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What does a Songwriter do?

A songwriter crafts melodies and lyrics to create songs that resonate with listeners. They weave emotions, stories, and ideas into a musical tapestry, often collaborating with musicians and producers. But how does a songwriter find inspiration and turn it into a hit song?
Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Songwriters can perform a number of functions depending on career goals, ambition level, and specific talents. For example, a songwriter may simply write song lyrics and music, and then sell the completed song to a performing artist. This is common among pop music performers who often have more than one songwriter writing material for them behind the scenes. In this case, the songwriter has entered a commercial venture in which they are selling a product--their music--to a consumer.

Another type of songwriter is the singer songwriter. He or she writes his or her own material, including lyrics and musical accompaniment, and performs it on his or her own. This job is perhaps one of the most difficult ones to become successful at, because even a good singer songwriter has no guarantee of success. To become a strong singer songwriter, one must be able to think creatively to come up with strong lyrics, and also play a musical instrument well enough to perform in front of an audience. This combination can prove difficult for many aspiring singer songwriters, but since formal training is not necessary for such a profession, anyone with a reasonable amount of drive and talent can attempt it.

Songwriters compose lyrics for singers.
Songwriters compose lyrics for singers.

In either case, the main components of songwriting include lyric composition, musical composition, and musical performance. If a songwriter has mastered all three of these components, perhaps the best career or life path to follow would be that of the singer songwriter. If that person has not mastered the musical performance aspect of songwriting, he or she might be more inclined to write songs and sell his or her material to a performer, as described above.

Songwriters often work out the melodies and harmonies of songs with the help of musical instruments like a digital piano.
Songwriters often work out the melodies and harmonies of songs with the help of musical instruments like a digital piano.

In other instances, songwriters may be formally trained and educated people who have chosen to enter this specific profession. They may work in recording studios to aid would-be performers in writing their own songs; as freelance songwriters, writing songs for television or movies; or commercial jingle writers. Songwriters have countless outlets for their music; the tricky part is marketing that music to become successful.

Some musicians prefer to write their own songs.
Some musicians prefer to write their own songs.

If said songwriters choose to go through the training and rigor of schooling, they often have to attain a bachelor's degree, or at the very least an associate's degree. While salaries generally are not very high for this profession, even for successful songwriters, the rewards of this profession are numerous and the career trajectory is a unique one.

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Discussion Comments


The music minister at our church writes a lot of songs. I don't think he does this to be famous or make any money, he just enjoys sharing his songs with the congregation.

Many people have encouraged him to make a CD with all of his original songs on it. He will often sing his songs at church, so many of the people in the congregation are familiar with them.

As far as I know he has never received any formal training writing songs other than having a degree in music. I don't think he has ever entered any kind of songwriter competition either. I may be biased, but I think he would do very well.

For him, sitting down at the piano and writing a song is both relaxing and invigorating, and a chance to develop his talent.


I know that many people think being successful in the music industry means being a well known singer. There are some very talented songwriters who make a lot of money.

I am not very musically talented, so have a hard time understanding how people enjoy this or even know they have a talent for it. I think when you hear a well written song, you know it right away.

I wonder if most successful people in this business have learned certain songwriting techniques, or is this just something they have a natural talent for?


The daughter of my best friend is a talented singer songwriter. She really wants to make it in the music industry and moved to Nashville hoping to get a few breaks.

Even though I think she is very creative and talented, I think this would be a hard way to earn a living. The competition is very fierce, and you have to be persistent and somehow stand out from the crowd.

Before she moved to Nashville she entered a few songwriter contests. I think she won at least one of them and always placed at the top.

Even so, she has yet to make a name for herself and she keeps plugging away. It would really thrill me if I turned on the radio one day and heard one of the songs she had written being sung.


The music industry is a vast pit into which so many songwriters fall, never to be heard from again. My town has had several songwriting competitions, and though I've attended each one to hear the talent, I've never once heard one of the songs on the radio.

There are just so many songwriters in the world that only a handful ever manage to sell their material to someone famous and have their song played on the radio. I would imagine that it would be extremely satisfying to know that you wrote a big hit, even if you didn't get to be the one singing it and taking all the glory.

I just wonder where the songwriters who won these competitions are now. I have heard some really good stuff at these contests, and it saddens me that the songs have probably faded into oblivion.


I am a songwriter, but I get attached to every song that I write, and I don't want to give or sell it to someone else. My songs are my babies, and I feel that no one could interpret them better than I could.

I may never make a dime off of my songs, but that's okay with me. They are a piece of my soul, and I will sing them to myself and to those who want to hear until I die. They are something that no one can take away from me.

It must be heartbreaking for people to lose the publishing rights to their songs. I know that many famous musicians let someone on their management team maintain the rights, and they lose all control over who can remake the song and whether or not it can be used in commercials and movies.


@kylee07drg – I understand your frustration. Most performers who concentrate more on appearance and dance than lyrical content probably didn't even have a hand in writing their songs.

Some pop songs are so simple that they only have a few lines repeated over and over to a hypnotic beat, and the emphasis is on the rhythm. The people who compose these songs could use a few songwriting tips, in my opinion.

Like you, I prefer listening to talented singer/songwriters. I like knowing that the person singing the song actually wrote it, because I can tell how much more they get into the lyrics and feel the song.


My friend is the best female songwriter that I know, yet she remains unknown to the world. She has written songs for other people to make a few bucks here and there, and she also has her own material. She is a great performer and can play both guitar and piano.

The problem is that the music business is so competitive. Producers would rather get behind someone who can dance and is willing to parade her body half-naked on stage than someone who has immense musical ability, probably because the public generally cannot tell the difference between someone who can write deep music and sing on key and someone who can sing a simple pop song sort of okay.

If I sound a little bitter, it's because my friend has had so much trouble making a name for herself in this industry. Based on her songwriting ability and vocal talent, she should be at the top by now.

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    • Songwriters compose lyrics for singers.
      By: hitdelight
      Songwriters compose lyrics for singers.
    • Songwriters often work out the melodies and harmonies of songs with the help of musical instruments like a digital piano.
      By: Andy Dean
      Songwriters often work out the melodies and harmonies of songs with the help of musical instruments like a digital piano.
    • Some musicians prefer to write their own songs.
      By: Christian Kieffer
      Some musicians prefer to write their own songs.
    • Songwriters can tailor songs to a performer's unique style.
      Songwriters can tailor songs to a performer's unique style.