Songwriters: Formatting Lyric Sheets Like A Pro



One of the most overlooked details in the songwriting business is properly formatting your lyric sheet.

Since starting SongTown, Marty Dodson  and I have had the chance to see many songs lyrics presented in our publisher groups, song contests, and song feedback forums on We’ve seen some wild lyric sheets—or in many cases, even NO lyric sheets—accompanying songs being presented!!

Publishers, Producers, and Artists all speak a common language.

Industry pros all share a style of working. It’s important when presenting your songs (to someone you hope will record it) to have a simple typed, properly formatted lyric sheet.

Your lyric sheet must look professional, I can’t say this enough…

A clear, typed lyric sheet, with all of the important contact information, is half the job, the other half is the format. Why? Because, pros are used to reading a lyric sheet typed in a certain style so they can quickly assimilate the content. Making them pause and try to figure out what is going on with your lyric sheet is not respecting their time. As a result, your pitch will be less affective. So, every time you present a song to someone, you must do it in a professional format. Remember, the lyric sheet is your music resume, and style points do count!

What not to do on your lyric sheet…

I’ve seen a lot of aspiring writers send out lyric sheets with multiple songwriting organizations in the top header of the lyric sheet. This is NOT a good idea. Producers, artists, and publishers don’t care that you belong to 5 different organizations. Pros are only interested in the song. Does the song cut the mustard? Therefore, name-dropping won’t make you more legit. And worse, putting all that other info on your lyric sheet can make you look unprofessional!

Below is a lyric sheet from one of my songs recorded by Lady Antebellum. Let me know if you have any questions!

Write On! Clay


Clay Mills is a multi-Grammy nominated, 16-time hit songwriter, and co-founder of SongTown. His songs have been recorded by such artist as Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Babyface, and Reba. 

Clay is also the co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing. 




“One Day You Will”

Clay Mills
Hillary Scott
Charles Kelly
Dave Haywood


You feel like you’re falling backwards
Like you’re slippin’ through the cracks
Like no one would even notice
If you left this town and never came back

You walk outside and all you see is rain
You look inside and all you feel is pain
And you can’t see it now

But down the road the sun is shining
In every cloud there’s a silver lining
Just keep holding on (just keep holding on)
And every heartache makes you stronger
But it won’t be much longer
You’ll find love, you’ll find peace
And the you you’re meant to be
I know right now that’s not the way you feel
But one day you will

You wake up every morning and ask yourself
What am I doing here anyway
With the weight of all those disappointments
Whispering in your ear

You’re just barely hanging by a thread
You wanna scream but you’re down to your last breath
And you don’t know it yet

[Repeat Chorus]

Find the strength to rise above
You will
Find just what you’re made of, you’re made of

[Repeat Chorus]




73 thoughts on “Songwriters: Formatting Lyric Sheets Like A Pro

    1. Hi Jessica, A duet would not change the lyric sheet. A producer, or singers involve would be deciding who sings what part. And they my eventually do it differently than the writer. But if you want, you could put above a verse: (Male Vocal) or Female or Both

  1. Haha! I’m just glad to see that I wasn’t too, too far off with how I was doing it.

    Mine have been





    V3 or (Bridge)


    Though awesome details about not name-dropping. I mean, if ever I got lucky enough to have something do successful, I can see me right now mentioning that to try to draw more attention! Heck, I’ve never had anything, save contest wins in small-time contests, and I can’t resist telling everyone and their brother about that as it is!

  2. Clay:
    Thank you for being such a good sprinter. You stand at the door to the tunnel-of-learning giving advice as basic as lyric format and then have to sprint to the opposite end to deliver top-notch songwriting at a winning level. May you never tire of running back to the door.

  3. Thanks Clay! One follow-up question I have on this topic is regarding “progressive choruses”. If there are minor changes in tense or pronouns in later choruses, does it warrant writing them out in full instead of the rote “[repeat chorus]”? What if there are other changes more sizable than just tense or pronouns? Is it ever a good idea to write something like “[repeat chorus with following changes]” and then write only the lines that have changed? I know it’s generally good to keep it all to one page, but whenever I have a song with a progressive chorus and I try to write out each altered chorus it bumps me up to two pages quite quickly.

    1. Funny — I just finished a song with a “progressive chorus” (I never heard that term before), and was uncertain about writing it out in full each time. I finally did the following with the changing lines: “1. AAA, etc. 2. BBB, etc. 3. CCC, etc., in their context, without writing out the repeated lines. (One annoying thing, though, is that this schema does make the song, as a whole, harder to memorize.)

    2. Bryan I’ve asked this question before too. I’d love to hear Clay’s thoughts, or see Lyric Sheet examples of hit songs that have slight, or major changes in the chorus. Marty has previously suggested to indeed write out the chorus again if there’s changes. As long as you can keep the song one page! But I’d love to see examples if Clay has any? 🙂

      1. Clay, when you’re copyrighting song lyrics would you need to format it this way? or just put the title in the middle then the lyrics to the left and leave it that way?

        1. There is not a strict rule for formatting a lyric when copyrighting that I have ever heard of; and there is no mention of this on the US copyright website. Either should be fine.


  4. Clay, thanks for giving back to the song writing community. I know you don’t have to and it is so greatly appreciated.

  5. Clay, this is such great information, and I am making notes of all your tips in the article and the content. Thank you for sharing this and I hope to join SongTown very soon.

  6. Clay,

    Two quick, related questions, and I appreciate your response:

    1. Do you label a pre-chorus with a header similar to the chorus?

    2. Do you label the bridge with a header to make sure that stands out?

    Thank you!

    1. No, typically I see only the chorus labeled. If you have done your job well in writing the music, people will know they are in the prechorus or bridge. And it gets to be a lot of clutter on a page when you start labeling everything. Let the song speak for itself. ~CM

      1. I usually label the chorus, indent the pre-chorus a few spaces, and double-indent the bridge, without labeling them as such.

  7. Thanks, Clay. This calls for just a small adjustment from the format I have been using, but I can’t say enough how much this kind of really concrete “industry standard” advice helps.

    For so many things in songwriting, there is no “right” answer. But when there is a “right” answer, it’s great to just know what it is and be able to move on and think about other stuff. : )

    Thanks and happy new year!


  8. On one of your replies (March 2017) to this thread you said that the week prior that you had written a post about how to format for copyright. I came across this post which was very helpful as I’m helping my daughter to get 2 of her songs registered currently on We have only 3 days now to submit any supporting documents to the file, and we need to submit her lyric sheets – how would the lyric sheet that we submit to the copyright office be different from this lyric sheet “for pitching” that you posted an example of on this post??? Any info appreciated!

  9. Ive been talking with my “manager” quote on quote(really smart guy helping me with marketing and other etc.) But is it better to buy your beats straight up or say Im on youtube and I like someone’s beat and start using it but then I go back to buy it, because im trying to get all the rights to my songs. Rephrs: Should I buy a group of beats or beats separate?

  10. Hi,
    My name is Sirena and I have a question about commas in lyrics and formatting phrases so it looks together and one line is not going off in one direction. How would you write this for example:

    And you know if you fall, they’ll pull you
    Down further
    Be a little bit wiser girl
    And you know if you let them, they’ll drag
    You under, be a little bit braver girl

    1. By today’s standards, that will usually be too long. But I have seen it before on great story songs from years past.

  11. Ok umm are all songs formatted like that​? i meen my cousin doesn’t do it exactly​ like that sooo does that make her songs wrong​?

  12. Clay, how should one handle slang type dialect in songs? For instance, Probably > Prob’ly , when the formal version is too long for the phrase? Is it best to write out the whole word in the lyric sheet, or is the shortened version acceptable?

    1. You can write slang words like they sound. I know some guys that don’t but today it’s okay to do so.


  13. Wow, Clay,

    The first two paragraph of the lyrics, that I can relate to me and it’s what happens with all of us.

    Best of Clay for your future.

  14. Hey Clay,

    What font, font size, and spacing do you use for your lyric sheets? I am currently submitting a three song application for a songwriting competition, and I want to make sure my lyric sheets are perfect.

  15. Hello Clay,
    This is a very encouraging post. I think I’m actually pretty close to this format when I get around to typing out lyrics. What I would like to know is, when sharing songs with other musicians at song circles or jam sessions, do you include chords and other musical info on the lyric sheet, or have separate chord charts and lyric sheets? When is it appropriate (or not) to have them combined on one sheet?
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom…

  16. HI Clay, thanks so much for posting this information. I teach a beginning songwriting class in Hightstown, New Jersey and am always trying to get my students to see the importance of this. They just don’t get it. I get a lot of non-capitalized words and “text” speak/ spelling is creeping into their writing. I point them in the direction of this blog to show them how it works in the real world.

    Thanks again for all of the advice that you are sharing.

    Charlie Ernst

  17. Hi Clay,

    Obviously you’ve had more hits than I have but my experience here in Nashville has been the Chorus is usually in bold and indented to make it stand out. I’m sure there are a few acceptable ways to format and I definitely agree that formatting helps distinguish an amateur from a pro but felt I should mention that. Love your work by the way 😉

    1. Chris, I’ve worked with thousands of co-writers and written for 6 major publishers over the years. I don’t recall any making their chorus bold. The lyric and the melody should stand out on their own. If you write the song correctly then people reading your lyric will know they are in the chorus and not need a big road sign for that. You can of course format however you like. I’m just given you the industry standard.


  18. Hi Clay, I always put my copyright info under the title. I think it would be wise to have this on your lyric sheet and make sure you have your song registered.


    (c) John Doe SOCAN 1999
    All rights reserved.

    Verse 1
    blah, blah, blah
    Chorus etc . . .
    Verse 2 etc . . .

    1. Leslie, If I’m pitching to a producer or artist or label A&R, I don’t put the date of copyright. Here’s why…I’ve had songs recorded by major artists 10 years after they were written…but what if someone sees the old date when considering my song for a project and thinks they would rather have a song that is fresh and new? I don’t give them any reason not to cut the song. Pitching a song to a publisher, producer, or artist is different than printing your song in a publication. Myself and other pros leave the date off when pitching.

      And of course, everyone should register their songs. I wrote an article last week about the proper way to do that so you protect your rights.


  19. Hi Clay,

    This is a minor question – but do you ever indent the chorus so it looks a little less square? I’ve heard from other people that publishers like seeing a lyric that has a “curvier” shape so to speak instead of a block.


    1. I don’t indent. I’ve been a staff writer for 20 years for major publishers and never had a publisher suggest I indent etc. I would just focus on writing a killer song and that way publishers, labels, artists, and producers won’t care if the lyric sheet is shapely 😉


  20. Yes – great advice. After I have a 1st draft for a song I usually go ahead and type and format it so
    revisions will be easier than scratching thru a handwritten copy. I’ll also print a copy and keep in my song notebook so I can still revise by hand if I’m away from the computer when inspiration hits.

  21. Thank you SO much for all of this wonderful information! I’m finally recognizing, what I’m doing well and maybe not so well, as a songwriter. What is the best way to find co-writers?

  22. Clay, was the extra line space after the chorus intentional? Just wondering if it was an accident or if it’s there to set the chorus apart from the rest of the song!

  23. Another awesome tip Clay, I really really appreciate you helping us writers out here hoping to be in your shoes!

  24. I believe you use Helvica? That is a font that I always use. I also noticed that you excluded date. I always date my work but I guess it’s really extrenious information. Thanks for the lifeline you provide Marty & Clay from someone a long way from Nashville.


    1. Kevin, I’ve had songs recorded by major artists 10 years after they were written…but what if someone sees the old date when considering my song for a project and thinks they would rather have a song that is fresh and new? I don’t give them any reason not to cut the song. Pitching a song to a publisher, producer, or artist is different than printing your song in a publication. I personally leave the date off while pitching.

      1. Clay,
        What would you say was the number one aspect that got your songs noticed 10 years later?
        What about it did you do differently or what outlets were you pitching to?

        1. Writing great songs is always my first priority. If you become a great writer and consistently write great songs, doors will open and songs get recorded. I tell people to worry less about “pitching” and focus writing better each day and co-writing. The co-writing is how you network and make cuts happen over time. Going a community like SongTown gives you the tools to get better and meet people in the industry.

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