Songwriting

Songwriters: How To Format Lyric Sheets Like A Pro

by Clay Mills
Apr 3, 2020

One of the most overlooked details in the songwriting business how to properly format lyric sheets. Here are the “dos and don’ts” for aspiring songwriters wanting to present themselves as real pros.

Since starting SongTown, fellow hitmaker 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 songtown.com. And, we’ve seen some wild lyric sheets—or in many cases, even NO lyric sheets—accompanying songs being presented!!

Professional 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, and properly formatted lyric sheet. Doing this shows the person that you know what you’re doing and you respect their time.

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 to figure out what is going on with your lyric sheet is not respecting their time. As a result, your pitch will be less effective. 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!

Here is an example of a lyric sheet from a song that I co-wrote with country/pop superstars Lady A. Take a quick look and I’ll go over why we’ve formatted it like we have.


One Day You Will

Clay Mills
Hillary Scott
Charles Kelley
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…

Chorus:
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
Wanna scream, but you’re down to your last breath
You don’t know it yet, but…

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

One day you will
Oh, one day you will

Contact: Clay@songtown.com
615-123-4567


Let’s break down how to format lyric sheets like a pro…

Rule #1: Keep It Simple! (or K.I.S.S.)

how to format song lyrics- SongTown

Notice the format is clean and basic.  The title sits at the top of the page, followed by the four songwriters. That’s it. We want the song to do the talking, not the lyric sheet. So don’t clutter the song’s first impression with anything more.

Make sure to use a common font like Times New Roman, Arial, or Helvetica.  A pretty, flowery, or fancy font will only serve as a distraction. Remember, the artist or producer you are hoping records your song is usually very busy. Therefore, all they will care about at this point is what the song is called and who wrote it. They take a quick glance, and then boom, they’re right into the verse of the song…

You will see I have labeled only my “chorus” as a Chorus. Why don’t I label all of these sections: Verse 1, Verse 2, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Verse 3, etc, etc?

If you’ve done your job well when writing and producing your song, (and you better!) then the producer or pro listening to your song will know where your verses and pre-choruses lie.

You should have written enough contrast into your melody, building it in a way that those sections are clear to whomever is listening. I have included a label at the top of the chorus…

Chorus:
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 heart ache 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

Later, as the listener gets to the later choruses that are not written out and denoted as “Chorus,” they can easily glance back up the page and find the chorus lyrics. This is as much of a roadmap as you need.

ALWAYS put your contact information at the bottom of the lyric sheet.

I included my email and phone number in the contact information. Hopefully, the listener will be excited enough about your song to want to call you. This also goes for any mp3 file you may send to someone in the business; always include your name and contact information in the meta data of the mp3 file. Imagine if someone likes your song and drags the mp3 file to their desktop where 30 other songs sit. Later, they like the song, but can’t remember who sent it. This happens, but don’t let it happen to you!

Don’t be an amateur…

Rule #2 Look Professional 

I’ve seen a lot of aspiring writers send out lyric sheets with multiple songwriting organizations in the top header of the lyric sheet.

For example; 

John Jones is a member of:
SongTown
ASCAP
Midwest Songwriters Association
Musicians On Call

This is NOT a good idea. Just Don’t. Producers, artists, and publishers won’t care that you belong to five different organizations. Pros are only interested in the song. So, does the song cut the mustard? Name-dropping won’t make you more legit. And worse, putting all this extra info on your lyric sheet will make you look like an amateur! Hit writers are not putting affiliations on their lyric sheets. You want to come off as a pro who knows what’s what.

Rule #3 Let the song do the talking

Resist writing that heartfelt explanation of why you wrote the song and who you wrote it for. It’s tempting, I know. Been there. But any professional listening only wants to feel what the song can make them feel. If you are lucky enough to have an artist record your song, and it plays on radio, there is no pre-explanation before the song play. The song must do 100% of the talking. Therefore, when a producer is hearing your song for the first time, they want to feel what an audience would feel. If you’ve done your job and written a great song, it will not need an introduction. The song will tell the entire story.

Rule #4 Don’t provide lyric options

how to format lyric sheets- choices

I have seen many lyric sheets from new writers include an alternate lyric. Let’s look at how that might be done on my song with Lady A

You wake up every morning and ask yourself (or wake up in the morning feeling upset)
What am I doing here anyway?
With the weight of all those disappointments (could sing “rejection” instead of disappointment)
Whispering in your ear

You get the picture. This comes across as the writer wanting someone else to make the final decisions for them. Remember, it’s the job of the songwriter to write the song. It’s the songwriter’s job to make the best decisions for their song–and live or die by those decisions. You want the listener to feel confident that you are confident and know what you are doing. Another example of this mistake is having an entire verse at the bottom of the lyric sheet with an explanation of why the alternate verse might be better than one of the others.

Again, the producer or artist listening doesn’t have time for decision making. They will make a gut call one whether the song moves them or not; and then they will move on.

I like to remind writers at my publishing company that whomever is listening to your song really wants to like it. Their job literally depends on them finding great songs to release. So, make the pro look good. Write a great song and present it in a professional manner. That’s when the door swings open for good things to happen.

Write On! Clay


Clay Mills

Clay Mills

Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He is the co-founder of SongTown and has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay is also the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing and The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.

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