Are you thinking about coming up with some self-made tunes? If so, it’s worth looking to the stars for industry inspiration?
Singers who write their own songs earn more cash, can tailor their tunes personally and attract increased attention from music label A&R. But songwriting isn’t the be-all and end-all, with many artists having successful careers, without ever penning a note.
In this article, we look at the stars who do – and don’t – record their own work. Read on to find out who has composition skills and who relies on others for catchy choruses.
Famous singers who write their own songs
Many artists choose to write their own numbers. Some do this exclusively, others collaborate, while others have writers who work for them. But singers who do pen their own material have a distinct advantage. If you write and record a song, you’ll have the rights to it, meaning it’s yours alone to do with as you wish.
This gives you a unique standpoint and helps you get noticed at competitions and when sending your work to record labels. A song with a personal touch and biographical element will often be more relatable to your audience. The caveat, of course, is that your songs should be good.
Can you be a singer without writing songs?
Absolutely. Many singers never write for themselves and have long careers with multiple hits. It’s far better to make a brilliant job of someone else’s song than write your own substandard material. We’ll take a look at which artists don’t write their own songs, shortly.
If you’re a singer who doesn’t want to write your own songs, but you do want to sing something unique, consider a collab. That way you can work as a team with one other, or several musicians. Two heads can often be better than one.
Do you have to sing to be a songwriter?
As you don’t have to be a songwriter to be a singer, you don’t have to sing to be a songwriter. However, while a singer who doesn’t write can easily become famous, it’s harder the other way round. This can be a benefit – you get the artistic satisfaction and earn good money without the hassle and trolling that comes with fame. But it’s not so good if you’re seeking the limelight.
Hillary Lindsey has written for the likes of Lady Antebellum, Faith Hill, Miley Cyrus and Carrie Underwood. Linda Perry has written for Alicia Keys, Celine Dion, Gwen Stefani, and Christina Aguilera. Max Martin has notched up 51 USA top tens for Celine Dion, Katy Perry, Adam Lambert and more. And Lukasz Gottwald aka Dr Luke has written for a huge number of big names including Ke$ha, Britney Spears, Pink, Pitbull and One Direction.
Singers who write songs
These days, once an artist is signed, they will almost definitely be collaborating, even if they started out writing fully solo. And the more famous they get, the more help they have. It could just be a topline or a hook that comes from another source. Very occasionally, they’ll release something they’ve written exclusively alone. But to be classed as a singer-songwriter, they just need a writing credit.
We have the lowdown on famous singer-songwriters, some of whose work you’ll already be familiar with – and others who’s writing may take you by surprise.
#1 George Ezra
He famously took off around Europe (a trip paid for by his label), to write his debut album. Inspired after missing a train, the song ‘Budapest’ was born and shot him to stardom.
#2 Sam Smith
He’s been known to release covers but co-wrote every track on his Grammy-winning debut album. He also wrote “Therapy” for Mary J. Blige.
#3 Camila Cabello
Another artist who wrote every single song on her debut album.
Best known for “Chandelier”, but many people don’t realise that Sia’s also been credited on Beyoncé, Britney Spears and Katy Perry albums.
Grammy winner Adele honed her songwriting skills at the BRIT School in Croydon. Her heartfelt lyrics and tunes are loved by millions the world over.
Halsey was given the Hal David Starlight Award at the Songwriters Hall of Fame gala in New York City for her personal catalogue of songs.
Lorde has been inspired by her own life, telling Vanity Fair magazine: “I’m an introvert, a writer— just trying to translate what’s inside my chest.”
Pop stars who write their own songs
#8 Shawn Mendes
He’s is a heartthrob, but also a determined composer, who’s stuck to his guns when it comes to releasing his own tunes.
#9 Justin Bieber
Justin is better known for collaborations. However, did you know he was credited for every single song on recent album Changes?
The Queen of Pop may have enlisted more and more help latterly, but her early catalogue was self-penned. And she has a real penchant for a catchy chorus.
K$sha writes her own music, has music written for her and writes for fellow artist including Miley Cyrus.
#12 Meghan Trainor
Meghan was responsible for Fifth Harmony’s “Sledgehammer”, as well as many of her own lighthearted takes on feminist pop anthems.
#13 Billie Eilish and Finneas
Siblings Billie and Finneas are a formidable songwriting team. They’ve stayed true to their roots and kept writing together, often to the exclusion of others. Billie has also collaborated with Khalid, while Finneas has written with Selena Gomez.
Rappers who write their own songs
As rap lyrics are so personal, it’s usually the case that a rapper will write their own.
The Detroit artist’s rap battles gave life to his now-legendary back catalogue.
Jay-Z has reached the Billboard Top Ten more times than any other hip-hop artist with his own rhymes.
#16 The Notorious B.I.G.
The larger than life rapper also worked with the likes of Puff Daddy (Sean Combs).
Country singers who write their own songs
#17 Dolly Parton
Dolly is one of many old school country singers to write biographical story songs about her upbringing and Tennessee life.
#18 Kenny Rogers
While he’s written quite a few hits, he rarely record his own composure, with the country crooner telling NPR:
“I take great pride in not writing hits. I write from time to time, but I think great writers have a need to write, and I don’t really have that need.”
#19 Johnny Cash
He wrote what’s arguably his most famous song, “Walk The Line” in just 20 minutes.
#20 Keith Urban
Keith also has a medley of big hits and he often collabs with other songwriters.
#21 Taylor Swift
She may be a pop singer, but Taylor started out in the country world and had a string of bestselling tracks under her belt by the age of 21.
He sold the hit song “Irreplaceable” to Beyonce, but rumour has it he’d actually originally intended it for a country singer.
Artists who write and produce their own music
If you want to go one step further than singing and songwriting, why not consider producing your own material too? This has become an increasingly popular way to operate a musical career, whether as an emerging artist or a big name seeking more independence.
#23 Lady Gaga
One of the world’s current top writers, singers and producers, she said of herself: “I write all my own music. I spend hours and hours a day in the studio, I’m a producer, I’m a writer. What I do is different.”
She also collaborated with Mark Ronson for the hit song “Shallow” from A Star Is Born:
#24 Ed Sheeran
Ed has been writing his own songs since the very beginning of his career, which is why he’s one of the top-selling artists on the planet. But he also started his own record label, Gingerbread Man Records in collaboration with Warner Music. This gives him more artistic control and freedom over his work.
The grime artist is known for his autobiographical tracks like “Momma’s Prayers” and “Blinded by Your Grace”. But, like his mate and fellow musician Ed Sheeran, he started his own record label #Merky, to produce his own music and that6 of others.
#26 Kanye West
Kanye started out producing for Jay-Z, making his name on The Blueprint. But he’s also a very accomplished rapper and writer, explaining his net worth of over $1.26 billion.
“I can write something that, even someone who hates me the most will have to respect and love the song.” Kanye said.
Like Bowie, Prince carved out an entire musical niche by writing his own songs. Not only that, but he was a multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger and bandleader too.
Famous singers who don’t write their own songs
We’ve talked a lot about which singers do write their own songs – and there are thousands, known and unknown. But an even larger number of vocalists don’t write their own tracks.
So who are the big names covering songs and having full-time writers in their crew?
What singers don’t write their own songs?
Frank Sinatra had an entire team of songwriters. Paul Anka, himself a famous pop star, wrote one of Frank’s iconic songs: “My Way”, which has since been covered by hundreds of singers.
Elvis Presley had huge hits with songs he didn’t write, such as Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock.
Whitney Houston had a legendary voice, but most of her songs were not self-penned. One of her biggest hits “I Will Always Love You” was written by a songwriter we’ve already mentioned – Dolly Parton.
Justin Bieber’s hit “Baby” was written by Christina Milian.
Rihanna’s “Diamonds” was written by another successful singer, Sia, who also wrote Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts”, as well as countless other songs for big-name artists and herself. The Caribbean chanteuse may have had a notoriously rocky relationship with Chris Brown, but he was responsible for half of her hit Disturbia.
Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” is one of many songs Pharrell Williams has written for other artists, many of which he also produced.
Sinéad O’Connor’s one hot wonder Nothing Compares 2 U was composed by Prince.
Songwriting is a different skill from singing. Many of the top prolific writers may not be as famous as the singers for whom they’ve written, and of course many co-write and collaborate with writers or other musicians, where the melody and the lyrics are written by different people.
Rock songs written by other artists
David Bowie is the ultimate example of unique musicianship. His style is inimitable and a great example of how creating your own sound can be invaluable in helping you to stand out.
Jessie J penned Miley Cyrus’ hit Party in the USA early in her career. The money she made form this apparently helped pay her rent while she launched her own fledgeling singing career.
Many singers start to climb the music industry ladder by selling their songs, giving them a platform with record labels. Bruno Mars penned Ceelo Green’s stupidly catchy Forget You before he made it big himself.
The lesser-known Julia Michaels wrote Selena Gomez’s Bad Liar.
And it’s not just solo artists who write their own notes. Bands who’ve worked together to write their own tracks include Radiohead, Abba, Foo Fighters, The Rolling Stones and the Lennon-McCartney powerhouse (with help from Harrison) that was The Beatles.
Successful group The Bangles had a huge hit with “Manic Monday”, which was in fact written by Prince. There’s no doubt about it, writing your own tracks will benefit you as a singer, creatively and financially. So if you want to get noticed by labels and make your unique mark in the industry, give songwriting a shot.
- Who makes more – songwriter or singer?
This depends on how successful the singer or songwriter is. But if talking like for like in terms of the success of a hit, the songwriter will make more than the singer. This is down to the eway royalty splits work. Those who do both stand to make the most money of all.
- Do singers produce their own music?
Some do, some don’t. If you can produce as well as singing, it will enable you to have more artistic control and release tracks yourself using a DIY home recording setup. This will save you money on studio time. Otherwise, you can use an indie producer or studio to do that side of things for you.
- What singer wrote the most songs?
Dolly Parton has written over 3000 songs. The country icon is known for hits like Jolene and I Will Always Love You, but Dolly has many more songwriting credits including having penned tunes for musical theatre shows, TV and films. Paul McCartney is the writer with the most UK no 1 hits to his name.
Are you a singer who writes your own songs? Have you recorded or performed your compositions in public? Let us know and share links to your tracks in the comments below.