For people that are new to the music industry, the many jobtitles that are often thrown at them can be way too confusing. You will often hear of song producers, songwriters, engineers, beatmakers, topliners and all sorts of creatives behind a song. But what do these people actually do and how does it all come together?
Today´s post shall give an overview on who does what within the music creation process. Sit back for our top 10 job profiles in the field of Music Making:
As the name suggests, a songwriter is the writer of a song (mostly referring to popular music, but also musicals and other genres.) A song is defined as an entity comprised of “Melody and Lyrics”. These two elements essentially make a song (as referred to in popular music). It need not be an actual sound recording that proofs the existence of a song though; if you can sit down and sing the song, the song has been created. From that minute on, it is automatically copyrighted as well, meaning the songwriter(s) can collect royalties for public performance of the song and many other public uses of their songs as well. Check our “Understanding Songwriting Royalties” post for more.
Like a songwriter, a composer creates the actual melody of a song, but this refers mainly to instrumental music, e.g. classical music or instrumental music used in movies (score) or games and the likes. No words are needed. An Opera would also be called a composition, even if there are lyrics involved. A composer usually writes more musically complex pieces.
A lyricist is essentially also a songwriter, except that they do not write the melody. A lyricist „only“ ever writes lyrics and therefor will have to collaborate with another songwriter (a cowriter) who can help them put music to their words. Typical examples would be Paul Mc Cartney being the writer of a lot of Beatles melodies and John Lennon being the lyricist on these songs.
A producer isn´t usually involved in the composition of a song and therefor does not get any songwriting credits. They do not earn money from the copyright in a song composition. A producer´s job is to create an actual song recoding of a song. Also called „master recording“. The master recording has a copyright as well, but it has nothing to do with the songwriting copyright. Any other producer could create a cover version and re-arrange the piece and they also would not get any credit with regard to the songwriting/composition. Remember, once the song has a melody and lyrics, it is already considered a song that´s been written and copyrighted. The way a producer arranges and produces it, is but one version (interpretation) of this song, but not the song itself. So, the producer´s creative input refers to their very specific recording of a song (their master recording). Let me illustrate this a little better: It´s like buying a coloring book. The songwriter is the one that drew the outlines in the book. Their outlines are copyrighted and they get money each time a book sells, but the producer would be the one painting the colours into the shapes. They would imprint their own style and colour choices and create their own artwork of it. If they were to print this colored version and sell these specific prints, then they would get paid for each print they sell (master recording sales), but likewise would they have to pay the songwriter (who had lent them their copyright in the first place).
The arrangement of a song is crucial when recording it, but also when playing music in an orchesta and the likes. A lot of times the producer will also be the arranger, sometimes in collaboration with a songwriter or a member of the band. Sometimes someone is hired solely to do the arrangement. They might write sheet music for each instrument. An arranger also does not attain any rights in the copyright of a song, but they own the copyright in their unique arrangement of the song. So they might be compensated for their work in a master recording or they might get a share of sheet music royalties, each time someone decided to buy this specific arrangement.
6) Mixing Engineer
The Mixing Engineer is also an Audio Engineer (the one recording the actual instruments and vocals in the studio), but their focus lies on editing and mixing the song, once it has been recorded. They are the ones that create the “sonic sound image” of a song. They will decide how to pan certain instruments, which levels each instrument should be at, they will compress and EQ single tracks and add sound effects, such as reverb, distortion and so much more! They are like sculptors almost. Bringing the song alive by making sure each instrument has their own space and brillance and making sure the song sounds great overall. A lot of times the producer of a song does mix the song themselves, but sometimes a producer will ask a mixing engineeer to execute whatever it is they have in mind. The engineer often works for hire and get´s no backend (royaly based) income. They own no right in the song.
7) Mastering Engineer
The Mastering Engineer is the final stop in the chain. After the mix is done, they make sure to polish it to perfection. They also adjust levels according to radio and broadcasting standards and making sure the song sounds good on multiple devices. It´s an art in itself and very technical. The Mastering Engineer holds no rights in a song. They usually work for hire and earn an upfront fee. No backend.
A Beatmaker is someone solely focused on producing/programming beats. These people are oftentimes also producers, but they might chose to only produce beats and even offer them for sale. If a songwriter writes a song based on such a pre-existing beat, then in that case the beatmaker can become a songwriter as well, since they were an essential part of the songwriting process. It would therefore be fair to credit them as a cowriter, even though there´s no regulation by law.
A topliner is another word for a songwriter really, except that they create the melody based on a pre-existing backing track. So they are therefor a cowriter since they write music to an already excisting idea. (See beatmaker) Even if the backing track never gets used in the master recording, once the song is being recorded, the backing track creator is still part of the songwriting team. It´s all about the people that were involved in the actual creation of the melody and song. There´s a lot of room for interpretation obviously and no fix laws, but fairness and honesty go a long way. Crediting someone that played an integral part of the song creation should be a given. You can still decide how to split up the shares in the copyright though. E.g. the beatmaker gets 20%, and the one who wrote the melody and lyrics 80% or you might agree to split 50% 50% etc.
10) Recording Artist/Studio Musician
The last piece in the puzzle (but certainly not the least!) are of course the actual musicians and vocalists who might come into the studio to record their instruments and voice. Some instruments are nowadays being programmed, but depending on the production budget or the type of music, band musicians and studio musicians are still being hired. Nothing beats handmade music, right?
The musicians and main artist(s) are being paid upfront (often times via advances through the label), and they might collect royalties from the master recording sales. These are so called “neighboring rights royalties”. We will cover the details in another post. Important to know is that the recording artists have no right in the copyright of the song. They might collect a share from the master recording copyright as mentioned via neighboring rights societies, but their main source of income are tours, merchandise and other direct sales, often contracted via a label.
In today´s music market, a lot of indie artists do all of the above tasks by themselves! Isn´t that admiring? Sadly, music consumers are often times not aware of the work that goes into it and the value of the music shared for free on most platforms nowadays. But to lift the mood again, here´s a bonus input:
Bonus: What are producer credits and when do they apply?
A lot of times, especially in hip hop and beat-based music genres or genres where an actual song recoding really is an essential part of the song itself, you will hear someone talk about producer credits. These credits are a way that a label or master owner can give a producer part of the backend money (royalties from master recording sales). Usually producers are hired to do a job for a certain fee, paid by the label or whoever owns the masters. Sometimes though, if a song becomes a hit especially and a lot of money is involved, labels allow for such producers who are an integral part of the master creation to also earn a portion of each song sale. That´s where credits (or producer points) come in. Often times a producer gets 3 to 5 points, which amount to a certain percentage of the song royalties. And then there´s of course producers that are really songwriters. Producing and songwriting is one fluent process. Think David Guetta.
Disclaimer: As always, the content on here is no legal advice. We strongly advise to consult a lawyer if you want to enter the music business and are unsure about what to pay attention to!
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