When it comes to the split between music and lyrics, sometimes it can feel like lyrics get the short end of the stick. While every musician might play at least one instrument, not everyone can set clear, compelling and memorable words to music. Fortunately, as a songwriter there are ways you can get the most out of the hard work of wordsmithing.
What Type of Royalties Do Lyrics Earn?
The short answer: mechanical royalties. Depending on the format in which you share your lyrics, it’s similar in the way that you license your music, in which case would earn you mechanical royalties. And how would you share your lyrics for consumption? The main ways include going through your distributor (if they support lyric distribution like Distrokid), uploading to lyric sites (mentioned more below), or sharing them with your publisher. An important note to remember, many services that allow for lyric distribution use a templated system, so make sure you confirm the format in which they want the lyrics given to them so there is no time lost in having to reformat. Also, check out our lyric sheet for one way of formatting your lyrics.
In addition to the various ways your song can earn money, there are some lesser known ways a songwriter can utilize their lyrics as additional revenue. Here are a few ways to get the creative juices flowing:
Print and Merchandise Royalties
One special way for lyricists to monetize their work is through the magic of print royalties, which are provided for by the Public Display copyrights. There’s no statutory rate for print royalties; rather it’s decided by negotiation with whoever produces your printed materials. One rough but often-quoted figure is 15% of the retail price.
In decades past when playback devices were relatively rare compared to now, the sale of sheet music made up a significant portion of the music industry. These days, it’s more or less an afterthought, though Beck’s 2012 album Song Reader was issued not on vinyl or mp3 but as sheet music. That said, for some works—such as those written for theatrical productions—sheet music is essential. As the copyright owner, that’s money in the bank for you.
Another way to take advantage of the Public Display copyright is by creating printable—or wearable—renditions of your lyrics. That’s right: A t-shirt bearing your lyrics earns you royalties. But don’t stop there: Physical goods such as coffee mugs and posters take advantage of this convention too.
If you search for any given song’s lyrics online—as has anyone who covers a song these days has surely done—you’ll find any number of websites devoted to decoding (often poorly) the words to countless thousands of recorded works.
Just like their physical analogs, these digital representations are legally bound to pay the lyricist for displaying his or her work. Just like print, there’s no set royalty rate. The fee can take the form of a payment covering a specific time period or a percentage of yearly gross sales, but no matter how you slice it, it’s still money you’re entitled to.
If this seems like small change, think again. There’s an entire industry dedicated to licensing and syncing lyrics, just as one would music. One example is LyricFind, which takes advantage of lyrics’ inherent SEO (Search Engine Optimization) qualities. LyricFind helps sites like iHeartRadio, SongMeanings, LyricsMania, and Pandora display (and monetize) your lyrics. In addition, the company enables line-by-line lyric integration into videos and other platforms. Increasingly, it’s possible to imagine your lyrics as a source of revenue on top of--and sometimes independent of--your music.
There’s even more you can do to help your lyrics earn for you. Some musicians advocate for a direct approach, seeding your lyrics with topical or hashtaggable words and phrases that might help the song gain visibility. And because song titles aren’t copyrighted, you can conceivably “borrow” the title of an existing popular work to help push your own work higher in online search results and elsewhere.
Whether or not these tactics appeal to you is a highly personal matter. Regardless of which approach you choose, we hope you’ve gained a better understanding and some inspiration around what your lyrics can do for you. In case you missed it, check out our webinar on Monetizing Your Lyrics and join in on the discussion -- head over to our Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram and share with us how you’ve monetized your lyrics.
If you want to know more about music publishing and how you can take advantage of your hard work, you know how to find us. We’re here to help.
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We created this guide to answer a simple question: How do songwriters support themselves?
The answer is not as simple as we’d like, but our goal is to make it as clear, transparent and understandable as we possibly can.
Songtrust is more than just a rights management platform and publishing administrator - we’re a team of experts in the music community who strive to educate, support, and provide thought leadership to creators, representatives, and businesses across the music industry.
Our hope is that you’ll finish this guide with an better understanding of the business behind songwriting and have actionable resources to help you be successful.