There are many different roles to be filled in the process of songmaking. You’ve likely heard of many different music jobs: composers, arrangers, producers, songwriters, mixers, managers, etc. But what do each of these people actually do? Are there serious differences between them all.
In this guide, I’ll explain what separates composers, arrangers, producers, and songwriters from each other. I’ll also describe what each of these people do during the music creation process.
Composer vs Arranger vs Producer: What’s The Difference?
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, and 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.
Let’s look at each of these music-making functions in more detail so you understand who generally accomplishes each part of the process.
|Writes musical elements||Puts together music parts that have been written||Makes music ideas into finished songs|
|Makes melodies, harmonies, and drum patterns||Decides what music parts will appear in which song section and on what instruments they will be played||Supervises the recording and mixing to make a cohesive track|
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.
However the term composer often has a connotation related to orchestral genres. That is, when average people think of the term “composer”, they often imagine someone writing instrumental classical music in the style of Bach or Mozart, or film scores in the style of John Williams, etc. But the term actually encompasses any genre of music.
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). Producer oversee the performance and recording of the musical elements; they oftentimes get involved with preliminary mixing as well.
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.
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.
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. Some classic examples of well-known producers include:
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.
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.
I hope this article cleared up any confusion you had about the various music-making roles. If you want to make music and you can’t decide what part of the process to try, I recommend that you dabble in every role to see what suits you best. In reality, most modern musicians take on all the roles we’ve discussed to finish their songs. But there is still plenty of room in the independent music scenes for experienced composers, arrangers, producers, and songwriters.
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