Orchestration Job and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for a job in orchestration. Get the facts about training options, career outlook and possible salary to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Does an Orchestrator Do?

Orchestrators, or music directors and conductors, may lead bands, orchestras and other musical groups during performances. They may perform live or record their work in a studio. These professionals select the music to be performed and prepare for the performance by leading rehearsals. They may select various artists for solos, as well as holding auditions for different positions in the ensemble. Orchestrators practice conducting and must interpret the scores of music. Depending on their employment, they may need to participate in fundraising events for their organization. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree or higher
Training Required Long-term on-the-job training
Education Field of Study Music arranging; composing; scoring; music history
Key Responsibilities Adapting existing songs for other instruments or performers; syncing music to video
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% (for all music directors and composers)*
Average Annual Salary (2015) $59,040 (for all music directors and composers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Job in Orchestration?

Orchestration involves transcribing, arranging and adapting compositions for a different ensemble type or set of instruments than the composition was originally written for. While a few orchestrators may focus exclusively on this, orchestration is commonly combined with the jobs of arrangers, composers, conductors or directors. Orchestrators may work independently as freelance orchestrators or for a specific musical group. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes orchestrators in the category of music directors and composers (www.bls.gov).

What Would I Do?

As an orchestrator, you main focus would be on determining how a tune written by a composer should be adapted for performance by a different vocal or instrumental group such as a choir, symphony orchestra or band. If the orchestration also includes arranging the piece, you might also create harmonies and melodies. In orchestrating pieces that will be synced with video, such as for movies or television, you would work with producers and directors to ensure that the music matches the video cues. Even when the ultimate performance will be instrumental or vocal, you may use MIDI and computers to arrange the music.

What Degree Do I Need?

Some orchestrators receive on-the-job training, but others have degrees in music or a music-related field, such as music theory or composition, which often contain coursework related to orchestration for voice, instruments and digital music. Bachelor's degree programs cover topics such as arranging music, writing for ensembles, composition, scoring, production techniques, vocal writing, music history and orchestration. Some include practical experiences, workshops, participation in ensembles and recitals.

What Would I Earn?

According to the BLS, during the 2014-2024 decade, job opportunities for music directors and composers could grow three percent. The BLS also indicated that competition for full-time jobs in this field is intense and that most individuals advance through experience. In 2015, the BLS reported that there were 21,540 music directors and composers in the nation who earned a mean annual wage of $59,040. The category of music directors and composers also includes arrangers and orchestrators.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some related careers include writers and authors, high school teachers and producers and directors, all of which require a bachelor's degree. Writers and authors may write books, screenplays, blogs, magazine articles and more. Some may write fiction, while others report facts or opinions. High school teachers educate students who are typically in the 9th to 12th grades. They may teach various subjects, including music, meant to prepare students for a career or postsecondary education. Producers and directors oversee the details and production of movies, plays, television shows and more. They are responsible for releasing a high-quality final product.

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