How to Start Out As a Lyricist

by Stan Mack

Professional lyricists work in a variety of industries, setting words to music for radio and television commercials, show tunes, pop songs and more. Top professionals can earn huge sums for their work, but breaking into professional lyric writing isn't as simple as meeting some minimum qualification. Rather, people who want to become professional lyricists must use every tool at their disposal to improve their chances of success.

Narrow Your Focus

Start by narrowing your focus to one industry. For example, the methods of lyric writing for advertisers differ from those required for musical theater projects, and both those industries have different requirements than popular songwriting. If you have a particular leaning from the outset, limiting your activities to mastering the best practices of a single genre helps focus your efforts and improve your skills.

Collaborate Often

As much as possible, work with others in your chosen industry. For instance, if you want to write popular music, seek out music composers, such as singer-songwriters, and ask to collaborate. Collaboration is essential to successful lyric writing. After all, unless you can compose music and write lyrics equally well, you’ll always depend on others to contribute their talents.

Develop Supplementary Skills

Successful lyricists are few and far between. There's no simple way to enter the industry, but if you have talent and keep trying, your chances of success are higher. A practical way to increase your chances is to develop a variety of skills that support your lyric writing. For example, being able to play music can help you communicate your ideas to composers, as well as help you understand the constraints composers face. Other helpful skills might include audio engineering, artist management and music publishing, according to the “Music Business Handbook and Career Guide,” by David Baskerville and Tim Baskerville.

Remain Flexible

No matter what field you choose to focus on as a lyricist, there's no single approach to writing lyrics that works in all cases. For instance, legendary lyricist Lorenz Hart often supplied scraps of lyrics to music composer Richard Rodgers, who would then tailor the lyrics to the song, according to the book “Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs,” by William Zinsser. But the author notes that the writing process was reversed when Rodgers began to work with Oscar Hammerstein on the musical “Oklahoma!” Rodgers took Hammerstein's finished lyrics and composed melodies to fit them. In other words, even the best lyricists and composers must be flexible enough to adjust their methods to those of their collaborators.

Pursuing Opportunities

When you think you're ready to work on a professional level, pursue internships, entry-level jobs or any other opportunities available in your industry. If you attend a college or university, the administration might connect you to industry contacts who are willing to view your work. But be prepared to follow unconventional paths -- no clear-cut methods exist for becoming a professional lyric writer, other than to master your skills and make yourself as visible as possible.

About the Author

Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.

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