HomeAsk Deke: How do you, as an arranger, catch the audience's attention? How do you become known as an arranger?

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Q: What is the best way of getting known as an arranger outside of your immediate area? Also separate question, what's the best way to arrange an effective intro? What are some strategies arrangers use that will catch the audience’s attention?
~ William

A: Hi William.

Well, first the bad news for you (but the good news for a cappella in general): There are literally thousands if not tens of thousands of contemporary a cappella arrangers nowadays. This is a good thing because there is nothing that fits a group better than a custom tailored arrangement, but it also means that whereas many groups have at least one in-house arranger, people who are looking to arrange for other groups are up against a great deal of competition.

My advice is to start locally by arranging for groups that are in your area, and include a coaching session with your arrangement so you can make sure it sounds amazing. This way you’ll get better at arranging for a variety of groups, and the word will begin to spread. From locally you can then focus on branching out regionally, a bit further afield, always meeting with groups when possible. And throughout this process post rehearsal and performance videos with your name mentioned as arranger. This will help your name spread, and reputation is everything.

Beyond this, and it should go without saying: deliver music before the deadline, be quick to respond to calls and emails, and generally be easy to work with.

As for a great introduction to a song, my biggest suggestion is that you don’t start an arrangement by working on the intro. Arrange most everything else: chorus, verses, bridge… then return to the intro, perhaps grabbing the most impactful chunk of the arrangement, be it a piece of the chorus, the bridge figure without lyrics, etc. You can also consider weaving in another song if it fits thematically or stylistically, without being too cute about it. And, if all else fails, forget the introduction: start right on the first verse. In general a cappella works better when a song is distilled to is most essential elements, and as such if the intro isn’t doing anything, lose it. Unless it’s a signature part of the song (e.g. Under Pressure), chances are the audience won’t miss it anyway.

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