Skip to content

How lyricists are being paid

My fast and maybe slightly cryptic answer: just like composers.

The comprehensive answer:
Composers and (not necessarily) lyricists are the creators of songs that musicians play (i.e. perform or record). Musicians may create their own songs, of course, like singer-songwriters, for example. They then assume different roles that are treated differently in the business world. Primarily musicians receive fees for their performances, and make a profit from sales of CDs, DVDs. Creators license their works and receive royalties. This is handled by PROs (performing rights organizations). Whenever songs are performed, produced on CD, or played on the radio licence fees are due that are distributed among the creators by the PROs in proportion to their parts in creating the songs.

From the business or licensing perspective there is no difference between covering songs or playing one's own. In the latter case the musician simply plays two different roles, he is performer as well as creator. As performer he gets his fee, as creator he gets his royalties.

Hobby lyricists sometimes try to sell their works. That is not exactly how things work in real life. What exactly do they think they are selling? Maybe some are willing to wave their ownership as creator of a text? They would be hugely dissapointed if their song (well, just its lyrics) becomes a huge hit - while somebody else claims its ownership. On the other hand, what would be the use for the musician should the song just go under in the mass? He would have paid for something that is not used. Neither scenario seems fair, does it? Professional songwriters (staff writers) may get down payments from publishers or a guaranty amount, but basically they are still being paid from licenses.

Should a musician have read this post this far, yes, you presume correctly that musicians never pay for using songs. An exception would be if you produce and market your own CDs - in that case you have to pay license fees just like a label. Maybe, effectively, you would even have to pay yourself.

What does my creative commons license mean in this context? Nothing much, actually. If you do business as described (perform songs publicly, have CDs produced, are being played on the radio...) everything is supposed to work as mentioned. The songs will have to be registered with a PRO in that case. Should my songwriting partner, the composer, not (wish to) be a member of a PRO, I can look after this. Normally, the composer would register songs. Should you want to just use my lyrics for hobby music productions that you intend to publish on the internet (non-commercially) you simply may do so. You need not ask. That's the only difference my licensing model provides. Nearly all my lyrics - all that are published here or in my collections - are non-exclusive, too, so you need not even bother if there are songs that are being used commercially that use the same lyrics. As soon as your music is being performed and might actually make some money, you will want to become a member of your country's PRO in your own best interest (contact me if you have any questions).

we change

If I got Holger (MotorPlanet) right my lyrics are for a band called INPUT written to their tune. I have had no feedback yet if my lyrics are okay (= accepted and will be sung) or not.

your temper got at me
better to make myself scarce
don't nurse you grudge 'gainst me
there's no need to be that terse
I'll explain to you my point of view
could be that we both were wrong
maybe something that I said
had come out a bit too strong

I say
I can change
you can change
we can change
I'm sure we can make up

the night had got too long
somehow I couldn't get away
I sent a message - but too late
sorry if that had gone wrong

I say
I can change
you can change
we can change
I'm sure we can make up

let us try to never cross the line
leave us no chance to reconcile
let us go the extra mile
so we can be fine

I say
I can change
you can change
we can change
I'm sure we can make up

we're changing
changing
anyway

changing
each single day

Is it okay to be proud?

PRIDE is a deadly sin. Time to confess:

Yes, I am proud of my lyrics writing because, over the years, I have developed my own style. It didn't come out of the blue. In another post I told the story of "Joy". In a manner of speaking its history reaches back more than 49 years to John Lennon's song "Dear Prudence". Actually to my getting the song all wrong, thinking it must have been meant to be allegoric, or at least ambiguous. It wasn't. But I started writing allegoric and partly allegoric songs myself from 2001, considering myself to write in his tradition. In the long run "Joy" (written 2013) became what I though "Dear Prudence" was. My most advanced song text in that manner is "by the seven Seas" that combines metaphor and allegory: the seasons standing for the stages of life, and the first person standing for the seasons. Mind you, the lyrics use quite simple language. That's what I'm very proud of, too. My hero in that regard is Keith Reid for most of what he has written EXCEPT "A whiter Shade of pale" ;-)

The other day I decided to open my combined reading and concert show with "One of seven Billion" (written and published 2011) that I consider my essential song. It is all me with regard to style, language, structure, and message. As it is a rock song that's partly based on a rock riff I will read most of it and just sing the lift and chorus to the acoustic guitar I'll be playing. When I now read its lyrics again after a long time I realized how very close they are to "Sympathy for the Devil". I had been aware that I'm often influenced by the stones, not just the music, but also Mick Jagger's lyrical style. What I call "episodic lyrics" is clearly inspired by "Brown Sugar", yet also "Satisfaction" and probably many other songs. As are the rudeness of many lyrics and their weird sexuality, take "chew me up" as an example. I don't think the lyrics of "Sympathy for the Devil" are that typical for Sir Mick, but they obviously had been in my subconscious mind when I wrote "One of seven Billion". You could see my lyrics as a blend of Jagger's text with Cecilia Ahern's book "The time of my Life"(!) that was published in the same year (2011) although I actually read it two years AFTER writing my song.

Maybe there are two lines of development that in the end define my own style. One goes from "Vanity" (my first allegoric song) over "Violet" (ambiguously metaphoric) to "legalize me" and "Mary Jane" (metaphors) and now "Joy". It might be seen as rooted on the Beatles' songs. I also often use similar chord changes in my folk and pop songs. The other line of rude rock lyrics and songs would go from lyrics like "holy Hooker" (about 2001) over "that Girl got Balls" (2012) to "Miss Worry" (2017). This line of songwriting is clearly influenced by the Rolling Stones and sometimes AC/DC. In "Giants fall" (2010) and "One of seven Billion" both lines meet. In addition the latter also tries to convey my philosophical message: "make the most of your life". That is why I consider it my most characteristic song.

I was there when you shit your pants
I fell in love with your first romance
I was the man in your wet dreams
I'm famous for my cunning schemes

I'll be with you when you despair
when you need help I will be there
one day I'm there to show the way
next day I'm leading you astray

live your dream before you wake up
live your life before you die

I kill people
I give birth
I make fortunes
I eat dirt but you see
I just want to be
one of seven billion

I'm your story as yet untold
I'll stay young while you grow old
eventually I'll see you die
but you will never make me cry

live your dream before you wake up
live your life before you die

I kill people
I give birth
I make fortunes
I eat dirt but you see
I just want to be
one of seven billion

let me seduce you
give us a try
let me tease you
give me your smile

live your dream before you wake up
live your life before you die

I kill people
I give birth
I make fortunes
I eat dirt but you see
I just want to be
one of seven billion

make up your mind

Written for Ritchy to his music. See also my former blog entry. I had to rewrite the chorus, but we kept the lines "when will you make up your mind" and "when will you tell me your answer":

we got on like a house on fire
we talked, and we laughed, the time stood still
for an evening

comradeship layered on desire
beneath the surface lurked a thrill
maybe I'm dreaming

should you
think that we shall stay together
would you
please decide this now or never
could you
take me as your friend and your lover

should you
think that we shall stay together
would you
please decide this now or never
could you
take me as your friend and your lover

when will you make up your mind
when will you tell me your answer

are there reasons for your aloofness
when I called (you) you seemed not too keen
to see me

I don't want
to hear foul excuses
you can bet
that I was confused when one day
I received your message

should you
think that we shall stay together
would you
please decide this now or never
could you
take me as your friend and your lover

just tell me where we stand now

should you
think that we shall stay together
would you
please decide this now or never
could you
take me as your friend and your lover

when will you make up your mind
when will I know where we stand
when will you tell me your answer, Babe
when will you tell me how you think 'bout us
when will you make up your mind
when will I know where we stand
when will you tell me your answer, Babe
when will you tell me how you think 'bout us

should you
think that we shall stay together
would you
please decide this now or never
could you
take me as your friend and your lover

just tell me where we stand

should you
think that we shall stay together
would you
please decide this now or never
could you
take me as your friend and your lover

when will you make up your mind
when will you tell me your answer
when will I know where we stand
when will you tell me your answer, Babe
when will you make up your mind

time to think

Written for Robin to his music track. Robin tries to 'pitch' songs to other musicians. Many try this, hardly anybody with success. Today you have to have connections into the music industry, and you are expected to provide backing tracks that can be used without any modification. Only the singer, the vocal track, is replaced, should you be successful. Providing rough demos with just your voice and a guitar hoping for some A&R manager to listen to your song and suggest it to a star is an approach from the 1970ies and earlier. My friend Craig tried that approach to no avail in spite of his great tunes, solid guitar playing, and wonderful voice. Unfortunately, he is not interested in trying a singer-songwriter career in the country genre himself. Well, Robin DOES provide the backing track as well as required these days, and he DOES have some contacts, so let us wish him luck!

These are (mostly) my words:

we were lovers
we were of one mind
I all yours, and you all mine

we were best friends
one heart and soul
united all along the line

let’s give us time to think
to realise what we feel
I will not give up hope
that you'll be back with me

let’s give us time to think
maybe reshape our lives
I wish with all my heart
that our love revives

time and routine
made our love wear thin
the happy hours became rare

I hope we will
recover common ground
'cause underneath the love's still there

let’s give us time to think
to realise what we feel
I will not give up hope
that you'll be back with me

let’s give us time to think
maybe reshape our lives
I wish with all my heart
that our love can revive