At the heart of every song a performer brings to life are lyrics, words that fit well to the rhythm, notes and overall meaning of the music. A lyricist is a type of poet who concentrates on blending text and song. Pay for this type of work runs anywhere from $36,000 to $81,000 per year, depending on the people with whom the lyricist works, the number of projects completed and how the lyricist negotiates.
According to the SimplyHired website, the average compensation for a lyricist was $81,000 annually in June 2011. Hourly, this translates to $38.94. This is higher than the average for general writers and editors, who earned an average hourly rate of $31.71 in May 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The CollegeToolkit.com website reports that, in 2011, poets, lyricists and creative writers earned an average of $64,560, which is closer to the bureau's figure. Based on these numbers, hourly rates somewhere between $30 and $40 would not be unreasonable as of 2011.
The CollegeToolkit.com website reports that, in 2011, poets, lyricists and creative writers in the lowest 25th percentile earned $38,150 per year. This is the same as $18.34 per hour. In the 75th percentile, pay was $75,060 annually or $36.08 hourly. Another source, the Salary Box website, shows salaries roughly between $36,000 and $81,000 across the United States.
Lyricists often enter into contract agreements with singers and publishers. These agreements dictate whether the lyricist is to be paid outright for the use of his words, or if he is to receive royalties. Royalty rates are low -- about 3 cents per sheet music copy in 2007 -- and are generally split between all members of the lyrics and composition team, says M. William Krasilovsky et al, author of "This Business of Music: The Definitive Guide to the Music Industry." However, if a lyricist sells many copies of his words, the royalties add up quickly. The better a lyricist is at negotiating contracts, the better his earnings will be. Some lyricists opt to hire agents or other professionals who are skilled at negotiation to receive the best deal.
Lyricists are not limited to a certain number of projects per year. The more prolific the lyricist is, the more income he can generate through outright sales or royalties. Additionally, the singer and publisher with whom the lyricist works makes a difference. Small publishers may offer lower purchase rates or royalties than large houses do and, typically, lyricists who work with well-established singers get better deals. However, good pay does not mean that the lyricist will receive a lot of recognition. Although many artists like Britney Spears don't write the words to the songs they perform, the public often recognizes the song as the performer's, not the lyricist's or the composer's. The other side of the argument is that working with a well-known performer can propel an unknown lyricist into the spotlight, provided the lyricist is credited for his work. Notedly, lyricists who perform their own words and music -- for example, Jewel -- make more than general lyricists do because they do not have to split publishing and performance royalties.