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Difference Between a Composer and a Songwriter

So you’ve heard about composers and songwriters, and they may sound like amazing career paths. Doing what you love and getting paid for it? Count me in! But despite the obvious similarities (they both write music), what are the differences between a composer and a songwriter? I’ve collected exactly what you’re looking for and summarized them below:

Both composers and songwriters write music. The difference between them is composer can be writing many different types of music, including Classical, film, video games, theatre, TV, etc. On the other hand, songwriters only write songs, generally in popular music.

Here’s a table in which we elaborate the differences in greater detail:

Music GenresClassical, film, video games, theatre, TV, etc.Popular songs and modern genres like country, folk, indie, etc.
Melody or Lyrics?Melody and accompaniment. No lyrics involved.Lyrics, melody, and accompaniment.
ScoreFormal score notation (Sheet music).Informal. Lyrics and chord progressions.
Daily TasksCoordinating rehearsals with the orchestra, meeting with directors and producers, improving mood and message of the musical piece, Transform existing music into a new composition, etc.Organizing rehearsals with singers and bands, booking and managing recording studios, meeting with producers and other songwriters, pitching song demo’s to artists, etc.

Let’s explore the difference between a composer and a songwriter further, and explore some common questions on the topic.

Music Genres

First of all, let’s look at how different music types affect whether a person is a composer or songwriter. Music comes in many forms, and it may be present in films, theatres, advertisements, video games, TVs, radios, and online streaming platforms. As you can see, the music industry consists of quite a broad number of areas of expertise.

Melody or Lyrics?

If we’re talking about a composer, generally we are referring to someone who only writes the melody and music. Think of an orchestral piece or a film score. If there is a singer involved, and the song does have lyrics, we may gravitate towards calling the writer a songwriter.

In popular music, a song is mainly composed of 3 components: Lyrics, melody, and accompaniment. The person who solely writes the melody of the song is also referred to as the composer, and for the lyrics, a lyricist. Depending on the role of the


Although it depends on the writer, the way a composer and songwriter write scores are different. Because a composer may work with many people in an orchestra, or for theatre, they generally need to write formal score notation (sheet music). This is to avoid confusion between team members, and ensure all the intricate details are accurately performed.

As for songwriters, it is less formal as fewer people are involved usually. Songwriters usually just have the lyrics, and chord progressions are written down. As for the melody, usually, it is recorded in a demo song. This way, songs can be written and produced much faster.

If an orchestral music composer decides to write down just the chord progressions, and record demo music, due to the sheer number of different instruments and parts, it would be extremely difficult to pick out individual melodies from the sound recording. Hence, although it seems like a huge inconvenience to write formal score notation, it is actually the most efficient way of doing it.

Daily Tasks

Due to the fact that a composer may work in many different areas, the daily tasks are highly dependent on the field of work. For example, if the composer writes for an orchestra, he or she will be actively involved in writing, editing, and revising the pieces as well as coordinating rehearsals with the orchestra. The composer would also need to communicate closely with the conductor, to ensure the pieces are performed just like the original intentions.

As for a composer working in the film scoring industry, he or she would be working closely with the directors and film producers. Due to the length of a film and the different scenes involved, there may be huge differences between the different pieces, while having an overarching theme throughout the whole film. The director may also have a lot of ideas as to how each piece of music should match the visuals.

On the other hand, or a songwriter, since in general, they work with popular music, rehearsals involve singers and bands. If the songwriter writes Rock music, members of the band may include drummer, guitarist, keyboardist, bassist, and so on. The songwriter usually works very closely with the music producer, who oversees the whole song production process. Unlike a composer who composes music for orchestras, songwriters usually convey their ideas using sound recordings. A basic sound recording that includes vocals and accompaniment is called a demo.

Songwriters may spend a huge part of their workday in the recording studio, working with beatmakers, producers, and other songwriters. With the rise of online collaborations, songwriters today may not gather together to write songs. Instead, they work together by sending each other song ideas which may be pieced together to form the final song. In popular music, the list of songwriters may be very long, as the record label and artist usually want the song to be as good as possible for release. This gives them the best chance of making a hit, and get on the music charts.

Can You Be a Composer or Songwriter Without Music Theory?

Learning music theory may not be an easy task for many people. So is it essential to know music theory in order to write music? In most cases, if you want to write good music in a reasonable amount of time, yes you do need some basic music theory knowledge.

A composer needs to have music theory in his or her arsenal because the final music needs to be pleasing to the ears. This means techniques and theories need to be applied suitably. If a person does not know any music theory at all and tries to write music, he or she will actually waste the majority of the time trying to figure out where to start and how to get a certain musical feel.

On the other hand, songwriters can actually get away with knowing no music theory. To do this, however, you would need other musicians and music producers to help you. The way you achieve this is to write the lyrics, create some sort of melody, all without music theory, and hand it off to a music producer. Then the producer can rearrange, edit, and improve your song. If the producer is experienced, a full song can even be produced!

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