Join Cliff Goldmacher for an in-depth discussion in this video What is songwriting?, part of Introduction to Songwriting.
- [Instructor] A song is a lyric and a melody. A lyric can be defined as the actual words of your song and a melody is the specific musical notes that go with the words as they're sung. Now let's talk about copyright for a moment. When you write a song, you automatically have the copyright to that song. A copyright is the exclusive legal right, given to a songwriter to publish, perform, or record their musical material, and the right to authorize others to do the same.
In other words, this means you own the rights to your song and what you own is the lyric and melody. To learn more about copyrights, check out our course called copywriting a song. The lyric and musical notes of a melody that I wrote with my collaborator, are shown here on this lead sheet. As you can see, the melody's notes are tied directly to each word and sometimes a single syllable of a word. On this lead sheet, you can also see letters, with the occasional number.
These are the chords of the song. Chords are clusters of musical notes that provide the harmony to support the melody, however, chords are considered part of the arrangement of the song, and not part of the song's copyright. For instance, the same melody may work with a variety of different chords, but changing the chords under the melody doesn't make it a new song. Now, often songwriters use instruments, like guitar or piano, to help them by playing chords during the writing process, but that's not required.
Here's another example. When I sing happy birthday to you. ♫ Happy birthday to you I'm providing everything necessary to officially call what I've sung a finished song, even though I'm not playing chords on an instrument when I sing it, and man do I wish I had written that melody and lyric. In certain songwriting situations, mainly in the pop and hip-hop music genres, the writer of the lyric and melody, also known in these instances as the top line writer, shares copyright ownership with the creator of the instrumental track and or beats.
So for example, in Beyonce's song, all the single ladies, a section of the top line, which is the lyric and melody, is when Beyonce sings, if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it. However, the writers who created the beat and produced the underlying track played a huge role in the overall sound and uniqueness of this song. As a result, they also get credited as songwriters. In this and similar instances, ownership of the copyright goes to more contributors than just the writer of the lyric and the melody.
That being said, it's still important to realize that in most instances, a song is simply a melody and a lyric. When a song is taken from its basic melody and lyric and developed into a finished recording, that involves arrangement and production. Arrangement includes deciding which instruments to use and which musical styles to draw from, as well as the fundamentals of choosing the key or tonal center of a song and the tempo or speed at which the song is played.
A song's arrangement is part of the bigger picture of music production, which also includes recording and editing instruments and vocals, and then mixing them all together into a final recorded version of the song. All this to say, a song at its most basic level, is comprised of a lyric and a melody only. If you, or you and a co-writer, are capable of writing a lyric and putting a melody to it, then you're a songwriter and you should own that title. You don't have to have written a hit song to consider yourself a songwriter.
As a matter of fact, I wrote songs for 20 years before I had a number one single on the charts, but that didn't stop me from considering myself a songwriter. It can be motivating and inspiring to think of yourself that way. I'd recommend it. Now, as far as what it means to be a songwriter, that's important too. Being a songwriter means you have a way of taking your thoughts and passions and putting them out in the world in the form of a song. If writing songs for yourself and those close to you is as much as you ever do, this is still a tremendous gift and one well worth developing.
However, if you're thinking about making songwriting or a songwriting-related field your career, then there's a lot more to think about than just writing songs. In this course, I'm going to discuss every major aspect of what songwriting is about. So stick around, there's a lot more to come.