Last updated

Songwriting partners Rodgers and Hart working on a song in 1936 Rodgers and Hart NYWTS.jpg
Songwriting partners Rodgers and Hart working on a song in 1936

A songwriter is a musician who professionally composes musical compositions and writes lyrics for songs. A songwriter can also be called a composer, as it pertains to the writing and composing of original musical composition or musical bed; although this term tends to be used mainly for individuals from the classical music genre and film scoring. A songwriter who mainly writes the lyrics for a song is referred to as a lyricist. The pressure from the music industry to produce popular hits means that song writing is often an activity for which the tasks are distributed between a number of people. [1] For example, a songwriter who excels at writing lyrics might be paired with a songwriter with the task of creating original melodies. Pop songs may be composed by group members from the band or by staff writers – songwriters directly employed by music publishers. [1] Some songwriters serve as their own music publishers, while others have external publishers. [1]


The old-style apprenticeship approach to learning how to write songs is being supplemented by university degrees, college diplomas and "rock schools". [1] Knowledge of modern music technology (sequencers, synthesizers, computer sound editing), songwriting elements and business skills have are significant for modern songwriters. [2] Several music colleges offer songwriting diplomas and degrees with music business modules. [1] Since songwriting and publishing royalties can be substantial sources of income, particularly if a song becomes a hit record; legally, in the US, songs written after 1934 may be copied only by the authors. The legal power to grant these permissions may be bought, sold or transferred. This is governed by international copyright law. [1]

Songwriters can be employed in a variety of different ways. They may exclusively write lyrics or compose music alongside another artist, present songs to A&R, publishers, agents and managers for consideration. Song pitching can be done on a songwriter's behalf by their publisher or independently using tip sheets like RowFax, the MusicRow publication and SongQuarters . [1] Skills associated with song-writing include entrepreneurism and creativity. [3] Staff writers do not necessarily get printed credit for their contributions to the song.

Staff writers

As a creative writer, the author of private work includes rights agreement in terms of service declares releases any creative Commons from liability of expressive performances bearing similarities in any connection with an unrelative party of experiences of instances relieves indifferencies can bound parties by arbitration legal court of law. In the form of a contract agreement as a songwriter also a publisher can appoint a duty of publication of copyrighted works for' 'staffs. Being a staff writer effectively means that, during the term of the songwriter's contract with the publisher, all their songs are automatically published by that company and cannot be published elsewhere. [1]

In the Nashville country music scene, there is a strong staff writer culture where contracted writers work normal "9-to-5" hours at the publishing office and are paid a regular salary, says staff writer Gary Growden. This salary is in effect the writer's "draw", an advance on future earnings, which is paid monthly and enables them to live within a fixed budget. [4] The publisher owns the copyright of songs written during the term of the agreement for a designated period, after which the songwriter can reclaim the copyright. [4] In an interview with HitQuarters, songwriter Dave Berg extolled the benefits of the set-up: "I was able to concentrate on writing the whole time and have always had enough money to live on." [5]

Unlike contracted writers, some staff writers operate as employees for their respective publishers. Under the terms of these work for hire agreements, the compositions created are fully owned by the publisher. Because the recapture provision of the United States Copyright Act of 1976 does not apply to "works made for hire," the rights to a song created under an employment contract cannot be "recaptured" by the writer after 35 years. In Nashville, young writers are often strongly encouraged to avoid these types of contracts.

Staff writers are common across the whole industry, but without the more office-like working arrangements favoured in Nashville. All the major publishers employ writers under contract. [5] Obtaining a staff writer contract with a publisher can be the first step for any professional songwriting career, with some writers with a desire for greater independence outgrowing this set-up once they achieve a degree of success. [5] Songwriter Allan Eshuijs described his staff writer contract at Universal Music Publishing as a starter deal. His success under the arrangement eventually allowed him to found his own publishing company so that he could "keep as much [publishing income] as possible and say how it's going to be done." [6]

Specific roles


A beatmaker is a songwriter who creates and composes music or beats for a song, often laying the groundwork or 'musical bed'. Then a composer who specializes in melody will create the top-line for the track. Tools typically used are keyboards, drum machines, softsynths and digital audio workstations. Beat makers or composers are not necessarily record producers by definition or acting role since they generally do not work directly with an artist in a recording studio that oversees the production and recording of the final product. However, record producers can be involved in co-writing songs as the composer wearing two hats as the producer and songwriter as they may write and compose the original music such as the beat and then oversee the production that takes control of the recording sessions with the artist and engineer all the way down to the mix stage. They are referred to as Record Producer / Songwriters as they generally receive songwriting and production credits for both roles. This is especially true for R&B, hip-hop producers in urban hip hop production, when composing the original music as the co-writer is integrated into their traditional role as a Record Producer, such as Rodney Jerkins, Dr. Dre, Timbaland or Pharrell Williams, as opposed to a rock producer that may rarely contribute as a co-writer of a song.


A top-line writer or top-liner is a songwriter who writes a song over a pre-made beat. In top-lining, the writer is not creating a song from scratch, but rather creating lyrics and melodies over an existing music genre, tonality, harmony, rhythm, and form of a song. [7]

In modern commercial writing, it is a common practice for the musical track to be produced first without any vocal melody or lyrics. This is partially due to the rise of portable music production equipment and digital audio workstations that are designed for the swift arrangement of electronic music, such as Cubase [8] and Ableton Live. [9]

The top-liner usually is also a singer, and will sing over the track as the demo singer. If the song is for a particular artist, the top-liner may sing the demo in that artist's style. Top-liners often work in groups to co-write. Sometimes producers send out tracks to more than one top-line writer so that the producer or singer could choose the best option. Since the track is the same, melodies by different writers can sometimes be very similar. Occasionally, the producer might choose a few lines of melodic or lyrical ideas from one top-liner without properly crediting or paying them. These situations sometimes result in legal battles over ownership of the melodies or lyrics. [10]

There is a way to prevent such legal battles. A songwriter can commit their "intent to make a song", which prevents any of the parties ripping the song apart. Some artists send out a legal disclaimer making clear that if their melody is not used after doing a topline, it reverts to them, and the track back to the track writer. [11]

Multi-tasking songwriters

As musicians

Songwriters are also often skilled musicians. In part, this is because the process of "working out" a song or arrangement requires a songwriter to play an instrument, typically the guitar or the piano, to hear how the chord progression sounds and to hear how well a given set of chords supports a melody. In addition to selling their songs and musical concepts for other artists to sing, some songwriter-musicians create songs to perform themselves. Songwriters need to create a number of elements for a song, including an introduction, various verses and a chorus. At minimum, a songwriter must prepare a lead sheet for a song, which consists of one or more pieces of sheet music with the melody notes and chord progression indicated on it.

The songwriter may expand upon the melody and chord progression by adding an instrumental melody (which may occur before or after the vocal melody, or alongside the vocal melody) and creating a more complex song structure (e.g., verse, chorus, bridge, instrumental solo section, etc.).

As producers

With recent technological improvements, a songwriter can now create commercially viable music almost entirely on their laptop. This technological advancement has made the producer/songwriter role a much more popular occurrence. Perhaps because the role of producer is not generally understood by the public, the average listener does not know when an artist also takes on the role of producer.

Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys is one of the earliest and most widely known examples of a songwriter turned music producer. Within two years of the band's commercial breakthrough, Wilson had taken over from his father Murry, and he was the sole producer of all their recordings between 1963 and 1967.

As singers

Many singers also write songs for themselves, and as such, they are usually referred to as singer-songwriters.[ citation needed ]

Sole writing

In solitary songwriting or sole writing, only one person is responsible in creating the entire music and lyrics of a song. According to Billboard, 44% of the songs that reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the 1970s were written by just one songwriter. The percentage declined to 42% in the 1980s, 24% in the 1990s, 6% in the 2000s, and 4% in the 2010s. [12] Lionel Richie and Diane Warren are the only songwriters with at least 8 number-one singles written solely by themselves. [12]


Songs written by more than one person is co-written, written jointly or written in collaboration with other authors. [13] Co-writers may use the "stream of consciousness" approach, referring to having ideas flow rather than being discussed. The first step in co-writing is to establish the division of the contribution between co-writers. In copyright law, there is no distinction of importance between the lyrics of the song or the melody of the song, therefore each writer is given equal ownership over the song, unless another agreement is arranged. [14] "Phantom" songwriters provide small contributions to songs. The songwriter suggests a line for a verse or a session musician who informally proposes a chord progression for a coda. "Phantom" songwriters are usually not given credit.

Songwriting partnership

Songwriting partnership or songwriting duo is a prolific collaboration which consists of two songwriters, usually sharing 50% royalty each. Songwriting partnership can be between a composer and a lyricist (Andrew Lloyd Webber with Tim Rice or Elton John with Bernie Taupin), [15] [16] a performer and a producer (Madonna with Patrick Leonard or Mariah Carey with Walter Afanasieff), [17] [18] or between bandmates (John Lennon with Paul McCartney of the Beatles or Björn Ulvaeus with Benny Andersson of ABBA). [19]

Songwriting camp

Songwriting camp is a gathering of multiple producers and topliners in a pre-selected location for the purpose of writing songs for a specific artist. [20] [21] [22] As one of the most successful artists in releasing many hit songs, Rihanna, Harry Styles, and Madison Beer have been known for holding various writing camps to make their albums. [23] [24] Writing camps are also very popular in K-pop music industry. [25] [26] [27]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Benny Andersson</span> Swedish musician (born 1946)

Göran BrorBennyAndersson is a Swedish singer, musician, composer, producer, member of the musical group ABBA and co-composer of the musicals Chess, Kristina från Duvemåla, and Mamma Mia! For the 2008 film version of Mamma Mia! and its 2018 sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, he worked also as an executive producer. Since 2001, he has been active with his own band Benny Anderssons orkester.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Musical composition</span> An original musical piece, or the process of creating a new piece

Musical composition can refer to an original piece or work of music, either vocal or instrumental, the structure of a musical piece or to the process of creating or writing a new piece of music. People who create new compositions are called composers. Composers of primarily songs are usually called songwriters; with songs, the person who writes lyrics for a song is the lyricist. In many cultures, including Western classical music, the act of composing typically includes the creation of music notation, such as a sheet music "score," which is then performed by the composer or by other musicians. In popular music and traditional music, songwriting may involve the creation of a basic outline of the song, called the lead sheet, which sets out the melody, lyrics and chord progression. In classical music, orchestration is typically done by the composer, but in musical theatre and in pop music, songwriters may hire an arranger to do the orchestration. In some cases, a pop or traditional songwriter may not use written notation at all and instead compose the song in their mind and then play, sing or record it from memory. In jazz and popular music, notable sound recordings by influential performers are given the weight that written or printed scores play in classical music.

Sheet music is a handwritten or printed form of musical notation that uses musical symbols to indicate the pitches, rhythms, or chords of a song or instrumental musical piece. Like its analogs – printed books or pamphlets in English, Arabic, or other languages – the medium of sheet music typically is paper. However, access to musical notation since the 1980s has included the presentation of musical notation on computer screens and the development of scorewriter computer programs that can notate a song or piece electronically, and, in some cases, "play back" the notated music using a synthesizer or virtual instruments.

A lyricist is a songwriter who writes lyrics, as opposed to a composer, who writes the song's music which may include but not limited to the melody, harmony, arrangement and accompaniment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Holland–Dozier–Holland</span> American songwriting and production team

Holland–Dozier–Holland was a songwriting and production team consisting of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland. The trio wrote, arranged and produced many songs that helped define the Motown sound in the 1960s. During their tenure at Motown Records from 1962 to 1967, Dozier and Brian Holland were the composers and producers for each song, and Eddie Holland wrote the lyrics and arranged the vocals. Their most celebrated productions were singles for the Four Tops and the Supremes, including 10 out of the Supremes' 12 US No. 1 singles, such as "Baby Love", "Stop! In the Name of Love", and "You Keep Me Hangin' On".

Song structure is the arrangement of a song, and is a part of the songwriting process. It is typically sectional, which uses repeating forms in songs. Common forms include bar form, 32-bar form, verse–chorus form, ternary form, strophic form, and the 12-bar blues. Popular music songs traditionally use the same music for each verse or stanza of lyrics. Pop and traditional forms can be used even with songs that have structural differences in melodies. The most common format in modern popular music is introduction (intro), verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, and chorus. In rock music styles, notably heavy metal music, there is usually one or more guitar solos in the song, often found after the middle chorus part. In pop music, there may be a guitar solo, or a solo performed with another instrument such as a synthesizer or a saxophone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lead sheet</span> Musical score describing the essential elements of a song

A lead sheet or fake sheet is a form of musical notation that specifies the essential elements of a popular song: the melody, lyrics and harmony. The melody is written in modern Western music notation, the lyric is written as text below the staff and the harmony is specified with chord symbols above the staff.

A publishing contract is a legal contract between a publisher and a writer or author, to publish original content by the writer(s) or author(s). This may involve a single written work, or a series of works.

William Wylie MacPherson, known professionally as Bill Martin, was a Scottish songwriter, music publisher and impresario. His most successful songs, all written with Phil Coulter, included "Puppet on a String", "Congratulations", "Back Home", and "Saturday Night". He was presented with three Ivor Novello Awards, including one as Songwriter of the Year.

Wally Wilson, is an American record producer and songwriter music publisher and concert producer based in Nashville.

February Album Writing Month or FAWM is an annual global songwriting challenge. The goal is to compose 14 original musical works during the month of February, roughly one song every other day. The website provides participants, called "fawmers," with weekly songwriting challenges and an online community, including ability to comment on others' work as well as forums for sharing ideas, forming collaborations, overcoming writer's block, or information on where local songwriting meetups. As of 2021, fawmers have collectively written 150,000 songs.

Wayne Wilkins is a British record producer, songwriter, record engineer and record mixer. He has produced and written for artists such as Rick Astley, Natasha Bedingfield, Beyoncé, Cheryl Cole, and Jordin Sparks ("Battlefield").

Music plagiarism is the use or close imitation of another author's music while representing it as one's own original work. Plagiarism in music now occurs in two contexts—with a musical idea or sampling. For a legal history of the latter see sampling.

Stargate is a record producing and songwriting team composed of Tor E. Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen, based in Los Angeles. The team's genres include R&B, pop and hip hop. Stargate was established in Trondheim, Norway.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prosody (music)</span>

In music, prosody is the way the composer sets the text of a vocal composition in the assignment of syllables to notes in the melody to which the text is sung, or to set the music with regard to the ambiance of the lyrics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ester Dean</span> American singer

Ester Dean is an American singer, songwriter and actress. Dean has also written songs for many artists, with numerous Top 10 hits, including No. 1 hits for Rihanna and Katy Perry, earning the name "The Song Factory". At the 54th Annual Grammy Awards, Dean was nominated for Album of the Year as a producer on Rihanna's album Loud. Outside of music, she voiced two of the characters in the fourth film in the Ice Age franchise, Ice Age: Continental Drift, and also wrote a song for the movie, titled "We Are (Family)". Dean made her acting debut in the film Pitch Perfect (2012) as Cynthia-Rose Adams, a role she reprised for the sequels, Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) and Pitch Perfect 3 (2017).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">HitQuarters</span> International music industry publication and contact database

HitQuarters was an international music industry publication and contact database founded in 1999. It was noted for its in-depth interviews with industry figures, as well as its A&R and manager contact directory, free artist promo pages and song sale facility, demo reviews and A&R chart, and was the sister site to the songwriting tip sheet SongQuarters. The site was sporadically active from May 2017 up until September 20, 2020, and no posts have been made on its Twitter and Facebook accounts since March and May 2015 respectively.

Justin Parker is an English songwriter and record producer best known for his work with female singer-songwriters such as Lana Del Rey, Bat for Lashes, and Banks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bob Morrison (songwriter)</span> American country songwriter

Robert Edwin Morrison is an American country songwriter based in Nashville. More than 350 of his songs have been recorded. His most successful compositions are the Grammy-winning Kenny Rogers song, "You Decorated My Life" and the Grammy-nominated "Lookin' for Love," the theme song for the 1980 John Travolta film, Urban Cowboy, recorded by Johnny Lee. Morrison was ASCAP's "Country Songwriter of the Year" in 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1982 and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2016.

Robin Frederick is an American songwriter, author and children's television contributor. She is a former Director of A&R and Production for Rhino Records and Executive Producer of over 60 albums. She has written and produced more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is the former Vice President of the Los Angeles chapter of the Recording Academy and former president of Los Angeles Women in Music (LAWIM).


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "How to pitch your songs to industry insiders says Growden". EMusician. 1 July 2007. Archived from the original on 24 July 2010. Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  2. Davis, Richard (1 May 2010). Complete Guide to Film Scoring: The Art and Business of Writing Music for Movies and TV. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN   978-1-4950-3226-4.
  3. The quaternary entrepreneur, The avant garde of non-material capitalism, Gian Paolo Prandstraller, 2009
  4. 1 2 "Interview with Roger Murrah". HitQuarters. 22 June 2009. Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  5. 1 2 3 "Interview with Dave Berg". HitQuarters. 4 January 2010. Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  6. "Interview with Allan Eshuijs". HitQuarters. 6 September 2010. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  7. Samama, Benjamin (2 March 2016). "What's the Difference Between a Songwriter and a Topline Writer?". Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  8. Walden, John. "Steinberg Cubase 10". Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  9. Dee, Mella (19 June 2017). "Toplining – What it is (and Isn't) and How to Become a Topliner". Mella Music. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  10. Seabrook, John. "The Song Machine". The New Yorker . Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  11. Lindvvall, Helienne (26 August 2011). "Behind the music: Why topline melody writing creates disputes between artists and songwriters". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  12. 1 2 "These 18 Songwriters Have Written More No. 1 Hits by Themselves Than Any Other Songwriters in Hot 100 History". Billboard.
  13. "Definition". 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  14. "Music Connection". 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  15. "Tim Rice rules out collaborating again with Andrew Lloyd Webber". the Guardian. 26 March 2012.
  16. Greene, Andy (2 November 2020). "Bernie Taupin on His 53-Year Saga With Elton John and Hopes for the Future". Rolling Stone .
  17. "Patrick Leonard on What to Expect From His New Album of Reimagined Madonna Collaborations". Billboard.
  18. Willman, Chris (18 December 2019). "Estranged From Mariah Carey, 'All I Want for Christmas' Co-Writer Calls No. 1 'Bittersweet'". Variety.
  19. "BBC - 7 legendary song-writing duos that changed the face of pop music". Archived from the original on 5 February 2021. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  20. Knopper, Steve (7 August 2018). "The Songwriting Camps Where Pop's Biggest Hits (and Personalities) Get Crafted".
  21. "Songwriting Camps". Shelly Peiken . 9 May 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  22. "How many people does it take to write a hit song?". 16 May 2017.
  23. "Rihanna says she's held "tons of writing camps" for a new album | NME". NME . 2 October 2020.
  24. Seabrook, John. "The Hit Factory". The New Yorker.
  25. "How to Write and Pitch Songs for the J-Pop and K-Pop Markets". 13 September 2016.
  26. Leight, Elias (2 May 2018). "How American R&B Songwriters Found a New Home in K-Pop". Rolling Stone .
  27. "Muki's K-pop songwriting expedition [Photo Diary]". 1 June 2018.