A lyricist is a writer who works with composers in the music industry to create lyrical poetry to be used for songwriting. Writing lyrics is a very specialized niche of writing. They differ from songwriters in that they may understand music, but they do not write the musical composition of songs, instead, they write only the words.
If you are able to write poetry, there is a good chance you would be able to write lyrics. But not all lyricists get to work in a set genre from the beginning. So they have to be able to adapt. They need to understand different types of meter, rhyme, or imagery and be able to work with them. They also need to be organized and adhere to deadlines.
Freelance lyricists pitch song lyrics to production companies and media agencies. If someone is hired as a lyricist full-time, they work for a specific production company and usually wind up writing lyrics to songs that can be used by several artists. Lyricists can earn anywhere from $25,000 to $45,000 per year. If they are experienced and successful they may even earn a portion of the royalties earned.
So how do you become a lyricist? You need to educate yourself on your chosen career path, write songs and create a portfolio, look for freelance opportunities to gain experience, grow your network within the music and writing community, and then search for and apply for your job as a lyricist.
In the rest of this article, I go into detail about every point you should consider while trying to find your career as a lyricist.
Educate yourself on the career path.
There’s no required degree to become a lyricist, but that doesn’t mean you cannot educate yourself or seek out educational opportunities that can further your career. If you are considering a college education, a fine arts degree in writing or poetry or music will help you develop the skills necessary to be a strong lyricist. No matter what, a good understanding of music is fundamental.
Knowing the tools of your trade helps to make you marketable as a lyricist. Consider courses in audio engineering in order to learn the common songwriting programs and word processing software. Not only will you possibly need to use these types of programs, but you definitely should be able to talk about these programs when discussing possible job requirements or receiving feedback. A lot of lyricists know how DAWs (digital audio workstations) work and often even know how to play an instrument. It’s all useful.
Also, you can learn about trends in the industry. The music industry is now your business and as such, you need to be aware of what is going on. You need to be ready to capitalize on trends within the industry, especially where songwriting and composing is concerned. For instance, study the great lyricists in your genre and also your successful contemporaries. Learn from what they do.
Write songs and create a portfolio.
Lyricists write lyrics, so anyone who wants to excel in this position should have a lot of lyrics to show for it. Take time to write the lyrics to songs and store them in a portfolio. It’s always good to have between 3 and 5 songs ready that you can show people when you pitch or apply for jobs.
Some lyricists begin with musical composition, listening to the track to get their own feel for it before writing lyrics. In other scenarios, you have a goal for specific themes and the musical arrangement to work with before going about your job. There are deadlines. It would be good to have samples of each of these scenarios to include in your portfolio, so you can highlight your process to your potential employers.
In today’s technology-driven world you can use a website to store your portfolio of lyrics, or you can simply send them in PDF or Word format. However you choose to showcase your work, it’s important to have your best lyrics available to showcase. If any of them have already been used for a project, be honest and mention your experience with that client. You can have your music recorded already, but always include the written sample with it.
Look for freelance opportunities to sell lyrics.
With lyrics put together and ready to go, it’s time to start looking for opportunities to sell. You can also look for easy at-home lyric work on sites like FlexJobs, SolidGigs, Fiverr, and Upwork. These are not meant to be full-time, but they will add to your experience.
Message boards and freelance websites usually always have search engines, so be sure you know your keywords. If you work within a certain niche, search keywords like “love ballad lyrics” or “rock song lyrics” or “commercial jingles” when looking for freelance gigs.
Freelancing doesn’t just get you some experience, it also helps you grow your network with more industry professionals for when you apply for any full-time positions.
Grow your network.
Collaborating with others is not only good for seeking feedback to improve your work as you develop as a writer, but it also helps you begin networking with other creatives. How do you begin networking? Go to meet-ups, form social groups (both local and remote), and hop into some writing workshops, chat up folks you work on other writing jobs with. The music industry is highly competitive and a great way to become a part of it is to know people who can help you boost your career.
Job opportunities can be found before they’re even available to the public if a colleague tells you about them well in advance. And that goes both ways – if you know of a job that’s not really your cup of tea and you are already talking with other lyricists and songwriters, perhaps that opportunity is exactly what they need.
You don’t have to live in Nashville to network with people in the industry or collaborate with people with more experience. Business social networking sites make it easy to connect with people who have the same interests you do all over the world. Finding a mentor is an even better boon. Growing your network before advancing in music might make a key difference in your career.
Search and apply for lyricist jobs.
You can use Indeed Job Search or ZipRecruiter to apply for lyricist jobs around the U.S. These jobs are likely going to be rare, but they do exist. Pay close attention to each job posting’s goal or required outcome, since that will tell you what you need to be able to create.
Also, when it comes to full-time jobs as a lyricist, you may be writing for the same company but different clients that they manage. Be aware of deadlines and providing what each client needs.
Remember, don’t get discouraged. The job of your dreams is out there. But like any creative career, the search can be long and arduous. Be willing to work on those smaller contracts and freelancing while searching. After all, even that is part of the plan and path to discovery.