Orchestrator: Job Description & Requirements

If you've ever watched a movie and loved the score, or were moved by attending a live symphony, chances are you owe your enjoyment to an orchestrator. Orchestrators use the composer's notes to arrange and prepare the music to be performed. Continue reading to learn more about education requirements, skill sets, career outlook and salaries for orchestrators.

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Career Definition

Orchestrators work closely with composers and arrangers to design musical scores for movies, plays and symphonies. They are responsible for deciding which instrument will play certain notes, while remaining faithful to the composer's original concept.

Aspiring professionals might find work as film music, symphony or musical theater orchestrators. They may work with community theaters, musical groups, record groups or film companies. However, many orchestrators work on a freelance basis for composers who seek their services, rather than on staff for an individual employer.

How to Become an Orchestrator

Required Education

Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree programs in music that can provide students with the background and technical training they need to become an orchestrator. In general, a 4-year curriculum may include courses in music theory, music history and composition. Some colleges or universities offer specialized majors in music production, film scoring and jazz composition.

Skills Required

An understanding of music theory and composition is essential for orchestrators. Other important skills include creativity, attention to detail and the ability to read music. Interpersonal and communication skills also need to be developed, as orchestrators work closely with composers, arrangers and musicians.

Career and Salary Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job prospects for music directors and composers, including orchestrators, are expected to increase by 5% between 2012 and 2022, which is slower than average in comparison to all other occupations. Competition in this field remains high, and those who can work in different musical styles and produce quality work on a consistent basis might enjoy an advantage in the job market. In May 2012, the median annual salary for music directors and composers was $47,350, as reported by the BLS, although successful orchestrators may command significantly higher pay (www.bls.gov).

Alternate Career Options

Dancers and Choreographers

Dancers use the relationship between movement and sound to convey feelings and ideas or tell a story, and areas of expression can include ballet, jazz and modern dance. Choreographers develop and teach original movements or reinterpret existing dance scripts. While ballet dancers can begin their training as young as five and start dancing professionally at 18, instruction for most aspiring modern dancers begins in high school. Bachelor's and master's degrees in dance, available through fine or dramatic arts departments, can be found at some colleges and universities.

As reported by the BLS, employment opportunities for dancers and choreographers are expected to increase at a slower-than-average rate of 6% between 2012 and 2022. The BLS also reports that, in May 2012, dancers were paid median hourly wages of $14.16. In the same month, choreographers earned median hourly wages of $18.33, or $38,120 a year (www.bls.gov).

Musicians and Singers

According to the BLS, a slower-than-average increase in employment is also projected for musicians and singers, with 5% growth in jobs predicted from 2012 to 2022. While there are no degree or formal training requirements associated with a career in popular music, such as hip-hop or rock and roll, many students interested in playing or singing classical music or opera pursue 4-year undergraduate programs in musicology or performance. Learning outcomes include the ability to perform on a live stage or record instrumentals and vocals. As of May 2012, musicians and singers were paid median hourly wages of $23.50 (www.bls.gov).

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