There are so many terms out there synonymous to a “music director” and the nomenclature just keeps getting more confusing by the day. A common confusion has crept in up & coming musicians as to these terms. Here is a brief explanation on these terms and what their qualities entail.
1. Music Composer
A Music Composer is somebody who “writes” music. The keyword here is “write”, but it is to be noted that every composer has their own unique process. Some composers can compose entire pieces of music in their head and then write it down, while others write down parts of it and piece it all together.
They are the story tellers of music. Their work involves coming up with an idea (from scratch or using an inspiration) and developing it into various melodies, counter melodies and parallel melodies (usually written for different music instruments) that come together to tell the intended story.
In the modern day, composers use computers and related hardware to assist composing music. However, stringing together samples & loops from sound libraries does not qualify one as a composer. A composer’s work is always original and focuses more on the music rather than the lyrics.
In simple words a Composer is somebody who creates a tune, sometimes on given lyrics or even without lyrics on which lyrics are later written specifically for the song.
Some famous music composers include AR Rahman, Hans Zimmer, Yanni.
2. Music Producer
A Music Producer’s job is to help a Composer convert his melodic ideas / tunes into a full-fledged song and get the recording that he wants to make. They only work with the production side of music, to help make the track sound a certain way or to improve it. They are well-versed with computer softwares (DAWs) which are used to record and produce music composed by a Composer.
A Music Producer may also be a competent composer, arranger and/or songwriter, and brings a new perspective to a composer’s idea. It is very common in western electronic music like hip-hop. They try various possibilities of sounds, even infusing synthetic sounds in the original composition. They know how to treat various instruments, including vocals, in order to achieve the desired sound.
A Producer may also accompany the composer and take charge of the creative mix and collaborate with a mixing engineer who focuses on the technical aspects of recording. They guide the overall project and keep an eye on the marketability of the track(s). From being able to play a variety of instruments and being acquainted with recording techniques to coaching the artists and directing the backing vocalists, they do do it all.
Some famous music producers include Quincy Jones (produced for Michael Jackson), George Martin (produced for the Beatles), Greg Kurstin (produced for Sia, Adele, Foo Fighters).
3. Beat Producer
Beatmakers are people who take a number of samples & loops, or instrument emulations in keyboards, sound modules, synthesizers and software instruments to make instrumental sequences. Their creations are not complete songs on their own, but can be used creatively with the work of producers and/or composers.
The primary role of a music arranger is to arrange a piece of music based on the needs of a composer, producer or singer-songwriter. The arranger makes sure that every aspect of music piece is well harmonized, from the instruments being used to the tempo for the track. He only gets involved usually after the music and lyrics have been written. All an arranger needs is a simple melody with perhaps a guitar or piano and he can convert it into a full-fledged song.
Arrangers today are also well versed with computer softwares (DAWs) and are equipped with necessary tools of the trade including various musical instruments, synthesizers, plug-ins, mixers, microphones etc. They have a good grasp of music theory and have a strong background in orchestration, harmony and even composition.
The line between an arranger and a music programmer is dissolved in pop music and they are in essence considered music producers.
As the names suggests, a singer-songwriter is a singer who writes songs & melodies and performs them as well. They need not have the technical skills like those of a producer or arranger. Even though it helps in composition, a singer-songwriter need not have knowledge of music theory. In essence, they are on stage performers.
Some famous singer songwriters include Demi Lovato, Adele, Elton John, Bruno Mars.
It is to be noted that a lot of these jobs may overlap, i.e. a composer may be a producer, arranger and songwriter as well. A lot of people use these terms synonymously and even try to put them under umbrella terms of “music director” or simply “musician”, but it’s always better to know the correct terminology.