I’ve done a ton of arranging for live shows involving large casts of singers and dancers, with live orchestras or big bands, and “play-along” tracks to supply whatever the live musicians aren’t available to do, provide effects, etc.  Whether the orchestra’s in the pit or the band’s on the stage, that means I have to know how to balance the parts, what the sound system and live mixing can fix and what it can’t, how complex the parts can be and still get performed correctly with the amount of rehearsal available, and so on.

Arrangers have to make demos for the singers and/or dancers to work with until the full orchestra or band shows up for the last few rehearsals, or the recording session.  That means using software production systems, and applying them with musical and technical skill.  These days, most arrangers are at least jackleg engineers.

We have to be able to work fast, and to be able and willing to make last minute changes to the demo, the score and the parts, because producers change their minds.  That demands proficiency with the software, musical flexibility, and the selection of software tools that make speed and flexibility possible.

Whether it’s for recording or live performance, an arranger for hire has to be able to handle virtually any style.   We tend to get hired for the job before we even know what the music is….  which means if we’re not familiar with a style, we’ll have to learn it, from film scores to broadway to hip-hop to rock to jazz to country to….  well, you get the idea.

“Can you make this one sound like a cowboy James Bond movie?”  or “This one should sound like Toy Story meets Pirates of the Caribbean.”  Or one of my personal favorites, “This goes from a hard rock vibe into an Egyptian vibe followed by a Harry Potter feeling.”  All direct quotes from producers for whom I have arranged.  You know who you are.  (And by the way, thanks for the work.)

So, the paradox:  an arranger is first a very careful listener.

I’ve done a lot of listening.