Lyrics are powerful. You write and perform your songs. Fans memorize them and sing along. Sometimes, they’ll even tattoo their favorite lines on their body. As independent artists, you want to make sure you leverage the power of lyrics in every possible way in your business and marketing.
In earlier days of the Internet (in the late 1990s and early 2000s), searching for song lyrics was one of the top things people did online. I remember I would print out the lyrics to my favorite songs from sites, like AZ Lyrics, and sing/rap along so I could memorize them faster. The good news is making your lyrics accessible is so much easier now, compared to how it was a few decades ago.
In this blog, I will cover all things lyrics that independent artists should do for every release as well as things to consider for marketing your music.
First things first…
Before getting into the meat of things, here are some basics you should be aware of in regards to lyrics.
Copyright your lyrics
As a songwriter, the most important thing you should do is to copyright your musical compositions, which include your lyrics. It is vital to protect your creative and financial assets.
Technically, anything music you have written and recorded is automatically copyrighted in the United States as long as you can show proper documentation.
However, in order to be legally protected for cases of infringement in the court of law in the United States, you need to pay and register your songs with the Copyright office first.
Although it’s ideal to register your songs before releasing them, it may not be economically feasible to do that every time. You can save up songs to register in one larger batch. The most important thing is to keep this in the back of your mind, especially if you have a hit song that’s getting a lot of attention.
You can refer to this blog for more details.
Archive your lyrics
Create an online system where you can organize and categorize all your lyrics. It can be stored in a Dropbox folder, along with all your other artist assets, where you or anyone on your team can easily access.
I know it’s common for artists to forget their own lyrics, especially if they haven’t performed the song in a long time, so having this archive will be useful. Yes, if you follow some of the other steps I mentioned below, you can just Google them. But, I think it’s still nice to have your own personal library.
If it’s not a habit already, make sure it’s a part of your writing, recording and marketing process because it’ll make everything so much more convenient.
Do you write your lyrics on physical paper or a notebook first? Keep those safe as well as you may be able to use them down the line for content or just keep them for sentimental purposes.
1. Add your lyrics to your website and other music-related platforms
Make it convenient for fans by having your lyrics easily accessible wherever they may be listening to your song.
If you have a dedicated page for a release on your website where fans can listen directly or watch a music video, include the lyrics on the same page. This is what I did for Butterscotch’s single Sade Life. This will help for getting your website to show up higher in search results when someone is looking for lyrics to a specific song of yours. After all, you want your website to be the central authority for all things related to you.
Another place you should have your lyrics is your music videos, whether it’s on YouTube or Facebook. So when you upload a music video for an upcoming release, add the lyrics in the video description.
If your release is on BandCamp, be sure to include lyrics on there as well.
Adding your lyrics to these platforms can also help when someone doesn’t remember the artist name or song title, but they can search by a specific lyric in the song.
2. Create an account with Genius and add your own lyrics
Genius is more than just a website for lyrics, it’s a place where fans can also annotate lines in a song to provide context, offer their theories behind the meaning and share additional details. It’s sort of like Wikipedia for music.
Once you create an account, don’t forget to get verified on Genius so you have more control over your own songs in case you have fans that add lyrics before you or provide incorrect information. You’ll also be able to add comments as the verified artist, which is a great way to engage with fans and provide additional insight as the original writer.
For example, you can see a list of annotations The Grouch has added to some of his songs. He’ll occasionally chime in on a song or two.
3. Include plain lyrics after uploading to your music distributor
Music distributors, like CD Baby and DistroKid, will usually have a place for you to include lyrics after uploading your songs to them. Providing them gets it automatically sent to digital stores that will use and display them like Spotify, Apple Music and TIDAL.
Your lyrics will also show up right up top of Google search results via LyricFind.
For DistroKid users, you can click on the individual release from your home screen to find the link to add lyrics to an individual song or you can click go to distrokid.com/lyrics/ to see the lyric status for each song.
Just make sure to pay attention to how they want you to format lyrics because different platforms want it typed out a specific way. If your lyrics get rejected, be sure to read their guidelines carefully.
Here are some common guidelines for submitting lyrics:
- Provide only actual lyrics in the song. Don’t include any other information! This means don’t include artist names, album title, song titles, social links, section of the song, etc.
- Begin each line with a capital letter.
- Do not use any punctuation at the end of a line. Exclamation points and question marks are acceptable, but no commas at the end.
- Any repeated lines must be written out so don’t write “Chorus 2x”. Actually write out the chorus however many times it’s repeated.
- Only use one blank line to separate sections of the song like verse, chorus, bridge, etc.
- Any background vocals or ad libs should be included at the end of the line in parenthesis.
- Write out explicit lyrics instead of using asterisks unless a word is bleeped out in the audio recording itself.
- Avoid having lines that are really long. Break up long sentences onto multiple lines the best you can.
4. Add synced lyrics for Instagram Stories and Spotify through MusixMatch
Have you ever wondered how you get your lyrics to show on Instagram Stories and have the words synced perfectly as the music plays? This is all done through a 3rd party lyric company called Musixmatch.
In addition to Facebook/Instagram, synced lyrics are supported by Apple Music, TIDAL and even Spotify.
Spotify recently announced late 2021 that they would start showing song lyrics on their app. The lyrics will pull from Musixmatch, which is the same source Instagram Stories pulls the synced lyrics from. If you listen to a song on your Spotify app with synced lyrics activated, you’ll see a box on the bottom that you can pull up to see the lyrics.
How do you go about syncing the lyrics so it’s timed with your music?
One way is to go to Musixmatch directly and get verified as an artist.
You’ll be asked to sign up for an account first and then provide your artist profile links for Spotify and Apple Music. Search your artist name on Google with the word “Spotify” or “Apple Music” to find this quickly. Once you submit these links, Musixmatch will email you back asking you to verify your identity.
Once you’ve been verified, you’ll be asked to take a brief course on how to submit and sync lyrics. You have to pass this course before you can add any of your lyrics to their database, which shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.
Add the lyrics to one of your songs and you should see an option to sync it to music. This can be done on desktop or on the Musixmatch app.
For DistroKid users, you can sync your lyrics on their website now that they are officially partnered up with Musixmatch. It is a bit easier going this route, but I still recommend going through Musixmatch first to verify your artist profile and learn how to format your lyrics. Keep in mind that synced lyrics are only available on Musician Plus and Label subscriptions. As of this writing, DistroKid is the only distributor that offers this feature.
How to add synced lyrics on Distro?
To get started, you will need to submit plain lyrics first to DistroKid and have it approved before you can do synced lyrics. Go to the lyric section of your DistroKid account to see the list of your releases and the lyric status of each song.
If your plain lyrics have been approved, click on ‘synced lyrics’ to start the process. Syncing lyrics to the music feels sort of like a game where you’re trying to time it perfectly. It may take you a few tries just to get use to the pace and timing of each song. The basic idea is you hold the spacebar down right when the line first starts and you let go once the last word of the line is done. You keep repeating the process until the song is done.
Keep in mind that syncing lyrics on DistroKid is slightly different than how you sync through Musixmatch. The benefit with doing it through Musixmatch is that you can go back to restart at any point so you don’t have to do it all in one take.
Be aware that it can take days or even weeks for synced lyrics to register into these platforms. So if you don’t like how it turned out, you can always go back to redo them.
5. Create a lyric videos as low budget promotion tool
If you don’t have the time or you’re on a tight budget to do a music video, lyric videos can be an effective alternative for promoting a new release.
Generally, lyric videos are very simple where the lyrics are displayed along with the song over some basic visual component. The imagery used in a lyric video can be static graphic backgrounds, motion graphics / animation, live show video and stock/B-Roll footage.
For example, here’s a minimalist lyric video we put out for the first single for Lyrics Born’s new project:
Here’s an example of a lyric video that I made using leftover b-roll footage:
If you’re looking for inexpensive options, try taking a look around Fiverr. They are an affiliate of mine which means I do get a small commission for referrals at no extra cost for you. Please read my full disclosure for more details.
Fiverr is a popular freelance marketplace where you can find a variety of different services at budget-friendly costs. Personally, I don’t use Fiverr for lyric videos because I’d prefer to make them myself. I wouldn’t be opposed to it if I didn’t have the time, but I have used Fiverr for other services though.
However, if you don’t have the tools or skills for video editing, you can also reach out within your network to see if there’s someone who can do it for you. Otherwise, I’d recommend starting with Fiverr.
Be Careful: Fiverr is great if you’re on a budget. Because it’s a popular online marketplace with freelancers from all around the world, you have to always be careful with who you deal with and the types of services you pay for. When it comes to lyric videos and related media/content, Fiverr shouldn’t be much of an issue. For things like marketing and music “promotion” services, I would be very cautious of potential scams.
6. Making karaoke videos of your most popular tracks
Fans love to sing along to their favorite songs so why not make a karaoke video of your most popular songs. This could take a bit more video work and will require, of course, the instrumental versions without main vocals.
Although if you do create a simple lyric video with stock footage or a static background, you can easily just swap out the audio track with the instrumental version to keep the timing of the lyrics shown on screen.
Here’s an example where I do exactly that for a release. Check out the lyric video below:
Since I had all the stems for the song, I created the karaoke version by syncing up the instrumental and background vocals to the lyric video. When I rendered the video, I muted the main audio and here’s how the karaoke version turned out:
7. Sell your most popular or memorable lyrics on merch
Some lyrics in a song really hit home for a lot of listeners. I know I have my personal favorite lyrics from my favorite artists that will always resonate with me. While some will tattoo their favorite lines, others may just want to buy clothing with those lyrics.
In case you’re not entirely sure about what lyrics to highlight, ask your fans. Start a poll or just ask them to comment on their favorite lyrics. Once you have a good idea, using a dropshipping service that does print on demand merch is a great way to experiment different designs.
8. Publish a lyric book
Depending on where you are in your career, you may choose to publish a lyric book for a particular album or your entire catalog. You can go do a minimalist approach or you can collaborate with a visual artist to create art for each song. This can be sold as a physical book at shows and your website as a downloadable PDF.
The first lyric book that I personally own is from Aesop Rock who included it free with his album on CD. The lyric book is called “The Living Human Curiosity Sideshow” and it was from his 2005 album Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives. Because of how dense and abstract his lyrics are, having something to read along in physical form was really cool.
You can also promote a lyric book as a bonus insert that will be included in an upcoming album release. This is what Sage Francis recently did for his 20th anniversary vinyl repress of his first album “Personal Journals.” It includes never-before-seen photos and handwritten lyrics of songs on this album.
9. Sell handwritten lyrics in a frame
Another cool product independent artists can offer for sale is an art piece of your handwritten lyrics with your signature.
This can be done on-demand where fans can request a verse or section of a song they want handwritten or you can do a limited number of pieces from your most popular songs. Eligh, an artist I work with, does handwritten lyric pieces on-demand and we have a form that asks them what song they would like when they add to cart.
Just be very careful with how you ship them with a frame. Yes, you technically ship it in a tube without the frame and save money. However, shipping with the frame makes the product more refined and can justify charging more.
10. Incorporate lyrics in a contest or giveaway
Another angle you can use with lyrics is in giveaways or contests. It can be as simple as giving the original handwritten lyrics you wrote before recording a hit single as a prize. Or maybe you’re looking to do something more experimental where the contest involves writing or performing your lyrics.
Maybe you can write 2 verses and have the 3rd verse be something where fans can submit as a part of a contest. The winner would get songwriting credits for their part.
A recent example of this is similar to what Russ did on TikTok. He launched an open verse challenge with Duets where the winner got to be a featured artist on the remix of one of his songs. This could also be done in Instagram Reels and requires participants to write and perform their own lyrics.
Although I don’t think he initially launched this challenge with the intention of collaborating with the artist, Hailey Knox did so well with the verse she wrote and sang for the Remember Open Verse Challenge that he invited her to be a part of the official remix of the song.
For a more experimental idea, share only the lyrics and the instrumental of an upcoming song before releasing the finished song with your vocals. Host a cover contest before they hear you perform your own song. Never heard or see anyone do this, but it was just something random that I always wondered how it would work out.
There are definitely fun ways to incorporate lyrics as a part of a contest or giveaway to keep fans engaged when marketing your music. These are things to consider to change things up a bit from time to time.