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What is a composer?

2 min read

Understand the role a composer plays in songwriting.

A composer creates and writes the different elements of a musical composition.

The of a is its collection of notes, melodies, chords, rhythms, , and more, excluding .

In classical music, who write the composition in a notated form on are called composers.

In modern music, creators who write the composition are called more often than composers, except in the context of composing for films, television, and video games. Songwriters often write lyrics, too, but composers only write the composition and instrumentation.

Copyright ownership for composers

Composers and all additional songwriters, such as , , , etc., who make an contribution to the musical work are considered under . Therefore, they can all own a share of the in the musical work; it's like sharing a pie.

Agreeing and properly documenting each author's share, also called , is the first step for each author to receive a share of earnings if the musical work is used. Learn more about this in the Songwriter Splits and Registering Musical Works topics.

Alternative copyright scenarios for composers

Composers can also write or musical works in exchange for a flat fee or salary, often referred to as . In these scenarios, the composer's copyright ownership of the musical work may change based on labor laws or the agreement they sign.

You can find out more about this on the Work for Hire page.

Composers who have multiple creative roles

If you are a composer, you might also have additional roles when writing or recording a musical work, in which case you might also have additional shares in the ownership of that musical work and the .

Delve deeper into how this works in the Recording topic. To understand authors' rights in more detail, visit the Music creators' rights topic.

Image credit: Nils Emil Nylander