in the US, and you will
stand a better chance of finding the arrangers and musicians you have heard
of in the metropolis.
If you live elsewhere in the country, you will still be able to find excellent
musicians and arrangers, but you might not be able to expect them to have as
much experience in recording.
String players in particular find studio recording much more difficult than
playing live. The reason is that if they have to wear headphones, they won't
be able to hear themselves in the way they are used to and they will inevitably
find keeping in tune more difficult.
For a larger group of instruments, the musical director or MD might wear the
headphones and conduct the musicians. If the MD doesn't have much recording
experience, he may find it difficult getting the musicians to keep pace with
a totally inflexible previously recorded backing track.