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Music Arranging

Adding tracks to pop recordings

Below are some demos of my arranging work for pop recordings. Click a Load button to hear the corresponding demo. As you listen, you can switch between two versions of the demo: The "Full" version is a regular mix. The "Bare" version leaves out the vocals and most of the accompaniment so you can hear the added parts better.

 

How This Thing Works: It requires the Flash plugin. If you don't have it and don't wish to install it, you can still download mp3's of the "Fulll" versions on the Listen Page. Assuming you have the Flash plugin: Click a "Listen" button to select a demo. It will start playing as soon as it's downloaded. You can listen to one demo while you are downloading another. Blinking red means it's downloading, green means it's downloaded and Amber means it's the onecurrently playing (or stopped). The Bare and Full buttons switch between versions. The other buttons do what you expect. With some browsers you have to hit enter or space once at the beginning.

 

Arrangements for performance          [ top of page ]

Adding audio tracks to recordings isn't the only way I work, of course. If you need something arranged for a particular group of voices or instruments to perform, I can deliver performance-ready score and parts as .pdf's, Finale files and even on old-fashioned paper.   Before I finalize the score and parts, you get an audio demo. (I have to make the audio anyway, to test the arrangement. The same midi sequence that I use to make the audio is imported into Finale to make the final version of the score, which pretty much eliminates the transcription errors that can slow down rehearsals of a new score.)

Some Examples of orchestral scores and parts: 

First, from a very ambitious project: a full symphonic score for "Divertimento in Dinosaur," a 50-minute show for orchestra, singers and huge dinosaur puppets, created for Grammy nominees Dinorock, using songs from their many renowned children's shows. It was premiered by the Chesapeake Youth Orchestra in 2003. (I gave the show its own page on this site.)

ddiv2mamma_all.pdf:  Full score for #2, Mamma Maiasaura (432KB)
ddiv3gabby_all.pdf
:  Full score from #3, Gabby Gallimimus (402KB)
ddiv3_14vln1.pdf
:  Vln I part from Gabby (96KB)
ddiv7sarah_all.pdf
:  Full score for #7 Sarah the Saharan Succhomimus (701 KB)
ddiv7_4ob.pdf
:  Eng. Hn part from Sarah

Audio Demos
of the above, created with the sampler:



This works just like the one above, but with no"bare" version: Click a "Listen" button to select a demo. It will start playing as soon as it's downloaded. You can listen to one demo while you are downloading another. With some browsers you have to hit enter or space once at the beginning. You can also download the files and listen to them at your leisure: ddiv2.mp3 , ddiv3.mp3 and ddiv7.mp3.

 

And here are some examples from a much more modest project: Five charts for a confirmation class which also happened to be a band. This arrangement of an old spiritual took into account the individual skill level of each player. (The piano part in particular had to be easy.)

riversidescore1.pdf : The score.
riversidevln1.pdf
: The violin part from the above chart.
The pdf's often look blurry. To see them clearly, try printing them out.

My approach to arranging          [ top of page ]

You don't need to hire an arranger to do "sweetening." (Anonymous chords or long high notes to add texture.) Any keyboard player can put down a string pad that's plenty sweet. I like to write parts that add some character of their own. Every part should be melodic (which doesn't necessarily mean lyrical -- the first horn demo at the top of this page is melodic, but hardly lyrical!) and instruments should do what they do best. Also, leave space. If an instrument never shuts up you stop hearing it. I trained in classical composition, where those principles are well accepted, but I think they're just as important in jazz and even more in small-group rock or folk. I apply them to everything I write.

Sampler vs. real instruments           [ top of page ]

Not so long ago, arranging always meant writing out parts for humans to play. These days even some scores for big-budget films are done with samplers. (*) There are still things only live musicians can do, and I use them whenever I can (particularly for horns), but if you could only use live musicians a lot of arrangements simply wouldn't get written because they'd be too expensive to record. When I use samplers, I tend to stay away from certain things that may be characteristic of the instrument that I'm imitating, but that the sampler just doesn't do very well. (quick repeated notes on strings, for instance). Even when I'm going to use real instruments, though, I always test the arrangement and demo it to the client on a sampler.

How it works, business-wise          [ top of page ]

First, we meet and discuss the job in detail. Usually you have a recording or sheet music. When I have a good idea of what you require (which may take more than one meeting) I make a fixed bid, based roughly on how long I think it will take me to complete the job. (I make my best guess and stick to the bid even if it ends up taking longer. I don't log my time, actually. I just work until it's done.) If you decide you want to hire me, we sign a "Work-for-Hire" agreement, which includes a description of your requirements, as complete as we can make it, and says what I will deliver and when, and what I'll be paid and when. It also has some very important legal language, without which you don't actually own the product. For more detail, see the Sample Arranging Agreement page. (Opens in a new window.) The wording may vary a bit with the job, but usually it boils down to: (1) an agreed description of what the arrangement will be, (2) when the demo/draft is due, (3) how and when modifications and final version will be due and (4) the fee. Usually, I deliver a draft/demo by a certain date, you specify any changes and I make them and deliver the final version within some number of days of getting the changes.

What it costs          [ top of page ]

I base my fees for arranging on an estimate of how long it will take me to do the work, at my usual hour and day rates for production (currently $45 and $350, respectively). A couple of string voices (like the 2nd demo, above) will take about one "day". (That includes our initial meeting, the time to do the work itself and the time it takes to discuss and make modifications.) Most pop arranging jobs like the ones demo'd above take one to two days, or $350-$700. A piano/choral arrangement or a performing score and parts for a small group usually takes 2-4 days and a full orchestration will usually run 5-10 days, depending on how complicated it is.   (When I say 2-4 days, by the way, I don't mean I'll deliver the final version two days after we meet. That's just my estimate of the total time it will take me. The delivery date will depend on your production schedule.) The fee is usually paid in thirds: one third when you hire me, one third when you approve the draft (or specify changes) and one third when you get the final version.

If you add real instruments to a recording and want me to conduct the session, I'll be more than happy to do that, but I bid that work separately. If the session is at someone else's studio, I can't make a fixed bid and I charge regular hour or day rates for actual time spent.

 

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Samplers
For those who aren't sure what I'm talking about...: Samplers have pretty much taken over pop music. They are devices that play bits of recorded sound (samples) in response to a trigger (usually a keyboard). They are electronic instruments that mimic real instruments (or voices or birdcalls or anything you can record). So, when I hit middle C on my keyboard, the sampler plays a digital recording of (for instance) 12 violins playing middle C, at a particular volume and with a particular attack or articulation (depending on what other instructions I give the sampler and what bits of audio it has available). A sampler stores many thousands of these bits of audio. The samples and the software to control them get better and more powerful all the time.     [hide]