Songwriter U: Deconstructing Songwriting Malarkey, Part II

In Deconstructing Songwriting Malarkey, Part I, the start of our antidote to the epidemic of online songwriting misinformation, we discussed many unreliable sources of songwriting information to be avoided. These sites have names which make them seem altruistic, such as CareersInMusic, which offers detailed, specific advice to inform and empower songwriters with knowledge. Unfortunately, it’s fake knowledge and strange advice.

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Some of the “advice” is close to the truth, yet vague and incomplete, as if much of the music business is simply a mystery. The rest is worse. It is completely erroneous. Yet it’s not offered as one opinion, it is published as foundational wisdom that songwriters need to understand if they want to be taken seriously. 

Any misinformation online is unfortunate. But when there is no evident attempt to take even a shallow dip into the real facts yet purports that they exist to help songwriters, this is malignant. And sadly, it is not unusual. These sites exploit and prey on songwriters’ genuine hunger to comprehend the business and the art of songwriting, neither of which are easily understandable.

Instead of empowering songwriters with practical advice and truth, they are doing the exact opposite: hurting and hindering songwriters with erroneous information and phony advice. 

Examples of this abound. Even on one site alone, careersinmusic, there is hardly one paragraph free of wrong advice, obfuscations and factual wreckage. The article “Lyricist vs. Songwriter,” written by Alison Stolpa is our main focus today. . (We invited Ms. Stolpa to comment. She declined. )

  1. “Lyricist vs. Songwriter” is the title of this article and the main problem, as it’s a false premise on which the entire piece is built:

    “It’s actually a simple distinction once you know what each job title really means. The annals of popular music are filled with examples of famous Lyricists, Songwriters, and the artists who became known for their work.” 

Wrong. Perhaps the writer is looking in erroneous annals. While there is a distinction in terms of the job of a lyricist and a compose, there is no professional distinction. Both are full-fledged songwriters.

As explained in Part 1, this notion that lyric writers are not songwriters is wrong. Whether someone writes lyrics only, music only, co-writes, writes alone, or any variations of these, the job is still that of writing songs. All authors of the song itself are songwriters.

This writer contends that any aspirant who does not make this false distinction  will “sound unprofessional and unknowledgeable.” 

Professional songwriters earn income by collecting performance royalties on their songs, generated by performances of the song on radio and other media; anytime a record is played on radio, that is considered a performance of it, and a royalty is earned.

Those royalties are calculated, collected and paid to the songwriters by three performance rights organizations in America. Every professional songwriter must belong to one of these – ASCAP, BMI or SESAC.

They represent both songwriters and publishers. Songwriters consist of people who write lyrics, people who write music, and people who write both words and music. All of these roles are what constitutes a “songwriter.” There is no distinction between a lyricist and a songwriter, or a composer and a songwriter in professional terms in the music business. Each is considered a songwriter who is earning royalties by writing songs. 

It would be interesting to learn where this idea that lyricists are not songwriters originated. It’s hard to fathom, considering how many names of songwriting teams are famously woven into our culture as equals–as in  Rodgers & Hart, Leiber & Stoller and Goffin & King. It’s not as if the lyricists received diminished billing, as in ‘Songs by Burt Bacharach (with words by Hal David).

Next we get examples to help us understand this false distinction:

“Some of the greatest teams in musical history have consisted of an artist and his or her favorite Lyricist or Songwriter.” from ‘CareersinMusic’

Several examples are offered of this prevalent songwriting partnership, including that of Bernie Taupin and Elton John. Unlike other bad sites that mixed up the misinformation differently by proclaiming that Elton, by virtue of writing only music, is not a songwriter. This wrong definition at least is more equitable than the other; it minimizes the role of lyricist and composer equally. But still wrong. 

Then in an example of how to wreck an example, n example to explain the lyricist vs. songwriter distinction, they named Goffin & King. Which would have been wrong, but not as ridiculously if they got the facts straight. But they didn’t. See if you notice anything not quite accurate here:

“Before she became famous as a Singer-Songwriter, Carole King teamed up with her writing partner and then-husband Gerry Goffin to create several now-classic songs. King wrote the lyrics and Goffin composed the music…”

Carole King & Gerry Goffin

Did you catch it? The part about not knowing Carole King writes music but thinking she wrote all those lyrics? In fact, writing lyrics – with rare exceptions – was one of the only things Carole King didn’t do. And merging their faulty logic with ignorance –the foundation of this whole shaky enterprise–we learn that Carole King–widely considered the most successful female songwriter of all time–is not even a songwriter.

Surprised? Did you still think she was one? You probably were fooled by Elton John, too. 

Admittedly, all of this can come off as snarky, putting down colleagues united by the same mission. And perhaps it is snarky, but not randomly because we are working on different missions. We’re a publication that honors songwriters and works every day to get the record straight, and to separate truth from malarkey. To publish such deeply distorted and false stuff disguised as helpful info is really inexcusable, and now more than ever. Yet they falsely claim to be coming to the rescue of songwriters, guiding them through the darkness of fear and confusion into the light of truth: 

“Knowledge is power. That’s why we’re here. As the most comprehensive educational site about music careers on the web, you can rely on our experts’ opinions and advice on what working in the music business is really like.”

Knowledge is power. Indeed. The opposite is true, as well.

From now on, remember this general rule: Never  trust any source of songwriting wisdom that doesn’t know Carole King writes music.

ethnic children playing piano in house

Also, if you happen to be a lyricist who only now has discovered that you do qualify as a songwriter, welcome to the party!  Your name was on the guest list this whole time.

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