AskDefine | Define lyricist

Dictionary Definition

lyricist n : a person who writes the words for songs

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. a person who writes the lyrics of a song


writer of lyrics
  • Finnish: sanoittaja
  • Japanese: 作詞家 作詞者

Extensive Definition

A lyricist is a writer who specializes in song lyrics, usually paid for by a band to write a custom song(s). A singer who writes the lyrics to songs is a singer-lyricist. This differentiates from a singer-songwriter, who also composes the song's melody in addition to the lyrics.

American Songwriting

The Tin Pan Alley tradition is that tunesmith and wordsmith are usually different people, though some celebrated songwriters have performed both functions (Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Frank Loesser, Noel Coward and Stephen Sondheim for example). Among the leading lyricists of this period were Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, who both wrote with Richard Rodgers, Ira Gershwin who wrote with brother George, Johnny Mercer and Johnny Burke.
Country music pioneer Hank Williams and folkies Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger pointed the way for American artists from Bob Dylan onwards. Specialists also have, on occasion, wrote for somebody else to perform (the spectacularly successful Diane Warren for example) both words and music.


Collaboration takes different forms. Some composers and lyricists work closely together on the song, with each having an input into both words and tune. Often a lyricist will fill in the words to a tune already fully written out. Dorothy Fields worked in this way. Lyricists have often added words to an established tune, as Johnny Burke did with the Erroll Garner tune Misty. Some partnerships work almost totally independently, for example, Bernie Taupin famously writes lyrics and hands them over to Elton John, who then sets them to music, with minimum interaction between the two men.

Religious Songwriting

In the Christian hymn-singing tradition, many of the best-loved pieces have words written to fit existing melodies. The Christmas carol, What Child Is This, had its words set to an old English folk tune that formerly was a lover's lament, Greensleeves. The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams famously set existing poems, by men like William Cowper and Charles Wesley, to traditional folk tunes to create hymns, many of which he published in the English Hymnal. A different way in which this happened was the marriage of non-related words and tune, the best-known example being The Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem of the United States, with words written by Francis Scott Key strictly as a poem, which was later set to the tune of an old drinking song.

Classical Music

In opera, the librettist is responsible for all text, whether spoken or sung in recitative or aria.

External links

Resources for Lyricists
Major Music Publishers
Major Independent Music Publishers
Performing Rights Societies in the USA
Mechanical Rights Societies in the USA
lyricist in Czech: Textař
lyricist in German: Liedtexter
lyricist in French: Parolier
lyricist in Italian: Paroliere
lyricist in Hebrew: פזמונאי
lyricist in Japanese: 作詞家
lyricist in Slovak: Textár
lyricist in Finnish: Sanoittaja
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