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


A lyricist's income derives from royalties received from original songs. Royalties may range from 50 percent of the song, if it was written primarily with the composer, or less if they wrote the song in collaboration. Songs are automatically copyrighted as soon as they are in tangible forms, such as a recording or sheet music. However, before a song is published or made public, its author or publisher should register it with the Copyright Office at the United States Library of Congress to better protect against copyright infringement.[1]


Songwriting collaborations can take 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.[2] Lyricists have often added words to an established tune, as Johnny Burke did with the Erroll Garner jazz standard "Misty".[3] Some partnerships work almost totally independently, for example, Bernie Taupin would write lyrics and hand them over to Elton John, who composed the music to go with it, with minimum interaction between the two writers.[4]

The collaboration of John Lennon and Paul McCartney is widely considered the most successful songwriting partnership in history, with their songs making up the majority of The Beatles' catalog.[5] Other famous collaborations include Leiber and Stoller, the Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger with Keith Richards, and Richard Carpenter with John Bettis.[5]

Religious songwriting[edit]

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 set existing poems, such as those by William Cowper and Charles Wesley, to traditional folk tunes to create hymns, many of which he published in The English Hymnal. A different way this happened was the combination of unrelated words and tune, such as "The Star-Spangled Banner", the national anthem of the United States, with words written by Francis Scott Key strictly as a poem, later set to the tune of an old drinking song.[citation needed]

Classical music[edit]

In opera, the librettist is responsible for all text, whether spoken or sung in recitative or aria.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Why musicians should know about copyright". copyright.gov. Retrieved 17 October 2023.
  2. ^ Portman, Jamie (April 5, 1974). "A great song-writer passes from the scene". The Calgary Herald. p. 81. Retrieved May 1, 2021.
  3. ^ Campbell, Mary (August 9, 1965). "Piano Stylist: Garner Stays Close to Melody". Asbury Park Press. p. 15. Retrieved May 1, 2021.
  4. ^ Lloyd, Jack (May 18, 1976). "The silent partner of Elton John is finally speaking up". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. 15. Retrieved May 1, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Jason Newman. "It Takes Two:10 Songwriting Duos That Rocked Music History". Billboard.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Lyricists at Wikimedia Commons