I realize semantically music theory professors might refer to all songs as music pieces, but if they're not sung are they songs? and if they're never composed but random, are they compositions? and if they're never recorded are they tracks? and if it's not written is it a piece? So technically:
- If you're listening to electronic music live, or on the radio it's probably safe to call it a song if it has sung or spoken lyrics; otherwise it's music if you like it, and racket if you don't. Worst case scenario it's noise.
- If they record it and you play it back, you can call
it a track if it's on a compact disc, minidisc, or a record.
- If you can hold it in your hand like written sheet music it's a piece.
In recording, "laying down a track," means recording a song. It comes from original recording methods.
In digital audio composition, a.k.a. Electronic Music, tracks can be either:
- single instrument samples
- digital music programs (MIDI for controlling external equipment)
- audio recordings (eg. sound bytes)
- software instrument compositions
Often these together form a composition which can be exported as a recorded file from the recording software. Electronic music can also be recorded directly to either an analog or digital recording device, making a song (think Pink Floyd pre-computer recording).
On vinyl records and wax cylinders, tracks are physical grooves of recorded sound vibrations, all recorded at the same time. Sometimes they were songs, sung by a singer, and sometimes they were speeches. When the track ends, there's a flat spot, and then next track encountered is the next recording. This is where phrases like "cutting a track" and "laying down a track" come from since the cutting needle strikes and actually cuts a physical track or groove in the recording media when the needle is laid down on the cutting surface and power is applied to disc. It spins at a set speed, and the needle vibrates based on the mechanical input. To hear something similar to the original, play it back at the same speed and the needle vibrates in reverse as it follows its track.
Analog Audio Tape
On 8-track cassettes, the word track refers to a recording track or sample, just like audio composition, so there were sometimes 4 stereo tracks with different elements on them (drums, singer, guitar lead, bass) or they could have 8 different mono tracks. You might hear a guitar in your left ear, and a singer in your right. These could have electronic music on them as some bands experimented with analog electronic synthesizers when these were popular.
Compact discs and other optical media have tracks similar to vinyl records in that they have physical "tracks" with pits and bumps that either scatter or reflect a laser light back into a lens. Rather than having physical contact with the disc, a photocell detects the laser and translates the binary data (light, no light) into sound waves or stored data files depending on the reader. Between these tracks there is a space that scatters the laser, and the laser head continues until it hits another track (or the outside of the disc). Tracks on audio cds are synonymous with songs if the audio cd contains music.
When people started "ripping," or converting CD music to MP3 and other audio file formats, they picked up the phrasing. So some people would refer to a song as a track, especially if they're selling analog to digital recordings. Not too many 1920s digital recordings out there that went straight to digital.
Technically speaking, song comes from the act of singing, so if it's electronic music without singing, is it really a song? Now if a synthesized voice is used, then it could sound like singing, and then could technically qualify as a song.
English is funny, especially American English, and as different cultures merged, people colloquially mix the meanings of the phrases. Spoken word might also be considered a song if it makes you think and is voiced over music.
Other things to consider
- Since some electronic music is composed with multiple tracks, you
could refer to it as an arrangement
- If it's not the original it could be a remix.
- Some electronic music is scored as a composition, as in some of the music made for movies by composers.
- It is technically music by modern definition, though music originally meant it was made by the muses in Greece. So a guy in a mouse hat playing with LFOs might not count.
- Piece is a strange choice of word for this question, since it comes from the piece of paper a musical composition is written on. Since quite a bit of electronic music is never written, but simply played, or even better, generated with random electronic waves in the case of LFOs, can it be considered a piece at all? Can you hold it and determine its notes and meter without deciphering it?
Clare actually read your question thoroughly and noticed the bit about with no singing and added instrumental to her answer which is what you would call it.