Lyricist or Songwriter | Difference Between Lyricist And Songwriter
From Robert Plant and Mick Jagger in the ‘70s to Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain in the ‘90s and Taylor Swift or Eminem today, these are some of the greatest lyricists and songwriters of all time. While the two terms are often linked together, lyricists and songwriters are not one and the same.
What’s the difference? Lyricists solely write the words to a song, that’s it. A songwriter is someone who pens their own lyrics and music.
If you’re thinking of entering the music world but you’re not sure what lyricism versus songwriting bring in terms of revenue, this is the article for you. In it, we’ll provide definitions of both jobs, share clear salary guidelines, and explain what it takes to succeed. You don’t want to miss it!
What Is a Lyricist?
As we touched on in the intro, a lyricist is someone who provides the written words you hear sung in your favorite tunes. They did not write the music though, just the words.
Lyricists don’t have to be the ones singing, either. In the genre of pop music, for instance, most often, someone will write lyrics for a pop star. They may get credited in the liner notes, but they never sing the song themselves.
In a rock band, perhaps a bassist or a guitarist might come up with lyrics sometimes. They then pass these words on to the singer. In such an instance, the other band member would get lyrical credit. If two members of the band collaborated on the same song, they’d both get the credit for writing the lyrics.
Lyrics are an incredibly important part of a memorable song, so the job of a lyricist is a decidedly tough one.
What about a Lyricist Rapper?
Then there are lyricist rappers. These are people who write songs in a rap or hip-hop format. Again, they only produce the lyrics, no music.
Lyricist rappers may not be the hip-hop artist or rapper themselves. While rap is one genre where everyone wants to take credit for their own rhymes and sick lines, plenty of rappers have been in the spotlight for potentially not writing their own songs. It doesn’t matter if such a barb is true or not, accusations like these can hurt the credit of a rapper.
Whether some of your favorite rap names write their own lyrics or someone does it for them, either way, this is the role of a lyricist rapper.
What Is the Salary of a Lyricist?
According to resource CareersInMusic.com, annually, a lyricist might make $40,000. However, the range of money made certainly depends on the project. It’s possible for some lyricists to earn up to $100,000 for some large-scale, big-name projects.
Lyricists don’t just write the words for songs that appear on the radio. That’s the bulk of their jobs, sure, but not their sole duty. They may also compile lyrics for TV or radio commercials, television shows, and movies.
According to one lyricist named Pamela Phillips-Oland, the job is not unlike a standard nine-to-five in an office environment. She says she’ll be pulled into writing and brainstorming sessions early in the morning. These may last for several hours before she gets to take a lunch break. Then there’s an afternoon session with more of the same.
In a single day, the lyrics to a whole song may be written or several. This of course depends on the nature of the tune. If it’s a short TV jingle, this probably wouldn’t take as much time to put together as the lyrics to the next big pop song.
Another factor is how many writers are working on the same project at once. If it’s just one or two, the process can go rather quickly. The more people brainstorming their ideas, the longer it can take to corral all the good ideas and put them together into a set of lyrics everyone likes.
Which Apps and Software Do They Use?
While a pen and paper may work for some lyricists, others use software and apps to make their jobs easier. Two pieces of software they may rely on are Virtual Studio Systems and MasterWriter.
Let’s talk more about both these programs now.
Virtual Studio Systems is a tool for both songwriters and lyricists alike. Those who just work as lyricists will find a slew of features to their liking. These include the following:
Media File Launching, which is compatible with RA, MIDI, WAV, and MP3 files. You can upload a song that’s in progress, listen to it, and pen some awesome lyrics.
Song exporting for quickly transferring songs across one computer to another. This is very handy if there are multiple lyricists working on one song.
Database-Oriented Storage, which includes all word-processing documents, song files, and everything else you’re working on in one database.
Programmable Text Styles for reliable fonts so you don’t have to worry about them when coming up with that breakthrough lyric idea. You can also put your choruses in one font, the verses in another, and the bridge in yet another if you so choose.
Song Transposition for switching between keys quickly and easily.
Chord Wizard, which tells you which chord a song may have been written in even if you can’t play an instrument yourself.
Chord Charting, which lets you switch between more than 4,000 chords if you want to try your hand at songwriting.
The other software you might want use as a lyricist is MasterWriter. This writing tools suite lets you search for just the right word so your lyrics are never repetitive. You can browse words by speech type, rhymes, definition, phrases, synonyms, and word families. You can even break down the word by usage, syllables, and whether the word is a verb, noun, adverb, or adjective. Talk about helpful!
What Is a Songwriter?
Earlier in this article, we defined a lyricist. To recap, this is simply someone who writes lyrics. They don’t contribute musically to songs. They may perform their lyrics if they’re a singer, but this is not a prerequisite.
Imagine lyricism as a puzzle. Yes, their piece is a big one, but there are still plenty of pieces missing, such as the song itself and instrumentation.
A songwriter can assemble the full puzzle themselves. They write both the lyrics and the music to a song. Perhaps they’re a solo artist or an especially prolific member of a band. Regardless, when they have lyrics in mind, they are typically also thinking about a rhythm for a song as well.
Like with lyrics, not all artists write their own songs. There are teams of songwriters always trying to churn out the next hit. While songwriters penning popular songs is common in the pop genre, other genres of music are not exempt.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Songwriter?
To become a songwriter, one must possess the following skills:
A knack for writing fresh, original lyrics that resonate with audiences
An ability to play multiple instruments, as many as possible
A true ear for music
A proficiency in writing songs for a particular genre of music, even multiple genres
How Much Money Does a Songwriter Make Per Song?
To preface this section, we want to say that there are many factors that influence how much money a songwriter will make per song. The popularity and name value of the songwriter is one such factor. Whether it was one songwriter or a team determines if one person gets the whole cut or if the cash is divvied.
Most of the time, the money doesn’t roll right in overnight. There are three royalties a songwriter might accrue. These are:
Mechanical royalties, which constitute the money a songwriter makes when their song is purchased. These include both digital and physical copies of one’s music. Per song, the songwriter might make up to $0.091 after the record company and other parties all take their cut. If you multiply this times 10 or 12, which is the standard number of tracks on an album, this is where the real money starts to come into play.
Performance royalties, which include the money the songwriter will make each time they perform their song. These royalties also cover all instances of the song being played at bars, restaurants, sports arenas, TV, and the radio. Again, the record label gets a cut of these royalties. The amount of revenue a songwriter can bring in from performance royalties varies wildly.
Synchronization royalties, which cover the money a songwriter makes from licensing their music. Each time you hear a song in a commercial, video game, movie, or TV show, the band or artist gave their express permission first. They get exposure for their music, but they also make money this way. Again, the revenue depends on which media you use, as pay structures change from movies to TV shows and even the Internet.
Do Artists Get Paid Each Time a Song Is Streamed on Spotify?
While artists do get paid when their music is streamed on Spotify, the pay rate isn’t as high as expected. According to a 2018 article on CNBC, whoever holds the music rights receives the payment. For every song streamed, this payment may be $0.006 on the lower end and $0.0084 on the higher end.
That money is given to the holder, as mentioned. It’s then up to them to divide it among the producers, record label, and finally, the songwriters or artists themselves. Per song then, the rate can be almost abysmal.
Let’s say the rate of payment is $0.006 for a song on Spotify. Let’s also say the holder splits the payment three ways. That means by the time the payment gets to the songwriter, they’re getting $0.002. If it’s a band that does the songwriting, then the proceeds get divided even further to a point of pretty much ridiculousness.
Even if the rate is higher, like $0.0084, if you again split that three ways, that’s $0.0028 for the songwriter. That’s still not great. If the song was streamed exactly a thousand times a day, the songwriter makes $2.80. If the song was by chance streamed 200,000 times, the songwriter makes $560 a day.
That said, no one is going to stream an artist 200,000 times daily forever. It’s just not going to happen. The next best thing will always be coming down the pipeline. You can see then how Spotify, although a popular platform, is limiting their bands and artists’ earnings potential. The musical talent gets the smallest cut of the profits.
Can You Make Money as a Songwriter?
That brings us to the final question, can you make money as a songwriter? Absolutely, you can. Does that mean every last songwriter who attempts to make a career from their skills will be successful? Unfortunately not, and that’s for a myriad of reasons.
The music industry itself, the tastes of consumers, and lack of exposure are a few hindrances that can prevent even a talented individual from making significant money as a songwriter.
A lyricist is someone who takes the written word and makes song lyrics. They aren’t involved in the musical creation of the song. Also, a lyricist’s only job may be to write, not perform.
A songwriter is different. They write both lyrics and music. They may be the performers themselves or a team of songwriters who make hits.
While it’s possible to make a career out of being a lyricist or a songwriter, neither is an easy venture. The pay is inconsistent, and even hot new trends like Spotify pay just pennies per song streamed.
If a career in music is your passion and dream, that doesn’t mean you should give up. By being aware of the salary information and earnings potential associated with these two important jobs, you can create a realistic game plan for success.