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A songwriter is a musician who professionally composes musical compositions or writes lyrics for songs, or both. The writer of the music for a song can be called a composer, although this term tends to be used mainly in the classical music genre and film scoring. A songwriter who mainly writes the lyrics for a song is referred to as a lyricist. The pressure from the music industry to produce popular hits means that song writing is often an activity for which the tasks are distributed among a number of people. For example, a songwriter who excels at writing lyrics might be paired with a songwriter with the task of creating original melodies. Pop songs may be composed by group members from the band or by staff writers – songwriters directly employed by music publishers. Some songwriters serve as their own music publishers, while others have external publishers.
The old-style apprenticeship approach to learning how to write songs is being supplemented by university degrees, college diplomas and "rock schools". Knowledge of modern music technology (sequencers, synthesizers, computer sound editing), songwriting elements and business skills are significant for modern songwriters. Several music colleges offer songwriting diplomas and degrees with music business modules. Since songwriting and publishing royalties can be substantial sources of income, particularly if a song becomes a hit record; legally, in the US, songs written after 1934 may be copied only by the authors. The legal power to grant these permissions may be bought, sold or transferred. This is governed by international copyright law.
Songwriters can be employed in a variety of different ways. They may exclusively write lyrics or compose music alongside another artist, present songs to A&R, publishers, agents and managers for consideration. Song pitching can be done on a songwriter's behalf by their publisher or independently using tip sheets like RowFax, the MusicRow publication and SongQuarters. Skills associated with song-writing include entrepreneurism and creativity. Staff writers do not necessarily get printed credit for their contributions to the song.