Songwriter vs Composer

Songwriter vs Composer: A songwriter is someone who is involved in creating a song that has lyrics and a melody. A Composer is someone who creates a music track(s) or melody either for an instrumental or to be combined with lyrics which would form a song.

What is a Song?

A song is created by combining lyrics with a melody that is intended to be sung. Merriam-Webster defines a song as…

1 :the act or art of singing
2 :poetical composition
3 : a short musical composition of words and music

Songs are written by single individuals or a group of 2 or more writers. The person who writes the words (lyrics) to a song is called a lyricist. The person who creates the melody is called a composer.

If a single person writes both the lyrics and the melody he/she is referred to as the songwriter. Once the song is completed all of the individuals involved in the creation of the work are credited as the songwriters.

Composer’s Role

A composer refers to a person who only writes (or composes) music.
Merriam-Webster defines a composer as…

: one that composes
especially: a person who writes music

Whether it’s for a symphony or a simple melody line, the person who writes that music is the composer.

A composer can write music and/or a melody that will later have lyrics written specifically for that melody. A composer can also write a melody for a particular lyric that has already been written. Depending on which scenario above presents itself, the composer will have to take certain details into account.

If the lyric has already been written the composer must be able to determine the meter, or natural rhythm the lyric expresses when read. The composer will understand how to match the feel of the melody to the message that the lyrics tell.

An over simplified example would be to write a sad or melancholy melody to lyrics that tell a sad story. If the lyrics speak of a happy or upbeat feeling then the composer would write a more positive feeling melody.

Lyricist’s Role

A lyricist is a person who only writes the words to a song. The lyrics can be written first, without consideration of a melody, or written to match a melody that a composer has already written. Similar to a composer, a lyricist must consider the feel of a melody when writing lyrics to it. Syllable count, emphasis placement, and silence are all factors that contribute to how a lyric is written.

Songwriter’s Role

As mentioned earlier all people involved in creating a song are credited as the songwriters. If a lyricist only wrote the words and had nothing to do with the creation of the melody, upon completion of the song, that person would be considered one of the songwriters.

The same applies to a composer who only wrote the music. In reality, it’s very common for there to be some cross crafting where a lyricist will edit some words based on a recommendation from the composer. And, a composer might tweak a melody when requested by a lyricist.

I have written many songs with co-writers who were only lyricists before the song was written. I would typically get their permission to change a word here or there to fit a melody that I had come up with. I’ve also had co-writers who suggested I change the melody to a line written.

A songwriting team is just that, a team. It’s important to have a good working relationship and be flexible. The most important thing is the song. If everyone focuses on getting a great song crafted first, and not their egos, then the odds increase that one will be written.

Final Thoughts

No matter what titles a writer is known by, be it lyricist, or composer, we all become songwriters once the song has been crafted. I’ve included a visual below to help make the point.

Thanks for reading this article. I hope you have a better understanding of the various titles writers are known by and what their roles are. The ultimate goal is for all of us to eventually become songwriters. When we do that means that an actual song has been created. And that’s a beautiful thing!

Ronnie Lee Hurst

Hello! I've been a singer/songwriter for years and have a passion for crafting a new song. I also want to help teach the craft to new songwriters coming along.

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