Songwriting is often equated with singing, but that’s not always the case. Just because you sing doesn’t mean you write songs, and vice versa. So it there any real necessity for lyricists and composers to be singers themselves? Let’s explore that topic today.
- Can You Write Songs without Singing?
- The Study of Songwriting
- Songwriting as a Producer
- Successful Songwriters Who Don’t Sing
- The Downsides of Songwriting without Singing
- My Personal Experience
- Other Articles to Consider
Can You Write Songs without Singing?
Yes, you can write songs whether you are the one to sing them or not. Lyrical composition and vocal performance may be two closely-related skills, but they are two very different fields of study.
It can take several years to develop the chops for either one alone, let alone both.
You do not need a good singing voice to write great songs. But you will need a few other compositional skills, namely:
- A firm grasp on the English language (or whatever language you write in),
- An understanding of literary devices like metaphor and irony, and
- Some working knowledge about writing melodies (also called top lines)
Even if you write your own top lines, that does not mean you need the ability to sing those top lines. Accomplished composers like Bach and Beethoven did not know how to play every instrument in the orchestra, but they knew how to write a melody for each instrument. Likewise, you’ll need to know what melodies a person can sing, even if it’s not your voice that will perform it.
The Study of Songwriting
Songwriting generally encompasses two field of study:
- Creative writing, and
- Music composition
Some songwriters never compose the melody, they just write the lyrics. Many unconsciously compose the melody line without thinking of themselves as a composer: they’ll just hum tunes from their head until one works. But, overall, a competent songwriter should have the skills for both lyric writing and music composing.
People often attend years in college just to learn one of those subjects, let alone both.
Singing is very different matter. Vocal performance is actually it’s own field of study at most music schools. Because it requires an entirely different skill-set than writing. So don’t feel bad if you lack the vocal prowess to belt your own songs.
Songwriting as a Producer
In reality, a great deal of professional songwriters never sing their own songs. Instead, they work as music producers in the studio. They make the music and someone else sings it. You may enjoy composing music more than performing it. If so, then working as a producer is an option.
And it’s not just big name songwriters working for major labels who bring in money from their work. Independent beat producers can sell melody lines and hooks with their beats.
There is an ocean of singers in this world who lack songwriting skill. Many of them dream about being famous, or at least getting noticed on the internet. And they need songs to sing. Playing covers is an option, but those only get you so far.
You could be the one getting paid to make their dreams come true. You just have to connect with singers and offer your services.
Successful Songwriters Who Don’t Sing
Like I said, you don’t have to be a world famous major label producer to make money by songwriting. But wouldn’t you like to hear about a few who did just that? The following people are all songwriters who have landed credits on Billboard charting tracks that they did not sing themselves:
- Jim Steinman (worked extensively with Meat Loaf, Celine Dion)
- Max Martin (worked with Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, and many more)
- Don McKinney (worked with Cee Lo Green, JoJo, and The Weeknd)
- Andreas Carlsson (worked with Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and Lil Uzi Vert)
- Pop Wansel (worked with Kehlani, Ariana Grande, and Lizzo)
- Happy Perez (worked with Benny Blanco, Juice WRLD, G-Eazy, and Halsey)
The Downsides of Songwriting without Singing
Of course, there are some disadvantages to never singing your own songs. They include:
- Lack of recognition
- Harder to build a fan base
- More profit sharing
- Loss of creative control
Lack of Recognition
If you aren’t the face and the voice behind a successful track, then it’s very unlikely people will remember you. It’s the singer that usually receives accolades and notoriety. As a songwriter and/or producer, you are relegated to background status. Even if it’s your musical and lyrical work that rockets the singer to stardom.
This bothers some songwriters; it makes them feel unappreciated. You may even develop feelings of resentment that someone else is getting all the attention for your work.
Harder to Find Fans
It’s also a lot harder to garner a fan base when you aren’t the face of your music. Listeners rarely check the songwriting credits and search out who the lyricist was on a song they enjoyed.
Having some successful artist names under your belt will definitely help you to land other jobs. But it won’t build your image in front of fans. Being a studio songwriter is very much a business-to-business endeavor rather than a business-to-consumer transaction.
More Profit Sharing
If you write, record, and produce your own songs, then you never have to share the royalties. But depending on another person to sing your tracks means you’ll always be splitting payments. Depending on the popularity of the singer you work with, you may give up between 30% to 50% of the royalties of a song (that’s compared to doing the singing yourself).
Less Creative Control
The life of a studio songwriter & producer is one of constant collaboration. As a result, you will almost never have the final say on creative matters with your songs. A singer will have input on any tracks they sing. So will any additional producers or label executives that broker the business relationship between you and the voice talent.
My Personal Experience
I’ve been writing music and lyrics for 15 years. The majority of my releases have been instrumental. Why?
I hated my singing voice and I’m not a very good singer. For most that time, I continuous practiced singing, heard how bad my voice was, gave up, and then tried again…only to fall back into the same self-defeating cycle.
I’ve written at least a thousand songs in the last 15 years. Yet only 5 of them have ever seen the light of day. And all of those songs were only released in the 6 months (as of February 2023).
That’s because I’m a possessive songwriter. I get so attached to my compositions that I don’t want to give them to someone else. That would feel like I’m abandoning my art. So in the last 12 months I’ve made it a habit to practice singing for 15 minutes every day. And it’s actually helped. I’ve gotten comfortable enough with my voice to start releasing my own songs.
If you feel the same way as I did (dislike your voice, discouraged by your lack of vocal prowess), I want you to know there is still hope. If you want to sing your own songs but feel like you can’t, there is almost always time to improve. I had an art professor in college who joined a church choir and learned to sing at the age of 83. If she can do it, and I can do it…maybe you can overcome that obstacle, too.
In the end, the choice to perform your own work or outsource the singing is entirely up to your preferences. Some people don’t like their singing voices. It’s completely understandable. Maybe you get too nervous performing and it prevents you from getting up to the mic.
None of that should stop you from writing songs if that’s what you want to do. You have options. Be it selling your tracks to artists or labels, or partnering with a singer or rapper that you know.
Other Articles to Consider
Thanks for stopping by. If you found this article useful, here are a few more to consider reading: