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The role of arrangers, copyists and orchestrators is to help bridge the gap between the work of songwriters or composers and players.

Often, an artist or other commissioner will want to record or perform an existing musical work but in an edited format and/or with a different orchestration. 

What do arrangers do

Once an arranger has received their brief they work to modify the piece to these specifications which can include altering tempos, the key of the tune and assigning the various ‘voices’ from the original to different instruments.

The arranger has to skilfully balance creating something which sounds distinct from the original whilst still being recognisable. To be successful as an arranger you will need to have a solid understanding of musical structures and nuances as well as the possibilities and practicalities of working with different types of instruments and ensembles. It is vital to remember that making an arrangement of a work requires the prior permission of the copyright owner. The Music Publishers’ Association can assist you in locating the relevant publishing company. 

Where an arrangement has been commissioned by a third party you should ensure that they are responsible for obtaining permission. You should get written confirmation that they have done so and an indemnity from them against any claims if in fact they have not.

What do copyists do

Copyists play an essential role for composers in theatres, publishing houses, film and television, ensuring that players and conductors work from parts that accurately reflect what the composer intends. 

If the composer’s score is handwritten, the copyist will normally first transfer it to industry standard computer notation software, in order to make it easier to work with and reproduce for distribution. 

Commonly, a lone copyist or team will be given a full orchestral score and asked to extract the parts for voice, strings, brass, percussion, etc. They will then copy out parts for as many individual instruments in the orchestra or choir as are needed for a particular arrangement and orchestration, all transposed for each individual instrument. Alternatively, the copyist may be given individual instrumental parts and asked to assemble a full score. 

Where the copyist believes they have identified mistakes or discrepancies in the score they should run these past the project’s orchestrator for clarification as this can save time in sessions and reduce sight-reading difficulties for the players. 

To work as a copyist it helps if you have reached a certain level of playing expertise and understanding of how a wide variety of instruments are played. In addition, the role requires keen attention to detail and the ability to work to tight deadlines. 

Contracts for music arrangers and copyists

Musicians are strongly advised to obtain written confirmation of all engagements. The MU provides minimum rates and standard contracts for arrangers and copyists.

In cases where standard MU contracts are not used, written evidence of engagements is essential. A letter or note should specify the date, time and place of the engagement, the fee, and that the engagement is subject to Musicians’ Union rates and conditions. You should ensure that such a letter or note is signed by someone who is fully authorised to do so.

Remember, the MU cannot always assist if you do not have such a contract, or your agreement does not fully protect your rights.

Fee guidelines and standard contracts

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The MU has a network of experienced teams available to help musicians in all areas of the industry. If you have any questions about our services, membership or how the MU could help you, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

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