Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/How are arrangers paid?


Dear Sir,

May I ask in American pop music industry, how are arrangers paid?

What I mean is this: In my own country at the moment there is a debate on this issue. Some arrangers argue that many original songwriters can only submit a music sheet with a very basic demo. And the real work to make the songs become hit recordings depend on the arrangers. But the arrangers are only paid a one-off fee for each song they arrange, while the song writers keep receiving the royalties for many years.

So some arrangers in my country are asking that the law is changed so that they can receive a percentage of the royalties as well.

Is this a fair argument?

Thank you


An important an all-too-frequent question.  The short answer is no, such a change in the law would not be warranted, at least under US principles of copyright.  Arrangers already have
adequate statutory protection under the derivative work provision (see below).  If there is no such provision in your country, that would be a reasonable thing to have.

This has always been a debate because arrangers do not always understand that the copyright on a song (in the US) is specifically lyric plus melody, not arrangement.  The sheet music and basic demo you refer to is in fact represents 100% of the copyright ownership, which consists of a publisher share and a writer share -- there is no "arranger' share regarding ownership of copyright.     Any payment deals between a songwriter and an arranger are a matter of negotiation not law.  

Arrangement is often important to the success of a song, but it is NOT part of the songwriting or ownership thereof.  It occurs in the "realization" phase of a song, not the "creation" phase (See full explanation of creation/realization/proliferation in Songcrafters' Coloring Book,

Also, keep in mind that in the US music scene, the arranger is often incorrectly called the 'producer' which is inaccurate.  The producer (i.e. Executive Producer)  is the one who pays for everything.  If an independent artist is funding his/her own project then they are the producer and they are hiring an arranger.  The arranger works FOR the producer under an agreed-on payment structure which should be defined up front, in writing.

If the hired arranger, at the request of the producer,  also brings in specific additional resources (e.g., recording engineer, musicians, vocalist) AND negotiates and disburses their fees, then they are acting as an assistant producer in that capacity, but the creation and addition of music parts to a song is the role of arranger, not producer.   Also, all decisions are subject to ultimate approval by the person who is paying for everything.

Arrangers can be paid an up-front fee or can be given a percentage of any income the song generates (typically a small percentage),  or any combination that both parties agree to, but in no case do they get any part of the copyright ownership -- owning the copyright means that if a writer's song is recorded by 100 different artists,  the copyright owner gets royalties from all 100 versions, forever.   An arranger should see no income except from the ONE version that he/she arranged, either as an up-front payment, or a back-end percentage, or both.

It is true that an arrangement can help make a song a hit, but arrangers would be out of work if no one wrote songs.   Analogy: An interior decorator does not get a commission when a house is sold (unless they and the property owner agreed to such a deal) even though the decor can help sell the house.

The fair protection that an arranger can have by law under US copyright (derivative work provision) is that if anyone else wants to use their specific note-for-note arrangement of a work, they (as well as the writer and publisher) would receive income from that use (e.g. sheet music sold as school band arrangement, or scores for stage shows, or church choral pieces, all of which  which are performed note-for-note) but not if it is the same song with anything other than note-for-note performance.  This however only applies IF:
(a) the arranger has NOT accepted an up front payment in full for their work (that makes it work-for-hire, with no subsequent payments due)
(b) arranger has in writing that they would receive some specified royalty for any use of their specific arrangement beyond the current recording being made
(c) the specific arrangement is registered as derivative work linked back to the original writer.

The final principle to understand is that the physical recording, i.e the master and associated tracks, are owned by whoever is paying for the project, NOT the arranger who may have created those tracks. This usually the record label, or if the project is funded by an independent writer/artist then it is owned by that writer/artist (who is acting as his/her own record label).   The use of that physical master and/or tracks is controlled totally by the owner, based on the (p) sound recording copyright, rather than the (c) creative work copyright.

And of course the one exception:  IF in the course of developing the arrangement, the arranger makes MATERIAL contributions to altering the lyrics or melody that the writer agrees to (i.e. not just a word or two or a note going up instead of down)  then and only then can there be discussion of whether that contribution constitutes enough to be credited as a co-writer at some percentage of copyright ownership (and thus receive royalties from ANY future arrangements of the song by any other artist).    If the writer does not want to give up any portion of ownership, then he/she can reject the changes.

Those are the principles that govern the relationship between the writer/copyright owner and the arranger.  It's complex, but the bottom line is that whatever both parties ultimately agree to is what governs, and it should always be in writing.  Being well-informed generally makes for fair deals and harmonious relationships.

Good luck.  

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Bill Pere


Can answer questions on : Technical aspects of lyric and music compostion; How to give and receive objective critique; Arranging and production; Concrete vs abstract imagery; Use of metaphor; Rhyme techniques; Song Structure; Collaboration; Songwriter Associations; Promotion; Guitar technique; Music Business;


Grammy-Award-winning songwriter; President of the Connecticut Songwriters Association and Director of the Connecticut Songwriting Academy; Named one of the Top 50 Innovators and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry in 2008 by Music Connection Magazine; Author of "Songcrafters' Coloring Book:The Essential Guide to Effective and Successful Songwriting." Named Independent Artist of the Year,by the 2003 national Independent Music Conference; 30 years as a professional singer-songwriter; 16 original CD's released;
Have had songs placed on other artists' CD's. Twice named Connecticut Songwriter of the Year.
20 years as Executive Director of the LUNCH Ensemble. Have attended more than 200 presentations by top industry professionals and have critiqued thousands of songs. Have written and produced dozens of stage plays and hundreds of concert events; Have coached hundreds of aspiring songwriters, and collaborated with several award winning writers. Have written commissioned songs as an Official Connecticut State Troubadour. Music Director of youth choirs and music camps.

Connecticut Songwriters Association (President); LUNCH Ensemble (Local United Network to Combat Hunger -- Exec, Director); CMEA (Connecticut Music Educators Association); Folk Alliance; Association For Psychological Type; Songsalive; WE R Indie; Creative Songwriting Academy;

Songcrafters' Coloring Book: The Essential Guide to Effective and Succesful Songwriting Songwriters Market (2001, 2002); Connecticut Songsmith; Contemporary Songwriter Magazine; Songwriters Musepaper;
Songcrafter's Coloring Book;   Strategies for Teaching Guitar;

Masters Degree Molecular Biology; Certified MBTI Practitioner (Myers Briggs Type Indicator); Connecticut Secondary Public School Teaching Certificate; Author: "Songcrafters' Coloring Book: The Essential Guide to Effective and Successful Songwriting"

Awards and Honors
2012 Grammy; Named one of the Top 50 Innovators and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry in 2008 by Music Connection Magazine; Independent Artist of the Year, (2003 national Indie Conference); Official Connecticut State Troubadour, appointed by CT Commission on the Arts, 1995 ; 1982 and 1992 CT Songwriter of the Year; 2000 Award for 20 years of Outstanding Service to Songwriters;
2002 CSA Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education through Music; Numerous awards for outstanding community outreach through music; 1997 Citation from Connecticut Legislature for exemplary dedication to community outreach through music. 1995 Renaissance Award for multiple music achievements in a single year.   Invited Presenter and Mentor at various Music Conventions

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