There are many different roles to be filled in the process of song-making. You’ve likely heard of many different music jobs: composers, arrangers, producers, songwriters, mixers, managers, etc. But what do each of these people do? Are there serious differences between them all?
A composer writes the musical elements of a song.
An arranger picks what parts of the music will go where and what instrument will play them.
A producer oversees the recording and mixing of the track into a final publish-ready song.
Any one of these roles can overlap with the other two. If you make your own backing tracks, write your own melodies, pick instruments, record, and mix your songs all on your own…then you are fulfilling the duties of all three roles.
What Does a Composer Do?
A composer is anyone who writes music. That includes the creation of harmonies, melodies, chord progressions, bass lines, counterpoint, or percussion patterns. Composing does not include the act of writing lyrics for a song; that role is performed by a songwriter.
However, many pop music composers also act as songwriters and pen the lyrics alongside the melody.
A person who specifically writes melody lines for lyrics is also known as a topline writer (the melody is commonly called a top line in music business jargon) or a hook maker.
If you create any original piece of music, then you are technically a composer. It does not matter what genre of music you are writing.
Tasks commonly completed by a composer include:
Creating a main melody for the musical work in question,
Determining key and scale of the work,
Adding chords or other harmonic accompaniment to the melody,
Writing drum patterns to complement the melodic content of the song.
What Does an Arranger Do?
An arranger does not write the music parts, they simply take the parts someone has composed and put them together in a coherent way. The arranger is like an interior decorator: he/she puts the furniture (melodies/harmonies) together in a way that looks good (sounds good).
This is usually done by picking which instruments will play what roles in the song/track, and what octaves to play in. They may also decide when and where to play accompaniment or drums if the composer did not specify it already.
Tasks performed by the arrange often include:
Structuring the song sections for coherence (picking where to place verses, choruses, etc),
Putting together independent musical pieces (fitting a pre-recorded guitar riff with a drum pattern, etc),
Modifying the instrumentation for a song to improve a mix.
Most composers will act as an arranger to some extent when writing, but not all arrangers will act as composers by creating original music elements.
What Does a Music Producer Do?
A music producer takes a music idea (what the composer made) and turns it into a tangible product (a finished song). Producers oversee the performance and recording of the musical elements; they oftentimes get involved with preliminary mixing as well.
A music producer may tweak arrangements to get a specific style. They’ll also pick the hardware used for recording and mixing to color the sound of a song. Mainstream genre producers usually dabble in composition too, adding or removing elements of a song to make it more accessible for listeners.
Tasks frequently performed by a producer include:
Picking what songs make it to release,
Directing the composers, arrangers, and mixing engineers to capture a specific emotion or aesthetic in the music,
Recording the individual instruments and vocals while coaching the performers,
Cutting, revising, and combining parts to create a finished track.
But don’t let the management duties of a producer fool you: they often influence the sound of the music in much the way that a movie producer adds his/her ideas to the direction of a film.
Many music producers also get songwriting or composition credits because they modify the musical works during the recording process.
And some producers become nearly as famous or recognizable as the musicians they work with due to the influence they have on their artists’ work.
Is A Songwriter and Composer the Same Thing?
No, a songwriter and a composer are not the same thing although the two roles often overlap. Songwriters create the lyrics while composers create the music.
Many lyricists also write the melody line for their song, but it’s not a requirement to be considered a songwriter.
You can be a songwriter without ever learning or creating any musical elements for a song. Likewise, you can compose music without having a lyrical bone in your body (if you catch my meaning).
Is A Beat Producer Considered A Composer?
A beat producer is indeed a composer if he/she creates original musical elements during the beat-making process.
However, if a beat maker only puts pre-made music parts together then he/she is an arranger, not a composer.
Whether you compose piano chords or write a bass line, the act of combining notes into a rhythmic and/or melodic piece of music qualifies a beat maker to be called a composer.
But if you make beats by just combining samples with pre-programmed drum parts, then it’s more accurate to consider yourself an arranger and producer.
On the flip side, songwriters who take pre-made beats or samples and add their own lyrics, melodies, and vocals are also performing tasks as a composer.
*SOURCE: Composer vs Arranger vs Producer: What’s the Difference?, Indie Song Makers > https://indiesongmakers.com/composer-vs-arranger-vs-producer-whats-the-difference/
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