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Difference Between a Songwriter and a Lyricist?

You may have heard people call music creators different names, like songwriter and lyricist. But what is the difference? What should you call yourself if you’re also writing music? Here’s a short and concise breakdown:

  • If you write only words (No music, no melody): You’re a lyricist.
  • If you write both music/melody and lyrics: You’re a songwriter.
  • If you write only music and/or melody (No words): You’re a composer.

So which one are you? If you’re still unsure, let us explore in greater detail in regards to what melody, music and lyrics mean.

Lyrics are the Words in a Song

Think of one of your favorite songs and try to sing it. The words that you just uttered are the song lyrics. If we take away the lyrics, there won’t be any words to sing. Instead, you will be left with the music and melody.

Lyrics are essential to a song, especially in a genre of present time. It makes a song much more powerful as words can convey the message very clearly. If you’re good with words, or you have a lot of ideas that can be put into words, consider writing lyrics!

Melody is the tune that you sing

Let’s take the same song you thought of above. Once you take away the lyrics, there’s no words to by sung, bu you can try humming the same song. The tune you hummed just now is actually the melody of the song.

Melody is what makes a song a song. Without it, lyrics and accompaniment cannot combine, unless it’s a rap song or a song with spoken words.

Music is the Accompaniment or Instrumental

When we talk about the music of a song, often we’re actually referring to the accompaniment or instrumental of the song. Now it’s time to think of the same song mentioned above again. If you have the backing track of the song, that’s the music. If you play an instrument, the music that you play to accompany the singer is the music.

The music part is what makes the song sound complete. Without it, it will sound empty. A cappella is the term for presenting the lyrics and melody of a song without music or accompaniment.

Lyrics, Melody, or Music First?

Now that your understand what lyrics, melody and music are, which do you start with first? There’s a misconception that songwriting is an exact formula that you have to follow, otherwise the song will turn out to be bad. That can’t be further from the truth!

It is completely up to the songwriter, lyricist or composer to decide which part of a song to start with. However, if you need a basic guide, here’s the different scenarios to which you may want to start with first:

ScenarioLyrics, Melody, or Music First?
You can turn song ideas into lyrics fast efficiently without any melody and music ready beforehand.Lyrics first.
You feel it’s hard to get song ideas out of thin air, and need something to set the mood.Music first.
You have a friend who has a few melodies and you’d like to collaborate.Melody first.
You’re planning on selling your lyrics to an artist of a specific genre.Music first.
The publisher is looking for the best lyrics for an already chosen song.Melody/music first.

Can You Write Melody and Lyrics at the Same Time?

For songwriters, sometimes song ideas come to you quite completely. In that case, it is perfectly fine to write lyrics and melody concurrently. This type of writing is much common than you think. If you collaborate with multiple songwriters, either online or in a songwriting camp, ideas may come in both melodies and lyrics.

Don’t be afraid to write them down or record both the lyrics and melody, even though for the final version you end up changing them. Even if you know you’re going to collaborate with a composer for example, and you’re supposed to be only the lyricist, don’t be afraid to send your composer the melody you came up with. The idea may be great! Just bear in mind that your collaborator may change or alter it, and so communication is key here.

Where to Get Music or Beat to Write Lyrics and Melody?

From personal experience as well as from many musician friends, writer’s block is quite a problem to overcome. However, for songwriters, you can always choose to get music or beat first. I personally write songs way faster when the music is given. This is because I find it much easier to get in the mood of the song.

You can find a lot of free beats online. But note that these beats are freely available to anyone, therefore you may be using a beat that is already published by somebody else. If you’re just practicing, it’s perfectly fine. But if you’re planning on writing a song to the beat and releasing it, there may be copyright issues you have to deal with. Another option is after you finish the song, you can find a music producer to produce the beat similar to the beat you wrote to. This way you can make sure you don’t infringe any rights while speeding up the songwriting process.

There are websites you can buy or lease music beats. By buying the exclusive right, usually above $500, you know that once you bought it, no one else can use the beat for their songs. But because of the fact that it’s not cheap to buy the exclusive rights, lots of songwriters and artists may choose to lease a beat.

Beat leasing refers to getting the commercial publishing right for the music, yet other people may choose to do the same. You can’t prevent another songwriter from using the same beat you just leased. The fees for beat leasing cost around $10 – $50.

How to Get Music that Matches Your Lyrics and Melody?

If you have your lyrics and melody written first, you may want to find a music producer for the music part. Unlike getting music or beat first, once you’ve written the lyrics and melody, the song is basically set in place. In other words, the music producer has to listen to your song and design the music around your song to make it fit.

This may sound like a complicated task, but fret not! For a seasoned music producer, this process occurs daily. Music producers specialize in taking a song, whether it’s a demo or just a simple recording, and turn it into a complete song. But where can you find such a person for the job? And does it cost much?

Start by looking for music producers in your local area. Usually the price for local producers are much lower than that of famous music producers. Do you have music studios or music schools in your area? Start there. Call them up and ask if they have any contacts for music production. More often than not, they do.

If you prefer to work with online music producers, that’s perfectly fine too! Because the competition is high, music producers who focus on their online music production business can usually give you great results! Just a word of caution, because you’re not meeting face to face with online music producers, sometimes you may end up having to revise the song several times, as communication may be hard. Especially when we’re talking about an art form like music.

Just make sure that if you decide to go work with a producer, try to find a music producer who is already producing songs in your music genre. Ask for some samples before you decide. Most of them will have a portfolio you can listen to. Don’t be afraid to ask several music producers for samples and compare the quality and price. Go for the one you think is most suitable for your song!

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