Careers in Songwriting

Some songwriters create and perform their own music, while other songwriters create music to be performed by other parties. Songwriters typically write both music and lyrics, often working in collaboration with other composers and/or lyricists. Some songwriters work as a solo act or as the leader of a group featuring their original material, while some more often co-write in coordination with other songwriters. Successful songwriters exhibit creativity and knowledge in composition, music history, and market trends.

Performing Songwriter

Performing songwriters create and perform their own music. They write both lyrics and music and seek to find success as the performer of their material. Performing songwriters may work as a solo act or as a leader of a group featuring their material.

“I’m grateful every day that I get to go to work and write songs.” – Emily Shackelton-James

Staff Writer

Staff songwriters are hired by music publishers, record companies, producers, and other production or recording groups. The staff writer's services are reserved exclusively for this employer. Most staff writers receive a weekly salary, which may be treated as a recoupable advance on the writer's future royalty earnings. Or they may be contracted to write "work-for-hire" pieces that are owned and copyrighted by the employer. Early in a career a writer may have no option other than a "work-for-hire" position, but should take advantage of any opportunity to move to a more attractive long-term strategy to earning a living as a writer. Competition for staff songwriter positions is tough.

Freelance Songwriter

Freelance writers may work on their own or under a part-time contract with various companies, securing single-song agreements either under a "work-for-hire" contract or a songwriter agreement.

Jingle Writer (Radio, TV, and Other Media)

Jingle writers are songwriters/composers/lyricists who specialize in writing music for radio and television commercials. They are responsible for representing their client musically as directed. They must be skilled in all styles, be strong arrangers, and be able to compose well for a very short form.


Producer/songwriters develop their own material from start to finish. They write the material, develop a concept for how they would like it arranged and recorded, hire musicians and engineers, and oversee the recording and production of the material. They have the final say on the development of their material.


Individuals who are talented in expressing themselves with words can develop careers writing words to songs. A pure lyricist would create only the words, and may work as a team with a music composer or may create lyrics for a previously written piece of music.


Composers create instrumental pieces, either to stand alone or to be combined with lyrics. They may compose for a specific situation such as film/TV composers who score/compose music to enhance videos or films, or they may compose for live performance and/or recording situations.

Music Supervisor (Theme Specialist: Film/TV)

The film producer hires the music supervisor. He/she may act as an A&R scout to find and license popular songs for inclusion as theme or background music within the film (called source music) and/or selecting songs for the soundtrack. Sometimes the music supervisor may be in charge of only the songs for the soundtrack, and other times he/she may be in charge of all the music involved with a film, including hiring and supervising the film composer for dramatic scoring.

Stage Musicals/Librettist

Author of words (libretto) set to music usually within the context of music theatre or opera work.

Performing Rights Organizations are a great resource for making connections as well as tracking your royalties once your songs are recorded. Each country in the world has at least one. In the United States the organizations are: