It’s easy to get a music producer confused with a music composer because to produce and to compose seem to go hand in hand, especially with the way music creation has developed over the years as a result of the internet and computer software. However, they’re quite different.
One commonality is that they both have a vision for the piece of music they’re working on, but their involvement is different including the nature of their participation and what’s expected of them. You can kind of think of them as being similar to the difference between an artist and a producer to get a better understanding of their roles. So what is the difference then?
One of the many differences between a music producer and a composer is that a composer writes only music, whereas the producer is in charge of the final product, including visual media. Additionally, an artist or team may hire a producer to develop the artist’s vision similar to a creative director.
Explained in another way, a music producer is with the artist from start to finish, and during that time they help them curate the music. A composer can be an artist whose producer enhances their vision by managing and supervising their work. A producer works on other people’s projects whereas a composer or a songwriter works on their own. Let’s look at some differences between music composers and music producers to get a better understanding of what they do and how their responsibilities differ.
Music Producer Versus a Composer – What’s The Main Difference?
Music Producers Are More Like Creative Leaders Rather Than Just Songwriters
A music producer is with the artist from start to finish and can sometimes even have an influence on when that artist performs the songs live. Even if the producer is not with the artist as a member, their legacy lives on through the recordings via their insights and direction they used in the studio. Sometimes this influence can be seen in the writing process as well.
This is often a crucial element that is overlooked because people tend to focus on the artists who play the songs, but a producer is like an added member whom the regular public doesn’t know about. Rick Rubin and Dr. Luke are examples of this. The composer, a lot like the artist, writes the music played by musicians or other artists. Composers often know many instruments and how to write music for them.
Musicians with an understanding of elemental music theory – (check out Mark Sarnecki’s Elementary Music Theory from Amazon as well as the answer book) – know many instruments such as the viola or the trombone do not follow the standard bass and trouble clef, so a composer that wants to use these instruments would need to be able to write in all five clefs, including the tenor, alto, soprano, and neutral clef if they wanted to have them in their ensemble.
Both composers and music producers have to have a fairly thorough understanding of music and how musical composition works. For instance, someone like the aforementioned Dr. Luke was a guitarist for the in-house band on Saturday Night Live before he began producing. Still, the composer would come before the producer in terms of creating a project. A composer would write the music, and the producer would come in and facilitate the project.
The examples of Rick Rubin and Beethoven help us explain the difference between producers and composers. While Mr. Rubin is probably also a composer in his own right, he is more of a music producer because he produces an artist’s record. Beethoven, on the other hand, is a composer – someone who writes the music and then has an ensemble play it for him. Beethoven, from what I understand, never developed other artists’ work – he articulated his own.
|Producer Roles||Composer Roles|
|Directs the recording/creative process||Writes the music primarily|
|May contribute to the songwriting at times.||Can act as the conductor of a symphony, orchestra, etc.|
|Helps record the project||Writes music for movies, TV, commercials, films, etc.|
|Often started out as an artist themselves or is still an artist||Functions as the songwriter on a project, but not necessarily as the producer or as the “creative leader.”|
|Has many contacts in the business, including songwriters, musicians, engineers||Commonly associated with classical music.|
|Probably understands audio engineering and popular DAWs like Pro Tools||Usually has an excellent understanding of standard musical notation, including soprano, alto, tenor, bass, treble, and neutral clefs and how to write for them.|
|Often stays with the artist from the beginning until the end||Can write any kind of music, blues, jazz, metal, funk, soul, and (not just) classical.|
|Can be involved in the business side of the project as well||Not uncommon for them to have had training or extensive schooling in composition.|
|Functions as an added member that the public doesn’t necessarily think about||Usually more visible than a producer.|
Other Differences Between Music Producers and Composers
1) Composers and Music Producers Hire Different Artists
In the past, a composition was created by a single author or maybe two, the composers, ie, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. This has changed a lot over the past few years, with the songwriting process becoming far more democratic. For instance, if someone came up with the idea of using a drum loop on a particular song, they’ll also receive a songwriting credit. This wasn’t the case in the 1950s.
A composer will spend many rehearsals with the musicians hired to play the music, perfecting each piece before they play in front of an audience. They focus on making sure their composition is played exactly how they want it to be played. A modern example of a composer would be someone like John Williams who created much of the original Star Wars music.
It’s the producer’s responsibility to hire or fire anyone in the best interest of the record. If a band loses a member or needs one to finish their record, it’s a producer’s job to find the right person for the job. Likewise, if there is an underperforming member, it’s also the producer’s job to either help them reestablish ground rules or find a new player to take their place. Their focus is on keeping the project running for as long as possible with the right people.
One example that comes to mind is in David De Sola’s biography of Alice in Chains, Alice in Chains: The Untold Story, where Dave Jerden scolded lead vocalist Layne Staley for his drug abuse while creating Dirt. The producer told Layne that it was his job to make the record rather than be someone’s friend. Jerden produced both Facelift and Dirt.
2) Composers and Music Producers Work For Different People
A composer works for anyone that requires a soundtrack or backing track unless they are working on their own music. Orchestras, where ever they happen to be playing, have a composer that writes all the music for the musicians to play. A composer can also use digital equipment or digital audio workstations (my beginner’s tutorial) to compose for movies, tv shows, and entertainment.
The producer is responsible for getting the best sound and performance out of the project they are working on. Just as a producer must find the right people for the job, they must also find the best ways to bring out their best in the performance for the recording. They can either be hired by a studio, a label, or an artist/band to facilitate a recording.
3) Composers and Music Producers Often Use Different Equipment
Modern-day composing is done in a variety of ways. They now have access to great tools that help compose music, like buying a computer with music composing software already on it. One great example of this is Apple’s GarageBand or something like FL Studio 20 (from Plugin Fox). Of course, it takes a lot of time to learn how to work the software and understand music in general, but with the right help and determination, you could easily compose your own music without being a savant, in fact, I have a simple songwriter’s guide too.
There are inexpensive courses that can help you a lot as well like How to Write Songs That Sell that you can get from their website. But I digress, a producer is a big part of the overall sound that is being produced. They can help make a band just by using the techniques and skills they have acquired over the years to bring out the best in the members, all the way to how the band sounds and performs after the record is done.
A very skilled producer may even play the instruments and parts that need to go into the recording and have a good general knowledge of running a mixing board and DAW, but often they leave that to an engineer. This brings us to the next point which is at what part of the process both of these professionals are involved.
4) Composers and Music Producers Are Involved in Different Stages Of Making Music
A composer is generally used in pre-production and sometimes in production as well. They create their music for others to play, but once the piece is written, they are typically done with their part. If a composer also directs the players, they then are carrying things through to the production phase. The role of the producer is different. They’re typically a part of pre-production, production, and post-production.
At times they are not on board with the artists in the earliest developmental stages but can later be hired by a label to produce the band. They usually will help re-write or re-arrange parts in pre-production, then carry everything through to post-production. In many cases, the bands will already have a bunch of songs written and they’re about to record – at that point the producer will come in. Or, the band is getting ready to record and they’ll write songs while in the studio with the producer present.
Important Things To Note About the Differences Between Music Producers and Composers
1) Producers Usually Have All The Contacts to Make Things Happen
Producers are the team’s MVPs when it comes to teamwork on a record. The great ones go above and beyond to get an idea out to the masses through recordings and use their gift of connecting the right people. A composer doesn’t usually need to be as responsible for an entire team, and they focus mainly on writing the music. Explained another way, producers are more involved in the business side of things as well whereas composers are purely for songwriting.
2) Composers Can Orchestrate Their Own Pieces
If you have ever seen an orchestra or a symphony, there is always a conductor. A lot of the time, if the composer is still alive, the conductor is the composer. Not all of the time though, the symphony could have a house composer, and they are directing the show, or the symphony and conductor could be touring just like any band tours. A music producer doesn’t usually play in the band they are producing or go on tour with the band.
Composers often use equipment like the Akai MPK Mini MP3 from Amazon, which can be loaded with different sound banks and used to compose music with a DAW of your choosing – one of the most popular and the most universal is Pro Tools which can be found here on Plugin Fox. The differences between a Composer and a music producer can be confusing if you aren’t used to working in a studio or with one of these professions.
Composers and Producers have come a long way in the music industry because of the software integrations and equipment that has come out in the last few decades. This change in technology has made it easier to begin one of these professions. Still, experience will often reign as a determining factor in the success of a music producer or composer and a big part of getting that experience is just putting yourself out there where these people hang out.
All links take you to Amazon unless noted otherwise
1) Musical Composition: Craft and Art written by Alan Belkin
2) AKAI Professional 25-Key MIDI Keyboard MPK Mini MP3
3) Mark Sarnecki’s Complete Elementary Rudiments and the Answer Book (an absolute must)
4) FL Studio 20 from Plugin Fox
5) How to Write Songs That Sell
6) Pro Tools from Plugin Fox