Ep. 33: Jon Burr: Arranger For Hire

Episode Description:

Today I’m talking to Jon Burr, an accomplished bassist, composer, Finale expert, and founder of arrangerforhire.com.  We had a great conversation about a lot of practical things musicians sometimes overlook or take for granted and I’m excited for you to hear it.

Featured On This Episode:
Jon Burr

Jon Burr is the creator of arrangerforhire.com. Active as a bassist, composer, and arranger since the beginning of his career, Jon’s arranging and composition work has appeared on recordings by Chet Baker, Sir Roland Hanna, Barry Miles, and Arlyn Valencia. As a bassist he’s performed or recorded with Tony Bennett, Stan Getz, Horace Silver, Stephane Grappelli, Mark O’Connor, Rita Moreno, Barbara Cook, Eartha Kitt, and many others.

Episode Transcript:

*Episode transcripts are automatically generated and have NOT been proofread.*

Today, I’m talking to Jon Burr, an accomplished bassist, composer, finale expert, and founder of arrangerforhire.com.

We had a great conversation about a lot of practical things musicians sometimes overlook or take for granted, and I’m excited for you to hear it.

Well, Jon Burr, welcome to the podcast.

How are you doing today?

All right.

Thanks, Garrett.

Thanks for having me.

I’m going to do my best to keep this conversation on a logical train of thought.

But as I’ve been reading up on you and looking at all of your different websites, there’s just so many unique things that I keep finding that I want to ask you about, and so I’m going to try to not make it be just all over the place.

But I guess just to give our listeners an overview, you have your jonburr.com website, which has your own personal music, which is primarily bass and jazz arrangements, compositions.

Then you also have the Arranger for Hire website, which we’ll talk about more in a second.

And then you have the jbq.net, which is all about marketing and web design.


So my first question to you then is, how do you juggle all those different hats?

I have one more for you.

Did I miss one?

Yeah, which may be useful actually to your listeners, which is finaleclasses.com.

Oh, there you go.


So four different websites.

How do you see yourself in your career?

Like when you tell people what you do, because you do so many different things.

What are the things that are most important to you?

How do you juggle the hats?

Well, I consider myself now to be a recovering bassist and currently a music arranger.

I’m still playing, but I’m mostly staying home.

Well, let’s dive into the Arranger for Hire website.

How did that come to be?

What’s the story behind that?

Well, let’s see.

Maybe 15 years ago, 13, something like that, I had done some recording with a pianist when I was living in Jankers.

And actually, I was doing some mastering.

I did mastering and package design for him for a solo piano release that he had done at a little studio in Jankers called Octavin.

And apparently, there was a vocalist from Upper Westchester who went into Octavin and wanted to do a project, and they suggested that he needed a music arranger.

So they called this guy that I had done the work for and said, you know any arrangers?

And he referred them to me.

So that’s how I got my first arranging job from somebody I didn’t know, right?

So I’m like, what am I going to charge this guy, right?

So I look around on the web, and there’s a few people that are, you know, there’s arrangers with websites and everything, but nobody posted any pricing information, right?

And at the time, I was doing some work for an attorney, doing web work, and I had discovered that his number one point of entry for his website was, what’s the cost to file bankruptcy?

So he had a page, the cost to file bankruptcy.

You know, everybody’s like all worried about what their home page looks like and everything, but they don’t realize that people are coming into their website because they’re looking for something specific, and that’s the point of entry, right?

So anyway, so I thought that’s an opportunity.

Nobody has pricing information.

If I put up a website with some pricing information, then I can get into the online arranging business.

And sure enough, at the time, I couldn’t believe it.

The domain arrangerforhire.com was available.

So I snagged it and started building out the site.

So I think it’s very interesting that the point of entry to somebody finding you is not usually the home page.

So how is it that you can figure out what that entry point is and take advantage of it?

Well, okay, so first of all, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the customer.

What do I have that they might be looking for, right?

The answer to that question is a keyword.

So structure your content in such a way that you’re optimized for that keyword.

If you Google show choir arranger, right, Garrett Breeze comes up at the top of the, what they call the SERP, the search engine result page.

And you’ve got maybe the top six entries in the SERP.

Your videos come up, the website, your personal site comes up.

So somebody has a pain point where they say, I need a show choir arrangement.

And, oh, I need it now.

So they Google desperately.

And bang, there’s Garrett Breeze, right?

So that’s really it.

That’s the key.

Now, the thing that I noticed about our business is that Google doesn’t know our business.

Like say you wanted to do additional promotion by doing a paid ad campaign, like on Google Ads, right?

In order to start running the campaign, you have to add keywords to what you want Google to look for or search terms that you want Google to answer with your ad.

And really, that’s the same question that you ask, you know, having to do with your website, right?

But they don’t know the keywords.

But they have kind of a failure built into their platform, which is if they, I mean, like they know what the keywords are, and they know how much search traffic they get.

And if it doesn’t get a certain amount of search traffic, they’re not going to let you advertise for it.

You know, they won’t even show the ad if they think that the numbers aren’t worth their time or whatever.

But it could be that the one guy that’s searching for your term has got six months to work for you.

You know?

So how do you reach that guy?

The ad is just not going to do it because they won’t show the ad because of the low search density.

So you answer it with content, with your own content.

Well, and I think that’s one of the hardest things to figure out because when you try to, for example, when I started composing, and especially when I started promoting my own stuff, I spent a lot of time researching online.

How do you set up a website?

How do you advertise?

How do you market?

And all of this stuff came up, and I pretty quickly realized that it didn’t really apply to what we’re doing.

It’s not like selling T-shirts where everybody wears a T-shirt.

And so marketing yourself to that really specific audience that you’re trying to reach is hard to figure out.

Well, I mean, that’s the get in their shoes part of it.

You know what I mean?


Because they’re not going to pay for something unless they need it.

So the question becomes, what do they need?


Okay, so I write music and I can do this, that, and the other thing.

How are you going to make that useful to somebody?

You know, I mean, what can you, I don’t know, you know, there’s a lot of areas that a music arranger can function in.

Plus, there’s other services that we can offer.


And so, okay, that’s another thing I wanted to ask you.

On your website, you basically list all of those services individually.

There’s a separate link for each of them, you know, arranging, transcription, music preparation, you know, production, recording, down the line, all that stuff.

Have you found that approach to be successful, like separating each of those items?

Because I think there’s a, I don’t know, maybe a skepticism, you know, that one person can do everything, right?

I get the advice a lot that you should just focus on one particular thing, you know?

Like, if you’re the best transcriber, focus on that.

Don’t try to present yourself as somebody who can do all of this stuff.

I do a lot of different things, you know what I mean?

Well, we all do.

That’s the thing.

It’s like the perception versus the reality.

If you go to a client and say, I can do everything, they’re like, yeah, sure, whatever.

But if you have a track record and one specific thing, it’s a lot easier to convince them that you know what you’re talking about, I guess, is my point.

But when you put it on a-

Well, you know, when you look at the service list, right, everything is related.

It’s all music related.

But the thing is, it’s like the person, you know, who’s searching on the web is not looking at that list.

They’re just thinking of what it is that they need, right?

Imagine that your website is a house and Google is a giant.

And like the name of your website is painted on the roof, right?

So what Google does is they come down into the house and the floors are like categories on your website.

And each floor has rooms and each room has like furniture and there might be drawers in the furniture.

But all of this is like you have to come into the house first and then there has to be a pathway to the thing.

Now, if you’re set up so that your information flow does that, then you’re going to get found for that little thing that’s in that drawer over there.

I see.

Now, depending on how optimized you are for it, you might come way down and serve, but you’re likely to come higher in the search engine result pages for the floors in your house, especially if like there’s stuff in all the rooms and the drawers are full.

You see what I’m saying?

So is more always going to look better to Google, like having more pages, more floors, more services, or does it benefit you to have less things that are highly trafficked?

Well, I think having, you know, it’s a question of context and relatedness, you know, relevance, you know, relevance and authority.

Because, you know, Google has, their interest is giving their customer the best result that they can for their pain point, right?

So, you know, they’ve catalogued the whole internet, they’ve looked high and low, and they’re confident in their ability to give that person the thing that addresses that pain point.

So as long as there is a clear pathway, and the stuff around it suggests that it’s generally credible, like in the right place, then Google is going to serve that up.

I mean, Google isn’t going to make judgments about like, oh, this guy’s doing too many things.

Only they did do that to me in one instance, which is when I started, you know, I had the web business and the arranging business going at the same time, at the same address.

And Google was fine with that, you know, for a long time.

And then suddenly Google decided, you can’t have two businesses at the same address.

So now they have like, you know, storefront businesses and service area businesses, two different categories of stuff.

All right, so you can have two service area businesses emanating from the same address.

But, you know, so they pretty much killed off my website business when they unilaterally decided I couldn’t do that, and they just stopped listening.

And it took me a while to find out because I was like busy arranging.

I had no idea they had done that.

So that’s Google making that judgment that you’re talking about.

Oh, you’re doing too many different things.

But in terms of everything that’s related, you know, like what’s on Arranger for Hire, plus it’s all on one website, you know, so Google’s not giving me a business conflict.

Well, you’re also an expert in Finale, so I can’t let you go without asking you some notation questions.

How do you stay organized when you’re doing a project that has multiple files?

Well, you know, I mean, for me, you know, each client gets a folder and each title gets a folder.

And if there’s multiple versions, you know, possibly the different files can reside at the top level or it could make a subfolder for, you know, just like building a website.

You have a place for everything to go, you know, with a traceable path.

What’s your favorite time-saving trick in Finale?

Oh, my gosh.

Thank you.

Glad you asked me that one.

That’s probably my favorite subject.

There’s, you know, like there is for WordPress, there’s a robust plug-in ecosystem in support of Finale.

There’s, of course, you know, there’s the old ones, the JW series, you know, and then there’s Apple Script itself.

I got an article on Scoring Notes about Apple Script.

There’s a lot of scripts on there that have to do with managing the edit filter and stuff like, you know, short by keyboard shortcut that are ready to go out of the box.

You just got to assign, put them in the editor and assign a shortcut.

But there’s a new environment that was actually started by the same JW guy, Jerry Williamson.

And Jerry is kind of absent now from that universe.

Finale has now incorporated some of his plugins with the shipment of since 27.3.

And he was the first guy to incorporate Louis Script in his plugin environment.

So now I’m a Mac guy, but there’s this whole universe of Louis Scripts now that are available.

You know, it’s a finalelua.com is kind of the main repository.

And JW Lua has been updated by Robert Patterson, the same guy that does the Patterson plugins.

There’s a group on Facebook, JW RGB Lua, which is like both Lua plugin writers, right?

The group is named after them.

There’s a lot of activity there.

And once you install this stuff, there’s another shortcut ecosystem called Jetstream, which there’s like an external keyboard device called a Jetstream controller, and some people are using that.

We had a little online chat about this, and one of the members was this marvelous composer and orchestrator who’s got all kinds of Disney and Netflix credits and stuff, a guy named Tim Davies.

And Tim Davies is like, I use keyboard maestro.

In the Mac environment, I mean keyboard maestro, you can create palettes that constitute lists of macros, and you can assign shortcuts to those macros.

My finale setup is like, there’s all kinds of macro lists, right?

Say I want to apply dynamics to a stack selection, showing P in a hairpin and then a double F at the other side, I can do that in three clicks to the whole stack.

If I want to re-space one particular bar, I can select it and use a little re-space thing.

If I want to change the distance of the lyrics from the staff, there’s another one way to click in increments into the position that you want.

Yeah, those are really great resources, and we’ll put some links to those groups and those websites that you mentioned, so when people are done listening, they can go check it out.

I think for a lot of people, when they are starting out in the business, there are a lot of composers, performers, that they don’t really look at the potential of a career in arranging, because they’re interested in their music.

And I think it’s hard for a lot of people to make that shift to, I’m going to be a professional musician, but working on other people’s stuff.

I think that’s hard for a lot of people.

Was that something that was hard for you?

Or is there something about your personality or your music interest that made it easier for you to shift into becoming an arranger?

Well, I think it’s really curiosity about looking at other people’s work, you know, as a way of informing my own.

You know, it’s like transcription.

For me, it’s like Christmas.

You know, it’s like when you undertake the thing, you never know what you’re going to encounter, and you begin to get into the mind space of the composer, you know.

I see what he did there.

I see why he did that, you know.

Oh, this is what that does, you know.

And after a while, you get the sense of conventions, and you can learn orchestration and all kinds of things, you know.

I think it’s no secret that the industry has changed a lot in the last 50 years, 100 years.

It’s almost cliché to talk about it, but knowing what you know about the business and with all your experience, if you were 18 and fresh out of high school and aspiring to be a composer or to be an arranger, how would you go about doing it?

Well, I’m getting involved in an ecosystem, you know, where there’s a lot of activity.

And, you know, I’m living in Boston now.

Berkeley is here.

It’s a really vibrant atmosphere.

And it seems that they’re, you know, just like anybody that goes to college, you know, you form lifelong relationships and friendships there, you build a network and all that kind of stuff.

I went to Berkeley, you know, before they had computers.

You know, I think my educational experience is a little too dated for their taste.

You know, but, you know, that would be my advice, you know, getting involved in a community.

One final question for you.

I get the sense that you’re not afraid to experiment and try new things and that throughout your career, you’ve done a lot of different things just to kind of see what would work.

I think that’s a healthy attitude for, you know, musicians that want to make it today.

Do you have any advice on how to do that successfully, how to experiment and try learning new skills and try out different business ideas without having it sort of wreck everything?

You know, people are so different.

You know, it’s like people are the authors of their own destiny.

You know, they create their own path.

I mean, I wouldn’t want to set something forth as prescriptive that might have worked for me that’s not relevant to somebody else’s experience.

I’d say just don’t give up basically.

Learn what you’re attracted to.

Learn what gives you joy as you’re being of service.

And focus on that.

And then find a way to offer it.

Well, I think that’s a great sentiment to wrap up on any other parting words of wisdom before we go.

Well, I just want to say thanks.

Thanks for finding me, and thanks for having me on, and it’s been a pleasure.

Same to you.

Thanks for talking to me.

Okay, then.