What Does a Lyricist Provide in the Music World?

The Difference Between a Songwriter and Lyricist

Songwriter and Lyricist Jewel performs
Songwriter and lyricist Jewel performs. Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Putting it succinctly, a lyricist is a song poet. Modern-day lyric writers like famous rapper Jay-Z or British alternative indie pop rocker Morrissey are known for their lyrics and ability to string together words and set it to music.

A lyricist can also be considered a wordsmith who writes the words to an original piece of music, adds words to already existing music or pens the words for an a cappella piece. A lyricist often collaborates with songwriters, composers, arrangers, and other music artists.

The Difference Between a Lyricist and Songwriter

A lyricist has a way with words and develops the lyrics that suit a particular type of music keeping in mind the genre, theme, length, and rhythm of the music. The person who only writes the words is called a lyricist. A person who writes both the music and lyrics is called a songwriter. And, if you are the person writing the words to music that is used in operas, then you are known as a librettist.

Guidelines for Writing Lyrics

If you are a lyricist working on a song collaboration, you may be asked to write the words first with the music added later on. Or, there may be existing music that the lyricist might need to fill in with words. There are several factors that a lyricist considers when writing lyrics:

  • Is the song title catchy?
  • Are the first few lines of the song powerful enough to pique the interest of the listeners?
  • Do the lyrics convey the idea or message effectively?
  • Is there a resolution at the end of the song?
  • Do the lyrics suit the music?

Qualities to Look for in a Good Lyricist

A good lyricist can use words in such a way that it complements the music, helps make the song memorable and attracts the attention of the listeners. If you are looking for a lyricist, things to consider include can the lyricist work well with others and is the person knowledgeable about various song forms and music styles.

Tips for Getting Into Lyrics Writing

If you have a knack for song poetry and think that this career path would be interesting for you to pursue, there are a few things that will help you on your way.

Gather as much knowledge and insight into the variety of music genres and music forms that exist in the music world. A good musical vocabulary strengthens your overall lexicon and can give you an advantage over others. It is important to know the playing field. Know what is hot and what's not. Listen closely to the hits of yesterday and today and evaluate what made the song a hit or a flop.

Also, if you have a musical background based on musical theory, your ability to read along with music and anticipate musical changes and patterns, can make you a commodity worth the investment.

Potential Future

You may start out as a rapper, song poet or wordsmith who appreciates different types of music. You may land a few gigs as a lyricist. Do not be surprised if you branch out to writing the music as well. This is a common road most lyricists take. The path for a lyricist can be stellar. There are many recording artists who are (or were) famous songwriters and lyricists, such as Jewel, John Lennon, Sarah McLachlan, and Stevie Wonder. There are various online avenues to pursue to get a start as an unsigned band, artist or songwriter.