Music Copyrights, Publishing & Licensing, demystified. [ Part 2 ]


Who is a Songwriter?

If you are just joining in, you may want to checkout Part 1 of this series in order to catch up on our previous post on copyrights.

Wikipedia defines a songwriter as  an individual who writes the lyrics, melodies and chord progressions for songs. A songwriter can also be called a composer, although the latter term tends to be used mainly for individuals from the classical music genre. The pressure from the music industry to produce popular hits means that songwriting is often an activity for which the tasks are distributed between a number of people. For example, a songwriter who excels at writing lyrics might be paired with a songwriter with a gift for creating original melodies.

For simplicity, here’s what you need to remember:

• A Songwriter is the person who writes the lyrics of a song.

• There can be multiple songwriters for a single piece of music.

• Lyrics are the words of a song.

• A songwriter can also be called a composer. Though very similar, I’ll explain the difference between a Songwriter and a Composer shortly.


Who is a Composer?

Wikipedia describes a composer as a person who creates or writes music, which can be vocal music (for a singer or choir), instrumental music (e.g., for solo piano, string quartet, wind quintet or orchestra) or music which combines both instruments and voices (e.g., opera or art song, which is a singer accompanied by a pianist). The core meaning of the term refers to individuals who have contributed to the tradition of Western classical music through creation of works expressed in written musical notation (e.g., sheet music scores). Many composers are also skilled performers, either as singers, instrumentalists, and/or conductors.

For simplicity, here’s what you need to remember:

• A Composer is the person who creates the melody of a song.

• In modern day music creation, a music producer typically falls under this category.

• Think of the Composer as the person who writes music (music notes) or melodies, not lyrics.

I know, its a bit confusing, Composer vs Songwriter, but stay with me.


Who is a Performer?

A Performer is an artist in the performing arts.

Performing arts are a form of art in which artists use their voices and/or their bodies, often in relation to other objects, to convey artistic expression. It is different from visual arts, which is when artists use paint/canvas or various materials to create physical or static art objects. Performing artists can be dancers, singers, choirs, instrumentalists etc. These guys simply perform, they don’t necessarily create the music.

Here’s what you need to remember:

• As it relates to music and for the purpose of this conversation, a Performer is the vocal artist who records a song.

• A Performer can be a musician or just a music vocalist. Think of him as the person who is called in to record the song after it has been created by the Composer and lyrics written by the Songwriter.

• For a piece of recorded music, a Performer may be the Songwriter and Composer as well, but it is also possible that he is neither the Songwriter nor Composer.

Still confused? Stay with me.


What is the difference between a Songwriter and a Composer?

Composer is a generic term for someone who writes any type of music (like an opera, symphony, song, ballet, pieces for individual instruments, musicals, etc.). A Songwriter is a Composer who focuses on writing songs only (meaning a piece of music defined by having a vocal part and an accompaniment). … Instrumental music.

There is a distinction between the Songwriter(s) and Composer(s) that create a song and the Performers(s) that record the song.

Here’s what to remember:

• Songwriters come up with the words/lyrics/melodies.

• Composers create melodies/beats.

• Performer is the person who sings it (vocals).

Songwriters & composers are similar. They both create melodies. Difference is that Composers don’t write lyrics, but don’t quote me yet. Semantics of the Composer/Songwriter distinction is on-going argument in many circles. I’ll go in depth in another session.

To simplify it for now, think of a Composer as what we call “producer” nowadays, and Songwriter as the person who writes the word/lyrics. The Artist is the performer.

Again, sometimes the Performer aka performing artist is also the Songwriter, or even the Composer as well. I was that guy on my first 2 solo albums, Return of the king & Big Boy.


The 3 examples below may help further explain what the different roles mean.

Example 1

Song: Don’t be cruel
Artist: Bobby Brown
Produced by: Babyface & LA Reid
Written by: Daryl Simmons, (Kenneth Edmonds) Babyface & (Antonio Reid)LA Reid
Label: MCA

Example 2

Song: You Know It
Artist: Goldie Feat. eLDee
Produced by: eLDee
Written by: (Lanre Dabiri) eLDee
Label: Kennis Music

Example 3

Song: What Do You Mean
Artist: Justin Bieber
Produced by: Mason “MDL” Levy & Justin Bieber
Written by: (Jason Boyd) Pooh Bear, (Mason Levy) MDL & Justin Bieber

Label: Def Jam

What you see in the examples above is VERY VERY important to note with each song as it is being created, because this is what determines copyright ownership, concerning who owns what rights and how it splits.

Typically, artists, labels and managers never really pay attention to this, however it is probably the most important thing to make note of in order for a song to be properly published and exploited. It is also important to document this in order to properly compensate all parties throughout the life of the created work.

In the next post, I will explain the different copyrights included in a song, who owns what, how copyright splits are done, the earning capacity of Songwriters, Composers and Performers.

If anything is confusing so far, please feel free to ask me questions in the comments section. I’ll do my best to answer all. I want to answer your questions in the comments section for the benefit of those who will come across these posts and have similar questions in the future.


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