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A lyricist's income is derived from royalties received from original songs. The royalties may range from 50% of the song if it was written primarily with the composer, or less if the song was founded from a collaboration. Songs are automatically copyrighted as soon as they are in a tangible form, such as a recording or sheet music; but, before a song is published or made public, it should be registered with the Copyright Office at the U.S. Library of Congress to be able to enforce copyright infringement claims in civil court.
Collaboration takes different forms: Some composers and lyricists work closely together on a song, with each having an input into both words and tune. Usually a lyricist fills in the words to a tune already fully written out. Dorothy Fields worked in this way. Lyricists have often added words to an established tune, as Johnny Burke did with the Erroll Garner tune Misty. Some partnerships work almost totally independently, for example, Bernie Taupin writes lyrics and hands them over to Elton John, who then sets them to music, with minimum interaction between the two men.
In the Christian hymn-singing tradition, many of the popular pieces have words written to fit existing melodies. The Christmas carol, "What Child Is This", had its words set to an old English folk tune that had been a lover's lament, "Greensleeves". The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams famously set existing poems, by men like William Cowper and Charles Wesley, to traditional folk tunes to create hymns, many of which he published in the English Hymnal. A different way in which this happened was the marriage of unrelated words and tune, a well-known example being The Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem of the United States, with words written by Francis Scott Key strictly as a poem, which was later set to the tune of an old drinking song.
Resources for lyricists
Major music publishers
Major independent music publishers
- Peer Music Publishing
- Chrysalis Music Publishing
- pigFACTORY Music Publishing
- Bug Music Publishing
- Kobalt Music Group
Performing rights societies in the USA
Mechanical rights societies in the USA