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Become a Lyricist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn the steps to becoming a lyricist. Research the various job duties and the education requirements and find out how to start a career writing lyrics. View article »

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  • 0:04 Lyricist Career Info
  • 1:15 Acquire Musical Training
  • 2:33 Earn a Degree
  • 3:09 Network
  • 4:04 Find Employment
  • 4:56 Join Professional Organization

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Video Transcript

Lyricist Career Info

Lyricists are writers who put words to music. They are similar to songwriters. However, songwriters often write both the words and the music of a song, whereas most lyricists write the words only. Lyricists typically write words for musical advertisements, plays, operas, or single songs. Some even write new words for pre-existing instrumental music.

Lyricists usually work as freelance writers and on various projects for multiple clients. Some lyricists may choose to sell their lyrics to established musicians or songwriters. Other professionals may try to find more permanent positions with advertising companies, music promoters, filmmakers, or theater companies. Keen competition may exist in securing jobs and assignments.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Fields Journalism, English or communications
Experience Experience writing lyrics and working in music industry
Key Skills Self-motivated, able to use words artistically, knowledgeable about music fundamentals and genres, familiar with multimedia design programs, and resilient
Salary (2016) $38,782 per year (Median wage for freelance writers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale.com

Acquire Musical Training

Although lyricists do not normally write music, they must have an understanding of music to write the words that will fit each piece. Individuals can take formal courses in music fundamentals and songwriting where they learn to read sheet music, interpret musical beats, analyze music, and utilize musical technology. Some courses cover strategies for successful musical performances.

Workshops and courses that focus on blending music and words are also available. This topic is typically found in songwriting courses, but is also helpful for lyricists. Workshops related to songwriting may cover information about word usage, musical poetry, commercial songwriting, and musical collaborations.

Several music-based degree programs offer courses that discuss business aspects of the music industry. Since lyricists often sell their pieces or work under contract, they require some understanding of the music business. Potential topics in these courses may include copyright laws, music marketplace opportunities, techniques for handling rejection, and music publishing.

Students typically benefit more from learning music at an early age. Taking private music lessons can give aspiring lyricists a musical background and provides an understanding of lyrical structure.

Earn a Degree

According to the BLS, employers who hire professional writers for full-time positions usually prefer applicants with bachelor's degrees in English, communications, or related fields. Although a lyricist works in a specific niche within the writing industry, employers typically still prefer degree holders. Programs that concentrate on creative writing or songwriting may offer better professional preparation. Common courses in creative writing degree programs may include poetry, screenwriting, creative nonfiction, playwriting, fiction, and literary analysis.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Jazz
  • Music Composition and Theory
  • Music History and Literature
  • Music Merchandising and Management
  • Music Pedagogy
  • Music Performing
  • Musical Conducting
  • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
  • Piano and Organ
  • Stringed Instruments
  • Voice and Opera

Network

Degrees are not always enough to find employment in the music and writing industries. Employers often want applicants who have experience working with other well-known composers, songwriters, and lyricists. As a way to network with industry professionals and build experience, individuals may consider completing internships while still in school or post-graduation. Potential places for internships include theaters, music industry firms, advertising and publishing agencies, or broadcasting studios.

Another way to gain experience and network is by writing lyrics for local musicians. Some musicians may be willing to collaborate with lyricists on projects, especially newer musicians who need to acquire more songs. Most beginning musicians are not able to reimburse lyricists, but the experience may prove invaluable to professionals. If these musicians do well, there is also potential for paid work later on.

Find Employment

To find regular employment, a lyricist may want to choose a specialty field in particular music genres or writing advertising jingles. Lyricists may also specialize solely in writing lyrics for the film and television industries. Not all specialties have regular staff positions available, but professional lyricists may still find continuous contract work for different clients. This career typically requires heavy self-promotion and industry networking to find steady employment.

Lyricists are often hired based on their notoriety and reputation, thus establishing and maintaining reputable work by staying current with industry trends and paying close attention to audiences is crucial. Employers and clients seek writers who finish projects in a timely fashion and have proven their ability to consistently write catchy lyrics.

Join Professional Organization

Membership in a professional organization for lyricists, such as the Society of Composers and Lyricists, offers many benefits including educational seminars and opportunities to network with other professionals in the industry. Networking with others in the field can lead to more work opportunities and career advancement.


There are many different paths to becoming a professional lyricist, but those interested in the field should consider acquiring musical training, earning a degree, focusing on networking, and building a client list.

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