Writing lyrics for existing tracks
Updated: Aug 11
Maybe you’ve dreamt about forming a songwriting team with some high flyers in Los Angeles, or a European producer? Well when you write lyrics for tracks that is exactly what can happen
In this situation you are given an existing track, sometimes a melody too, and you are expected to write lyrics to match. This is quite often to a preset title or theme. That might seem constraining, but actually it helps you focus on the lyrical content, it’s just a matter of making the words fit the track, working with it, and not fighting against it.
The other great thing about this work, is that you can get paid to do it! I’ve been using the SoundBetter web platform to do this. So far I’ve completed ten songs, and have recently been hired to write a lyric for a song for some producers in LA to allow them to pitch as full songs, with the possibility to help them write more after. They approached me and basically said we are terrible at writing lyrics, but great at tracks, can you help?
SoundBetter is a web based site, where you create an account and a profile describing what you do. There are levels of membership, but you can’t simply pay to get up the ladder, you have to demonstrate your work quality by getting reviewed from your jobs there.
The difficulty with the free entry level is that there is no natural promotion offered on the site. You can only be found using key words e.g. lyricist etc.
I think it pays to have an interesting profile, some good references which you can get others off the platform to provide, and offer your work at a reasonable starting price. As you build reviews and work, you can increase that, and also request consideration for an upgrade to the subscription membership of the website. My recommendation is to have a friendly profile picture of yourself, and complete the interview questions. You can also have a link to a private SoundCloud playlist, which allows potential customers to hear work you have been involved in.
The monthly subscription membership levels allow you to proactively to find work and directly bid for jobs.
To get work on any level, a potential client contacts you with the details of a project. That might be just a description of the work required and often there is a track to listen to. If there isn’t you can start communicating with the potential customer and ask questions about the project. When you are ready, you make an offer to the customer. Important Note: everything is in US Dollars, and you can’t change that, so be aware of exchange rates! Also be aware that SoundBetter takes approx 8% commission for every job.
If the client wants to go ahead, they release the funds to the project. That means they have paid SoundBetter, and the website holds the payment until the customer marks the project complete. When the project is marked complete by the client, you get paid directly into a PayPal account.
Fairly recently Spotify bought SoundBetter, and there is the planned potential in the future to connect Spotify accounts directly to your SoundBetter profile, which could potentially get you more work if people click on your name in song credits.
Why did people choose me?
I asked some of my clients why they chose me:
"When I saw your profile and did some research, it was your experience that convinced me to contact you."
“I chose you because you mentioned in your profile that you could translate a foreign language song into English and fix grammar.”
“When you hear our track with the throwaway lyrics. You'll see why we want to hire you”
What kind of lyrics are expected?
Make it clear what you will and won’t write. i.e. you might choose not to write explicit lyrics or anything that is negative or defamatory of people. You might avoid politics, religion etc. At the end of the day you don’t have to make an offer if you don’t like the look of the project.
Get the brief clear right at the start while you are still offering to do the job. Once I’ve successfully got the project, my first task is always to make a rough outline of the song idea including a possible title BEFORE I start the actual lyric write. It gives the client the chance to sign off on the general flow of the song.
Sometimes they will want specific things included - listen to what they want and do it if it makes sense and you can. Try and get to hear the track before you make the first offer. You know what you are letting yourself in for. Sometimes the track has a really clear melodic line, sometimes not. You will get all levels of production standards - be warned!
Again, make it clear what you will and won’t do. I had a guy ask for some changes but the new ideas were totally different to the original brief. Because I had pre-agreed a very clear song outline I was able to say ‘No’ unless he offered to pay extra for a new song. He accepted my view, and he marked the project complete.
How do I promote?
This is hard because it’s difficult to know where the people are that need lyrics. I’ve worked mainly for Eastern European producers needing English lyrics, so maybe that’s a market.
How do you stop people running off with your lyrics and making money without you?
I have two ways of working in terms of copyright:
Ghost Write - Work entirely for a fee - I get paid and release the copyright entirely to the client - this might sound foolish as what if that song goes viral and then I have no claim. YES, that is a risk - To be honest I make a judgement and look to see what other songs that artist or client is putting out. If it is minimal or non existent, then this approach is low risk in my opinion. You are unlikely to get mainstream artists with a big following using this service - they already have teams and management who can get them the people they need.
Co-Write - Work for a fee, AND retain a songwriter percentage - this works well for a project involving a producer. Often they are great at producing a music track, but struggle with lyric writing. This is a perfect combination for me of course! They are looking to pitch their tracks to artists, labels, publishers, so there is a reasonable opportunity something could get picked up, so retaining part of the copyright percentage makes sense. I’ve offered this a few times, but only for my last project was this option taken up. I think it just adds complexity for the user of the lyric in the long term.
The Ghost write option always costs more than the co-write option, but this has never put anyone off.
This is a link to my SoundBetter page - you can read all my reviews yourself, hire me for a lyric writing project, or request a detailed song critique with suggestions for improvements (which is a new service I am offering).
Today I help singers and songwriters explore their own potential, working alongside them to transform their ideas into fully finished songs they are proud of.
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