The situation for lyricists in the marketplace has its positives and negatives. On the plus side, it’s necessary for you to collaborate to have a suitable melody for your words. I know that doesn’t really sound like a plus, but if you’re a prolific lyricist, finding several collaborators represents an opportunity to produce a great number of finished songs. Those who insist on writing both lyrics and music, in my experience, are rarely so prolific. As a lyricist, you can develop your lyric skills in a variety of styles without needing to restrict yourself for marketing purposes as do many writer/performers.
On the minus side, it’s very difficult for you to get a staff-writing deal. You really have to be an extraordinary lyricist with some commercial success under your belt to get an exclusive staff-writing situation. And it’s virtually impossible to make a single-song deal on a lyric with no melody. There are audiovisual firms that commission lyricists to write material for them. Check with local firms to see what their needs are, and find additional contacts listed in Songwriter’s Market.
So, outside of that, what can a lyricist do? Find collaborators. Along with the methods listed in “Collaboration,” (see Chapter 7 in The Craft and Business of Songwriting), pay particular attention to political strategy. Find co-writers who are further ahead in their careers than you and still moving forward (This is called “Writing Up.”). Among collaborators to consider are new bands that are getting some industry attention or at least drawing great audiences locally. Good lead singers and keyboard players are usually worth considering because they’re more likely to write exciting melodies that may need equally exciting lyrics. Find other writers who are starting to get their songs recorded or those who are already on staff at a publishing company. Find writers in strong positions to make contacts with artists, such as studio musicians and recording engineers. With all the above you have the advantage of writing with people who could get good demos made at a reasonable cost, a big plus for you.
If those situations are just not available to you, look for skilled musicians in bands, college music departments, churches, theaters, and so on. If you speak another language fluently, gather samples of your song translations from, and into, the language. Contact publishers both here and in the countries where the language is spoken. They can be found in directories like Songwriter’s Market and Billboard’s International Buyers Guide. The Spanish-speaking market, for example, is enormous.
Make contact with as many potential co-writers as possible, enter lyric writing contests, put notices in music stores, schools, and magazines. Let everyone know what you’re looking for and you’ll find that your opportunities will grow quickly.
Caution: Do not send your lyrics to companies who advertise in magazines for “song poems” and ask you to pay a fee to have them write melodies to your lyrics. No legitimate music industry company will ask you to pay for collaboration or publishing. (See “Avoiding the Songsharks,” in “The Craft and Business of Songwriting.”)