Difference Between Music Composer & Arranger

Know your music inside and out, from theory to performance? Music composer and music arranger are two potential jobs that may be for you. Composers create original works of music, while arrangers adapt the composition to fit specific settings.

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Comparing Music Composers to Arrangers

Composers and arrangers both have sharp ears for music, and they both work in the creation and performance of musical works. The key difference between the two is that composers write original songs, while arrangers bring their own interpretations to the work of the composers. The main similarities and differences are explored below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Music Composer Varies; Master's Degree for Classical Work $50,110 (for all music directors and composers) 3% (for all music directors and composers)
Music Arranger Varies; Master's Degree for Classical Work $50,110 (for all music directors and composers) 3% (for all music directors and composers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Composers vs. Arrangers

While composers and arrangers may run in similar music circles, their day-to-day responsibilities can be quite different. A composer writes original music on instruments or computer programs that will be performed by bands, orchestras, or other musical groups. An arranger takes music that has already been written by a composer and interprets it in a new way. This could be as simple as a conductor deciding which instruments will perform what section of a piece, or as involved as rewriting entire elements of the original work.

Music Composers

Anytime you hear an original piece of music, you are listening to something that was created by a composer. Composers may specialize in writing movie scores, theatrical productions, or even the popular music you hear on the radio. Composers generally have strong and varied backgrounds in music, with some going on to earn advanced degrees. Since this is a creative position, the work environment is usually flexible, with composers working in studios or in their own homes. While work can be found around the country, the majority of opportunities are in cities with an active entertainment industry, such as Los Angeles and Nashville.

Job responsibilities of a composer include:

  • Working closely with musicians and lyricists to produce quality work
  • Developing relationships with music groups and companies that may want to perform your work
  • Practicing and studying music that is pertinent to your field
  • Growing an online presence to promote your work

Music Arranger

Music arrangers take the work of composers and adapt it in a creative way for a performance or recording. It is common for arrangers to work with or become music directors, also known as conductors, as they interpret classical works to be performed by orchestras or choirs. Some arrangements are adaptive, as the style and instruments may vary but the chords, melody, and lyrics are left primarily unchanged. Others are contributive, as the melody or chords are primarily altered in some way. Work as an arranger is available in many places but is most commonly found in large entertainment hubs, like New York and Los Angeles.

Job responsibilities of arrangers include:

  • Choosing the instruments and performers to help interpret musical works
  • Developing relationships with music companies and conductors
  • Practicing and listening to music in your chosen genre
  • Checking works for copyright protection before arranging them

Related Careers

Those interested in becoming a composer or arranger may want to examine others careers in the world of music as well. If the research and study elements of these jobs are intriguing, you may be interested in becoming a music teacher. If the performance aspect is more your style, you may be interested in becoming a professional singer.

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