Artist vs Musician: What’s the Real Difference?

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Artist and musician are two words that are used interchangeably, and many people think they mean the same thing, myself included. However, these are two different words with totally different meanings. After some research hours, here is the difference between an artist and a musician that I found.

What’s the main difference between an artist and a musician? A musician is anyone who plays a musical instrument, sings, performs, or creates music. On the other hand, an artist is anyone, musician or not, who creates or contributes to music creation. Also, a musician can be an artist, but not all artists are musicians.

Who is an Artist?

An artist is a broad term used to describe anyone who creates art. And with so many forms of arts, artist is a word used in many fields. 

Back then, when you hear the word artist, you instantly associate it with people who paint and draw artworks. And up to this day, without any context, an artist is someone who draws or paints artworks.

However, times have changed, and the word artist is used in many fields. A screenplay writer can call himself an artist, and so is an author of a book. Similarly, sculptors, photographers, dancers, and musicians are also considered artists.

These are all people who do creative work that is considered art. Now let’s talk about artists in the musical context.

In music, an artist is anyone who can create music by himself or with the help of other musicians. Some artists will first have a musical idea and use their skills and abilities to turn it into a full song. These artists may be proficient at playing multiple musical instruments, an excellent music producer, and a great singer.

There are few mainstream artists like this. Charlie Puth, for instance, is an artist that can create a full song from start to finish, all by himself. Jacob Collier is also an example of a well-rounded artist.

There are also many artists who are just great at one thing — singing, songwriting, or playing an instrument. These artists will find other artists to collaborate with to make a full song. For instance, a songwriter can write a song and then find the right music producer with the necessary skills to turn that into a full song. 

In this case, the songwriter will communicate his vision for the song, and then the music producer will help bring that vision to life. If the song requires guitar parts or piano parts that the music producer can’t play, he’ll find the right guitar or piano player to play it for him. This is just one example.

Here is a video of Michael Jackson, a singer, and songwriter, communicating to his band how he wants his music to sound. Another reason why MJ was such an excellent artist.

And then there are some artists who are not musicians themselves. These artists will have a musical idea in mind, find the right musicians for the idea, communicate his ideas to them to execute it the way he wants it. 

Working as a musician with these kinds of artists can be quite a difficult task. However, over time, once you build rapport with them, things will get easier. 

There are not many artists who are not musicians. Many artists will have basic knowledge of music theory, at least play one musical instrument, or be singers.

Who is a Musician?

Musician is a broad term for anyone who composes, conducts, or performs music. I think this is an excellent and straight-to-the-point definition. But let me throw a bit more light on it.

Anyone who can play a musical instrument proficiently is a musician. It shows this person has dedicated time to learn this instrument and play it in a way that it’s musical. Similarly, a skilled singer is also a musician. A singer’s instrument is his or her voice.

Musicians have the skill to combine multiple musical notes or play rhythms that are pleasing to listen to. And many musicians can learn a song and perform it just as it is. Some musicians can learn the song by ear, and others require a musical score of the song to learn it.

And then there are composers. These are musicians who are skilled at writing music. Although this word is used mostly for classical music writers, it is not limited to them. Any writer of music in any genre is a composer. Composers usually write musical scores for instrumentalists and vocalists for them to read and perform.

And then there is the conductor, who is also considered a musician. A conductor’s main responsibilities are to ensure the band plays in time and also communicate effectively with the band how the music should be performed. They make sure what the band is playing is the best interpretation of the composer’s musical idea.

Now let’s look at the difference between an artist and a musician.

Can you call a musician an artist?

A musician can be called an artist if he makes or contributes his musical ideas to the making of original music. If a musician learns and performs songs or performs music by reading a musical score written by someone else, he is simply a musician.

For those who didn’t understand that, let me explain. By definition, a musician is an artist. That’s because they either create, conduct, or perform music, which is a form of art. However, in reality, that’s not the case.

The role a musician plays determines whether he can be called an artist or not. For instance, if you are a musician in a cover band, what you are essentially doing is learning songs that already exist and performing them. There is no creation of art in learning and performing music that already exists. So, in this case, you are a musician and not an artist.

Similarly, suppose you are a musician that plays using a musical score or tablature made by another musician. In that case, you are playing a piece of music that another musician writes, and that makes you a musician, not an artist. To put this in context, all instrumentalists or vocalists in an orchestra are simply musicians doing their job. They are not artists.

However, if you are a musician that makes original music or contributes creatively to music, you can be called an artist. This means you could be a singer or songwriter that comes up with the melody and lyrics for a song. Then, collaborate with the right music producer to help you bring that song to life with his own ideas and skill. In this case, the singer/songwriter and music producer are all artists in their own right.

Similarly, a guitar player can contribute to an original song by adding his own guitar patterns and riffs, which complement the song. In this case, the guitar player is not just a musician but an artist contributing to art.

Also, a composer who writes music is considered an artist. In essence, any musician who creates music or contributes to creating music is an artist. 

Are singers artists or musicians?

All singers are musicians. For a singer to be considered an artist, they must be involved in creating music.

Every singer is a musician by default. As long as they can perform songs the way it’s intended.

If you are a singer that learns and performs songs, you are a musician and not an artist. Backing vocalists or singers in cover bands, for example, are musicians who are hired to learn and perform songs.

For a singer to be considered an artist and not just a musician, they should be involved in the creative process of making music. As I talked about earlier, singers who write the melody or lyrics for a song and collaborate with other musicians to turn it into a full body of work is an artist.

Conclusion

In summary, artists are involved in creating music, whether they are musicians or not. Musicians become artists when they contribute their musical ideas to a song. Musicians that simply learn and play songs or play music written by someone else are simply musicians, not artists. And finally, musicians can be artists, but not all artists are musicians.