How I Make Money as a Lyricist
This article has been requested for a long time. I’ve taken a while to write this because I don’t feel like an expert. I’m also changing my marketing strategy this year, so there will be a part two.
I started pursuing lyric writing as a career in the summer of 2013, after graduating from university (I studied music composition.) In this article, I’ll cover how I connected with my first clients, plus what to consider if you’re thinking about doing lyric or song writing professionally.
Will you charge for your work?
Before graduating from university, lyric writing was a hobby and I worked on a royalties-only basis. (This means you’re not paid upfront for your lyrics but you’ll get royalties if the song makes money.) I have issues with this way of working, which I spoke about here.
In the beginning, you won’t be able to run a lyric writing business if you’re an independent lyricist working on a royalties-only basis. However, you might get more people interested in working with you, increasing the chance you’ll be able to go full-time further down the road.
I strongly advise creating a way to vet songwriters if you’re going to work for royalties-only because unfortunately, offering a service for free is likely to attract timewasters. You might also get more orders than you can fulfil once you get the word out, so you can pick and choose who you work with. Here are two ways you could vet people:
Create a survey asking them about themselves, their music, and what they have in mind for the collaboration. Needing to fill out a form will repel the worst timewasters. I can usually tell how likely people are to place an order when they email me with an enquiry. Some come across as serious and passionate… others don’t. A questionnaire could help you identify the best prospects to work with.
Charge a small amount. Initially, I charged £40 for a lyric commission. Business and music industry coaches have since advised me this is far too little. However, I collaborated with zero timewasters when charging this fee. When I charged nothing upfront, it was 90% timewasters. A fee, however small, helps to filter out people who won’t respect your time and effort. You could refund the fee if/when the song is released if you’d prefer to work on a royalties-only basis.
I charge a significant fee because I work to a professional standard. Being self-employed, working for royalties-only isn’t feasible or sustainable. The most affordable way to work with me is to license a pre-written lyric. Commissions are more expensive because they’re tailored to the client’s specific needs and the project takes longer to complete.
Some people will always believe lyric writing isn’t a job and lyricists should work only for royalties. But the industry is changing and I believe if we want to empower indie writers, charging for our craft is the way forward. I usually get a 20-50% royalty split. I don’t work-for-hire (this is when you get an upfront fee but give up all rights to be named as an author.) If you decide to go down the work-for-hire route, try to negotiate a 2-5% royalty entitlement. This means if the song does well, you get rewarded financially and credited as a writer, which could lead to more work.
Let’s move on to promotion and finding clients.
I’m not the biggest lover of social media, but I have to mention it because in the early days, I met about half my clients on Twitter. I used to be more active on there, attending or hosting Twitter chats. This was a good way to meet musicians and start conversations.
No matter which social platform(s) you use, get to know other songwriters and establish one-to-one conversation if possible. I’ve made several mutually supportive friendships this way. Be warned though, there are creeps out there! If you’re a woman, you’ll be lucky not to come across them. Be mindful of this and careful when revealing anything personal.
Keeping in touch with social media contacts via my weekly newsletter has been important for me when building my client base. This also means if I lose my social media accounts, I won’t lose all my contacts.
This is how the other half of my clients found me. I have work to do on my SEO but despite this, clients sometimes find me through search engines. In this Q&A, session singer Mella said this is how she gets a lot of her work. I would advise getting a professional website as soon as possible.
Do You Need Lyrics to Set to Music?
If you need lyrics of professional standard, please browse my pre-written lyrics. Each lyric is licensed exclusively. Once you license a lyric, it's removed from my website and is yours alone to use.
I’ve occasionally advertised giveaways on Facebook to promote my blog. I briefly promoted my lyric writing work directly, with no success in terms of sales. I’m thinking about experimenting more with this because I ran the (poorly prepared) ad so briefly, and it’s often a case of trial and error. However, Mella said Facebook ads didn’t really work for her and I’ve heard the same from other musicians. Facebook advertising isn’t my biggest priority.
I always start with the minimum daily spend until I see how an ad performs. To avoid disappointment, prepare for it to take time to get right. If an ad isn’t performing, change it. I would give up if you don’t start making back the money you’re spending.
It’s common for Facebook ads to attract negative comments. I’ve grown a thick skin over the years but it’s still not pleasant. If you feel it could affect your mental health, I would advise you steer clear of this kind of advertising or ask someone else to read and respond to the comments. I don’t think there’s a way to turn the comments off entirely (please let me know if I’m wrong.) You can hide or delete individual comments. I tend to keep negative comments visible if they aren’t abusive (sometimes the people turn out to be quite interesting to talk to even if you don’t agree) but you can remove them if you choose.
This is a way to make supplementary income. Basically, you promote a product or service and earn a % when someone buys through your unique link. I’m currently an Amazon affiliate (this is taking a back seat at the moment, but I have a related blog post planned for 2021!) Your commission is tiny when promoting cheaper products but if the buyer checks out with multiple items in their basket, you get a commission on them all, even the ones you didn’t recommend, so it can be lucrative.
I’m also an affiliate of music industry coach Danelle Harvey, and I run my own affiliate program. Affiliate marketing is useful for topping up your income, so it’s worth exploring. My affiliates earn a 10% commission. This is generally $40-$180 per referral, depending which package the client selects.
It’s important to tell your audience when you use affiliate links. Use #affiliatelink on social media. In blog posts, a disclaimer explaining how affiliate links work is advisable. It’s illegal in many countries to not disclaim at all. (It’s worth checking the "influencer" guidelines in your country when dealing with anything affiliate, sponsored, or gifted.)
My most consistent income has been from Patreon. In that sense, it’s invaluable and definitely worth considering. It’s a crowd funding website where people can chip in to support creative work. I also use it as a subscription service.
I’ve had a rocky relationship with Patreon. Read more about this here. I re-joined Patreon last year, and it’s since been a positive experience. My patrons have helped me to build my confidence and believe in myself. This is why I recommend Patreon to creatives. It’s probably best to create your account when you think 1-2 people will sign up and get you started.
Be open to opportunities
If you put yourself out there, anything could happen. For the past few years, I have been working closely with Songbay to create a new service for budding lyricists. I helped run and judge the 2019 Songbay Lyric Writing Competition. This led up to the launch of the new service.
The Lyric Improvement Service is a way for lyricists to submit their work for feedback, so they can edit and improve the lyric before making it public and/or spending money on recording. There are two options to choose from. The extended appraisal is £20 and includes a complimentary guide I wrote in collaboration with Songbay on how to revamp clichés. The guide also features tips and tricks from some amazing Songbay lyricists. Find out more here.
That’s almost everything for this post.
When preparing to write this article, I asked my followers if they had any questions. The only thing that hasn’t already been covered is what to do if you’re from a country where you can’t use PayPal to receive payment. Being from the UK, I don’t know much about this. Fortunately, it’s not a problem we have here. I understand why it’s frustrating because much of my work has been international. PayPal makes working with international clients easier, plus many third party sites like Songbay and Patreon use PayPal.
Regarding third party sites, the best thing to do is contact them. There might be an alternative and if not, at least you’ve made them aware it’s an issue for you as a potential customer. If enough people raise the problem, it will encourage them to create a solution.
Regarding receiving payment from clients, I’m told you could use Western Union or Payoneer if these are available in your country.
I hope you find this article helpful. If you would like to know more about me, I spoke with Mella on her blog about my background and why I got started with lyric writing.
Please subscribe to my newsletter to be notified when new blog posts are published. I’ll post a part two on this topic next year. In the meantime, subscribe for more posts on making money in music, including Q&As with full-time musicians. I’m also planning a post on songwriting contracts.
Please consider supporting this blog on Patreon. As an independent writer, my patrons help to keep me going. Patrons get ongoing discounts on my lyric writing services. Regular clients can make significant savings by subscribing on Patreon.