This Is the Difference Between a Composer and a Songwriter

The other day a close friend of mine told me that he always dreamt of becoming a songwriter, he said to me that he wanted to create classical pieces of music and write for the theater and such. 

First I complimented him for his dream and then I went on and told him that what he actually meant was becoming a composer and not a songwriter. He did not understand the difference, so I decided to conduct a little research for him. This article is the results.

The difference between a composer and a songwriter is that: A composer is a person who writes many types of music such as ballet, symphony, and opera. A songwriter is a composer who writes only songs, (lyrics, sung in a melodic fashion accompaniment by an underlying harmony)

 Therefore all songwriters are composers, but not all composers are songwriters.

Songwriters Tasks

Composers and songwriters have a lot in common, but since they both have different desired outcomes, they also need to perform various tasks to achieve their goals.

Usually, a songwriter will focus his attention on music that is played in the charts right now, they need to be aware of what is hot at the present moment but also what is new and upcoming, focusing on genres as well as artists is a must. 

However, once you are on the top of the music pyramid and have access to big-name artists, you have the power to influence and define what the next hot sound will be. 

Take as an example Max Martin, who dominates the popular music scene even if he is not a stage name artists. He does that mainly behind the scenes by crafting perfect pop songs. 

In general, the tasks of a songwriter will include

  1. Writing new songs
  2. Writing lyrics to these songs
  3. Booking time in recording studios
  4. Experimenting with new sounds
  5. Coordinating the rehearsals
  6. Help the vocal performer deliver the best possible result when in the studio together
  7. Play instruments such as guitar, keyboard, and synthesizers or have other musicians play them for him
  8. Arrange or rearrange the parts of a song
  9. Make artistic decisions such as leaving certain instruments out and change the underlying harmony or top line melody

Composers Tasks

A songwriter doesn’t need to receive any formal training in music composition and theory; plenty are the examples of successful songwriters who have been completely self-taught or have little knowledge of musical theory. 

On the other hand, we commonly see composers receive extensive training in music composition and theory at the very start of their careers. Many composers even continue this lifelong musical journey acquiring even more knowledge and expanding their skills for many years.

While most songwriters focus on genres such as Country, Pop, Blues, and Rnb, we see composers being quite popular in the film industry, the theater industry or the the opera scene. 

That said, from time to time, composers may engage not only in classical music but also in other musical styles such as Jazz, Country Folk or Pop.

In general, a composer’s job is to help tell a story by adding music to something that already exists. He could write music for a movie or video game, or write for a program on TV or a theatrical play.

In the case of movies, the viewer must not be distracted from th main story line; therefore, a composer’s compositions must not contain sing-along ear-worms (look at the billboard hot 100 charts for examples). But also he must avoid being monotone or boring. Finding the right balance is an art on its own.

The tasks of a composer include:

  1. Creating and arranging musical scores for television shows movies, video games commercials, songs, and orchestras.
  2. Meeting with directors.
  3. Meeting with producers.
  4. Focus on things such as the right mood and the type of message the musical piece must deliver.
  5. Practicing his compositions and improve them making them ready for performance
  6. Writing new musical scores
  7. Revising the existing musical scores
  8. Transforming existing music into a new composition

Do Composers Need to Know More Theory Than Songwriters?

A composer is not necessarily better than a songwriter, both of them share similar skills but since a composer is subjected to a wider array of musical writing. He needs to be more knowledgeable in the music theory spectrum. Also it’s common for the composer to have knowledge of more diverse skills compared to a songwriter.

Is the Term “Songwriter” Used Only in Popular Music?

As I recently discovered, the term songwriter traditionaly was used in a wide array of musical genres, such as country and blues; however nowadays, the term is mainly found in popular music.

But when is it appropriate to use the term songwriter? An example would be upon hearing a classical piece we would never say something like “this is a great songwriter” or “I like this song”, instead the correct terminology would be “this is a great composer” or “I like this composition”.

SIDENOTE: Being a pop music songwriter requires a tremendous amount of skills and knowledge, crafting a number one hit banger and topping the charts is something truly remarkable and a result only a few skilled songwriters can deliver.

How to Work with a Composer

If you in need of a composer I’d suggest you implement the following tips to maximize your results.

  1. Figure out what style of music you need.
  2. Every project has its own requirements; game music would be much different than let’s say a National Geographic documentary.
  3. If you’re unsure about the type of music that is best suited for your project, try listening to similar wok to get a view about the direction you may want to follow. 
  4. Gather a few musical ideas but before presenting them to the composer ask him/her to give you his/her opinion about the best type of music that suits your project.
  5.  If you have the knowledge and skills, try creating a simple demo that could guide your composer towards the right direction, it doesn’t have to be a full-blown out production. Providing the time signature, BPM, key, and underlying harmony will be more than enough to start with.
  6. If you are working on a large project, try to distinguish each section. Also adding notes and mentioning the changes in style & feel would be quite helpful.
  7. In addition, you can always check an online library to come up with ideas or provide the composer with specific examples to reproduce for your project.
  8. Establish your budget
  9. if you have a minimal budget, you must target composers that are at the beginning stages of their career since it would charge a significantly less amount compared to established professionals. 
  10. Some composers may also work for free in return for a better royalty dea. If none of the above works for you, then perhaps royalty-free music is the way to go. Keep in mind that royalty-free music CANT be copyrighted; therefore, you may encounter the same composition in someone else’s project!

Choose Wisely When Hiring a Music Composer

Price is not the only factor when hiring a composer; you should always check credits and read reviews of other clients, generally avoid people with low ratings or with no rating at all. 

This, of course, can be troublesome to composers who are just entering the field. When in doubt, ask them to send you examples of their work and maybe hire them for a small but demanding project to test the waters.

Examples of Famous Music Composers

Throughout the ages there have been a lot of successful and famous composers, of course, I can’t include them all but here is a list of my nine favorite composers

  1. Beethoven
  2. Mozart
  3. Brahms
  4. Rachmaninoff
  5. Tchaikovsky
  6. Mahler
  7. Dvorak
  8. Litz
  9. Berlioz

By the way, if you like, you can leave your favorite composer in the comments section ;).

Examples of Famous Songwriters

Keep in mind we are talking about songwriters and not performers, as a lot of performers did not write their own songs. An example would be Frank Sinatra. With famous hits such as “My way,” and “New York New York” he is a well-known artist but If remember correctly, he wrote only two songs in his entire career.

However, back then not writing your own songs was nothing unusual. One of the first bands that establish the notion that performers and bands should write their own songs were the Beatles, Bod Dylan and the Rolling Stones.

Here is the short version of my list with my favorite songwriters:

  1. Bob Dylan
  2. Paul McCartney
  3. John Lennon
  4. Max Martin
  5. David Bowie
  6. Chuck Berry
  7. Smokey Robinson
  8. Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
  9. Joni Mitchell

Where to Hire a Composer or a Songwriter From?

If I were you and I wanted to hire a composer or a songwriter, I would first look locally for freelancers and music studios, a simple google search will do. Then I would look online; here are a few websites to consider: 


Splice is an awesome tool! I use it all the time. Not only you can find millions of samples and presets which you can download for a monthly fee, but now you can also collaborate with other artists, search for each other’s projects, and browse public sessions!

I compared Splice to the rest of the companies on this list, and I believe there are more high-quality projects listed there than any other place. But even if you don’t want to use Splice’s collaborative feature, I’d strongly suggest you check out their huge sample library.


SongwriterLink was captured by Lisa Occhino a Berklee-grad with the help of Berklee’s business start-up initiative.

 Furthermore, SongwriterLink users an engine matching technology (the same type dating websites use). This allows users to find the right matches between them. At the site, you will find topline writers, music producers, songwriters, composers, lyricists, and more. 

The platform also offers the ability to conduct searches by genre, or you can let the engine match you up.Also, through the platform’s video chat, you are able to communicate with each other; and through their file-sharing system, you can easily share your songs with the people you’re working with.


Compoz allows you to connect with producers no matter where they live. Imagine this, a guitar player from London uploads a song to Compoz, then a bass player from Los Angeles creates an awesome bassline, a drummer from Tokyo crafts and masterful rhythm and a skilled banjo player from the US also adds his two cents.

Currently, with 200.000 audio tracks and counting, Compoz is one of the largest collaboration services out there. Highly recommended!


Procollabs Is an online music collaboration service that gives you access to experienced and talented songwriters musicians music producers and audio engineers. The website is somewhat outdated but doesn’t let that scare you away; they offer excellent value.


As described at Hook(list)’s facebook account:

“Music Legends and Rising Stars collaborate with die-hard fans and hardcore musicians to write an original song Together line by line”

Hook(list) is a bit different when compared to other music collaboration services. Their main key selling point is that Hook(list) conducts songwriting up to 4 weeks, plus a different songwriter leads each songwriting event!


Vocalizr leans more towards working with singers than producers. but nevertheless, it’s a great platform, especially if you are a singer and you’re looking for a paid gig.

PRO TIP: If you are looking for a music producer, you can create a custom gig. This allows Vocalizr members to contact you directly and submit proposals. Hopefully, you will find a good match for your song. Just keep in mind that while the service is free; most members will ask for a fee in exchange for their services.


Soundbetter is again a free platform, but you have to pay and hire the professionals you want to work with. Generally, I find that musicians that are listed at Soundbetter are more “Pro” compared to other online paid services; (take Fiverr as an example).


Blend made quite the stir a few years back when it became known that the legendary Moby was sharing his music on the platform! I believe that after all these years, he is still active!

With Blend, you can leave your project open for anyone to edit and create their own version of it, plus you can arrange backups of your DAW (digital audio workstation) project files.


Melboss is another online collaboration platform that aims to bring artists and producers together. What distinguishes Melboss from the rest is their online mentor program, there you can select a real-life mentor and request them to review and comment on your songs. I haven’t tried this feature yet, but I suspect it can be very beneficial!

Above I shared a few tips on how to work with a composer but most of the steps are also applicable when hiring a songwriter!


I hope you have enjoyed the article, please share it and leave a comment below.


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