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I often correct my friends from calling tracks "songs" because it's a music piece that does not come with vocals or audible lyrics (for example, dubstep tracks with messed up audio). Is this correct? Are songs actually distinct from tracks for this reason?

Linked as a follow-up question: Is every piece of music a "track"?

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    I personally would prefer "song" over "track". A "track", in my mind is limited to a recording medium, particularly a CD or LP. On the other hand, a "song" need not refer to a musical composition with lyrics, IMO. – NoahM Feb 24 '15 at 18:15
  • @NoachmiFrankfurt Thanks for your feedback, and I agree with you on that a track infers recording, but the term has changed across when internet music became widely available. Now I find it difficult to enforce the meaning of a track based on "having composed as a recording", yet it still seems distinct, hence this question. – Unihedron Feb 24 '15 at 18:17
  • I don't think that a composition for the purposes of recording is necessitated for track, rather, as I stated above, the medium. – NoahM Feb 24 '15 at 18:18
  • @NoachmiFrankfurt & Unihedro: Follow-up question: Is every piece of music a “track”? – unor Feb 25 '15 at 15:07
  • @Unihedron I'm confused-- how can the internet change the meaning to not imply that a piece has been recorded? Music available on the internet is, by definition, in the form of a recording. Or by "composed as" do you mean to imply that the word "track" originally implied that the composition of the music itself was undertaken with the intent of later recording the work? (In which case pre-internet recordings of classical pieces would not count as "tracks" even though they are literally "tracks" on LP's/CD's/8-tracks/etc.) – Kyle Strand Sep 15 '16 at 17:37
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No, the two words are about completely different things.

From wiktionary: (music) A song or other relatively short piece of music, on a record, separated from others by a short silence

From the OED: a single recorded item (esp. of popular music), which on a long-playing record is a band bounded on both sides by an area of widely-spaced grooves

So a track is originally a reference to a part of some physical media which could be a song, instrumental, movement from a larger classical work, etc. Carrying that definition forward, it could probably be used for an audio file of any type. In any case the word does not have any connotations as to what might or might not be contained in a track.

A song, on the other hand (as mentioned in the other answers) is a particular style of musical piece. It could be recorded or live, and so it's definition is completely independent of the media in which it exists.

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    ... I don't get it. What about a song? – Unihedron Feb 25 '15 at 15:51
  • Is that better? – Donald.McLean Feb 25 '15 at 16:26
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    The only answer to recognise you are trying to compare apples and oranges. – Roger Mellie Feb 27 '15 at 21:34
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Yes, a song traditionally involves singing. You are technically correct.

But your comment is telling:

I find it difficult to enforce the meaning of a track

You can't enforce the meaning of terms. Language is constantly evolving and if everyone around you is using "song" to refer to music tracks of any kind, then trying to force it on them is going to make you seem arrogant and out of touch.

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This is more of a philosophy of language question, with the answer being how much weight you place on "official"/"dictionary" definition and how much you place on meaning determined by popular usage (see an annoying example like how "literally" now does sometimes mean "figuratively".)

But, yes, traditionally, a "song" does require vocals, usually a single voice (more than two or three usually connotes a "choral" work.) (See wikipedia page, other dictionaries; I don't have access to a definitive music dictionary but evidence suggest most/many would concur.)

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My understanding of the terms is that track is a fully produced song, ready for publication. A songwriter can write a song, a singer can sing it, but it's the producer who makes the "track."

I've heard it most often as industry jargon, I wouldn't chastise your friends for not using it. A "song" without words is more typically called an "instrumental."

Of course different genres have their own terms. A classical instrumental is often called a "piece." I wouldn't be at all surprised if the "correct" word within the subculture of dubstep fans is track. If that's the case, however, you're unlikely to find any official support for your position, since the rules for its usage are almost certainly unwritten.

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