I choose the music I arrange based on three factors:
- Will the piece work for the ensemble I’ve picked
- Is the piece something people will want to play
- Do I, personally, like it
Some pieces just don’t work for some ensembles. For example, if something is really percussion heavy, it would be very difficult to make it work for a flute quartet. Two genres that don’t translate well to instrumental music are rap and metal; especially in rap the lyrics are very important, so it loses a lot when you don’t have the words, and metal is such a processed sound that it’s hard to create a recognizable arrangement. Personally, My favourite ensemble to work with is a String Quartet – which may have something to do with that fact that I’m a cellist! Strings are very versatile instruments, able to create many different sounds and suited to many different genres. However so are many other instruments – call me biased!
The second item on my little list is important if you’re aiming to publish the music you’re writing – people won’t buy something that they’re not interested in! There are so many factors that go into if people will buy something, including the popularity of the original song, your intended market both style- and age-wise and level of difficulty. Another important (important!!) consideration is the copyright – are you actually allowed to arrange this! Some pieces don’t have any copyright, and are in what’s called Public Domain, which is a thing which varies by country. Australia’s laws are really easy to understand, but America’s are a complete nightmare and a little dangerous to work with if you’re not sure. Copyright is very important because it’s the thing that can get you into a whole pile of legal trouble (think “Down Under” by Men at Work), and as a publishing composer and arranger it’s something I pay a lot of attention to. If I were to arrange a piece by Sting, it’s likely that an arrangement of Fields of Gold would sell much better then Shape of my Heart and so as a musician trying to survive on my work I’d go for Fields of Gold first – but probably also arrange Shape of my Heart because it’s a song I really love!
Which brings me to number three – pick something you like, because it’s no fun working with something you don’t like, and it’s less likely to get finished well. No logic here – everyone has personal tastes and I know mine!
I’ve just published an arrangement of Rewrite the Stars for String Quartet, from the Greatest Showman. It fits the bill because:
- The style converts really well to my chosen ensemble (String Quartet)
- It’s a new song, from a popular movie, sung by two very popular musicians, Zac Efron and Zendaya, and it happens to be a love song, which always sell well! (Regarding copyright, thanks to SMP’s ArrangeMe program I don’t have to worry about a thing)
- I really love this song. I really love this movie. Made it super easy to arrange!
Please check it out!