What does a Lyricist do?
Lyricists are articulate and detail-oriented, with a keen eye for observing the world around them and the discipline to translate their observations and insights into the formal language of song.
At a Glance
Very few people work as dedicated lyricists today; those who do tend to work in specific roles like staff writer, top-line songwriter, performing songwriter, librettist, musical theater adapter, or musical theater lyricist. With hard work and dedication, these modern-day lyricist incarnations might write lyrics and melodies for top recording artists, become successful artists themselves on the strength of their own songwriting material, or collaborate on new theater and opera works.
Nowadays, there isn’t much work for dedicated professional lyricists in popular music genres. The notable exception is rap and hip-hop music, wherein many staff lyricists are employed to ghostwrite verses by major artists. Those interested in writing lyrics for pop, country, or R&B songs should pursue staff writing contracts with music publishers or find work as a top-line songwriter.
- Functional instrumental skills
- Melody and harmony writing (top-line)
- Time management
Lyricists are articulate and detail-oriented, with a keen eye for observing the world around them and the discipline to translate their observations and insights into the formal language of song. Because most lyricists work under a deadline, time management skills are often critical. Additionally, persistence and passion for the craft are vital. Lyricists who work in musical theater and opera must understand how to write to reveal character, drive plot, and create a sense of time and place.
Staff lyricists keep conventional business hours and usually work from the publisher’s office or studio. Freelance lyricists have the freedom to make their own work hours, as do musical theater lyricists and librettists. Lyricists working in the record and publishing industries are likely to spend their evenings and weekends going out to hear music and network with people in the industry.