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3shiftgtr

The difference between songwriting and composing

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Been lurking here for a bit.....interested to see how you folks think about this subject.

 

Songwriting vs. composing. Is all songwriting composing? Or is just instrumental stuff composing? Or is it just semantics? Or.....or.....

 

What say U?

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Composing = Creating new music.

Songwriting = Writing songs. Both music and lyrics.

 

So I guess if you write music but no words, you're a composer. If you are a songwriter, you're also a composer.

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Obviously, terms get fuzzy. One does compose the music for a simple little ditty, but for many of us, when we think of composing, we think of someone sitting down and working out a more complex work, a concerto, a sonata, a movie theme... something more than blocking out some chords and coming up with a single melody line (as we might when whipping up a pop song). Still, it's all composing, and it's probably best not to get obsessed with drawing lines of definition that are difficult to specify and arguable at best.

 

Let's say this, I think there's a wide range from blocking out that simple little pop song and writing a symphony, but it's hard to really draw any specific lines, that it seems more a continuum -- that the activity at one end is very different from the other but that it's hard to draw any but arbitrary lines of demarcation along the way.

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But if you write 'songs without words' a la Mendelssohn or Tchaikovsky I'm not sure what you are!

Right... I think a lot of the arguments I've looked in on about what constitutes a song exemplify the possibilities of near endless possible contention -- and also tend to demonstrate the lack of productive value of such semantic exercises. ;)

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I'm usually not composed when I songwrite... generally I'm tired, it's late at night, a bit disheveled... it's more of an off-the-cuff thing.

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Yeah. Are 'Wipeout' or 'Mizerlou' or any number of other Surf Music pieces considered songs? Or loads of New Age and other instrumental stuff. So I don't know quite what a song is.

 

But a composer writes music. That's straight-forward enough. It can be for a song (again, whatever a song is). The guy who writes the words is a lyricist. That's simple enough too. I guess if you do both you're a lyricist and a composer...and a song-writer.

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Composers only write instrumental music, so forget all those operas, choir masses, and art songs you heard.

 

On a serious note, I don't believe songwriting is composition. Composition is way more involved regarding things like sonorities, harmonic structure, and arrangement of pitch. Songwriting and composition are there own distinct art, though I personally lean toward the latter.

 

Beatmaking ( ala Madlib, Dilla, Flying Lotus) is neither composing or songwriting, but I love that too.

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Obviously, terms get fuzzy. One
does
compose the music for a simple little ditty, but for many of us, when we think of
composing
, we think of someone sitting down and working out a more complex work, a concerto, a sonata, a movie theme... something more than blocking out some chords and coming up with a single melody line (as we might when whipping up a pop song). Still, it's all composing, and it's probably best not to get obsessed with drawing lines of definition that are difficult to specify and arguable at best.

I don't know. There are plenty of classical forms that correspond quite well to today's pop song. Many of Schubert's most famous works, for instance, are nothing more than a simple AABA type song for a voice and solo piano, set to a poem. Given that coming up with a solo piano arrangement is rather easy and can be done on the spot for any classically trained musician (Mozart could crunch them out left and right), is this really any different than coming up with a few chords and a melody?

 

If you think of a work like Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, that's an interesting example of how classical music isn't all that different from the music industry today after all. It started out as a set of solo piano pieces that saw little attention, until a more famous composer and a friend in Rimsky-Korsakov pretty much rewrote the whole thing and published it a few years after the composer's death. But it wasn't until half a century after the pieces were composed that they were orchestrated for a symphony orchestra by a master (which is kind of like a "remix") in Maurice Ravel and became world famous. People then tried to better that version (and mostly failed). And then after a while, people get interested in the original versions and rediscover them, and then there's endless debate about which version is best.

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Right... I think a lot of the arguments I've looked in on about what constitutes a song exemplify the possibilities of near endless possible contention -- and
also
tend to demonstrate the lack of productive value of such semantic exercises.
;)

I think there are definitely instrumentals where an instrument basically replaces the vocals, like "Rise" by Herb Alpert, where you have a very singable melody on a chord progression. I'd call them songs. Much of pre-1970s jazz is kind of like this, too, just you have some winds and brass replacing the vocals, you can still hear a very vocal-like melody. Yeah, it's a bit arbitrary to say what's singable or not, but I think when you have sing song melodies and the existence of "verses" in instrumental pieces, it often make it quite obvious that you have a song, whereas a piece that has many different parts that kind of weave around themselves, it's kind of obvious you don't have a song.

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I think there are definitely instrumentals where an instrument basically replaces the vocals, like "Rise" by Herb Alpert, where you have a very singable melody on a chord progression. I'd call them songs. Much of pre-1970s jazz is kind of like this, too, just you have some winds and brass replacing the vocals, you can still hear a very vocal-like melody. Yeah, it's a bit arbitrary to say what's singable or not, but I think when you have sing song melodies and the existence of "verses" in instrumental pieces, it often make it quite obvious that you have a song, whereas a piece that has many different parts that kind of weave around themselves, it's kind of obvious you don't have a song.

 

You missed my first sentence but still you'll get no disagreement from me. I've heard those and countless other songs written by composers. I still say songwriting and composing are two distinct arts.

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I'd say it is what you'd like to call it. I'd say a song writer, composes to a song format. A composer, doesn't necessary write "songs" but could pretty much compose a lot of things, as I take it as creating a larger work from smaller pieces.

 

Though calling yourself a composer or a songwriter is up to your own ego and audacity.

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