Skip to main content
A woman sitting in a chair in a recording studio. A woman sitting in a chair in a recording studio.

Songwriting basics

2 min read

What is songwriting?

Every song starts with songwriting, the act of creating music or lyrics, or both.

Under copyright law, this creation is called a musical work.

So, what is a musical work?

A musical work consists of a composition with or without lyrics:

  • - the collection of original notes, melodies, chords, rhythms, , and .

  • - the words performed by singers, rappers, and other .

What's the difference between a musical work and a sound recording?

Before we begin, a quick note about the word . It is commonly used to describe what music creators create, but it's very important to understand that song can mean either, or both, a and a . So, whenever we speak of a song, we always mean both the musical work and the sound recording together.

It is essential to understand that songwriting and recording are two separate creative processes. As a , you can be involved in both. Songwriting creates the musical work, and recording it makes a . They have different and revenue streams.

Understanding these rights is the first step to getting you properly credited and paid. For a deep dive into rights, explore our topics on Music Creators’ Rights, Rights Transfer and Licensing and Scope of Protection.

A song consists of either or both the musical work and the sound recording.

How do I ensure my rights are protected?

Generally, protection is automatic. If the musical work is , it belongs to its creators.

However, it is always a good idea to put the musical work in a format; this can be, for example, written down or recorded as a sound recording. In some countries, it's a legal requirement to put the musical work in a fixed format for copyright protection to apply.

Under copyright law, your musical work may be protected, but in reality, there is more you need to do to get credited and paid.

Learn more about this in our Music Creators’ Rights topic.

You can also discover further information on our Songwriter Splits and Registering Musical Works pages.

How collaborating affects my rights

Each creator who makes an contribution to the musical work is a songwriter and, under , is referred to as an author. This may include collaborators such as , , , , , and . Each co-author can own a share of the rights and receive a share of earnings whenever the musical work is used.

You can learn more about your rights and how ownership of a musical work is divided among collaborators in the Music Creators' Rights topic and on the Songwriter Splits page.


Test your songwriting knowledge

Video credit: Tiffany Orvet, Daniel Sundström, Eric Ivar Persson, Christine Miller, Nikki Skelly, Jeff Noble, Tony Bollas, Kelly Wright, Tobias Leo Nordquist, Ponny Höijer, William Engström, Parapix
Music credit: Niclas Molinder
Illustration credit: Jakob Vidkjær