A songwriter is someone who writes both the lyrics and melody of a song. Sometimes the lyrics are written first, sometimes the melody comes first and at other times both music and lyrics come together. Some writers create the music to a song first (chord progressions and instrument parts) then write lyrics and melody over that music bed.
But not every writer writes both lyrics and melody. Some only write lyrics. Someone who solely writes lyrics may be called a lyricist. Famous lyricists include Hal David, Charles John Quarto, and Bernie Taupin. A lyricist should not only know how to write a lyric so that music can be put to it afterwards; he or she needs to know how to write a lyric to an existing melody.
If you want to be a professional songwriter, it is important that you learn to write melodies as well. Remember that it’s a very competitive market. There are many songwriters who can write both lyrics and music, so it’s worth your while to have some grasp of the music/melody writing side of songwriting.
Some writers solely write the melodies for song lyrics. They may be called composers or melodicists. A good melodicist should be able to write a melody even before there is any lyric, as well as be able to write melodies to existing lyrics. A melodicist needs to have a strong grasp of music theory or experience with a musical instrument. Arrangement and production skills are definitely an asset.
Again, since it’s a competitive field, melodicists need to be able to handle some lyric writing as well. If you’re a melodicist, spend time studying your craft and improve on the lyric writing side of songwriting. This will help you better understand your co-writers.
Some song writers operate as their own publishers while some have separate publishers.
In the past, the songwriter commonly composed, arranged and played his/her own songs. In recent times, pressure to produce popular hits means that the songwriting responsibility is distributed between a number of people. Popular culture songs may be written by group members, but very often, some music publishers employ what is known as ‘staff writers‘ with exclusive songwriting agreements to write popular culture songs. Some staff writers work normal “9-to-5” hours at a publishing office and are paid a regular salary. Staff writers are common across the entire music industry.
If you’re interested in making the lyric writing process an easier and more productive one, be sure to get some good songwriting software. Learn more here.