Understanding the lyrics 'supply chain'

If you’re a subject matter expert on this, perhaps you can fill in the blanks–

  1. Artist writes lyrics and records an album
  2. Artist delivers music and lyrics to label
  3. Label produces CDs and puts music up for sale (SoundCloud) or streaming
  4. Label takes lyrics and…
  5. ?
  6. ?
    end: Roon users are delighted that when they play the album, lyrics appear.

The world of lyrics is a complicated mess…


This is probably much more than you expected @nealsal, but here goes…

  1. An artist creates music. This may be from a song he/she wrote, he/she collaborated on or another songwriter wrote (wrote encompasses creating the lyrics and the song’s composition).

  2. An artist may or may not have a label deal. He/she can release their music themselves through various methods or the label may release it.

  3. A label may or may not have the lyrics for music they release. And even if they have them, they generally don’t have rights to deliver lyrics in any fashion other than in graphics on cd/album liner notes as they usually only represent the artist not the songwriters who wrote and own the rights to the lyrics.

  4. Music publishers are the people who represent songwriters and license the rights to the lyrics and the song’s composition. They have the right to publish lyrics in sheet music and in digital form.

  5. A songwriter may or may not have a deal with a publisher so it may not even be obvious who can grant the rights to use the digital lyrics for a song.

  6. Additionally, the rights for the song may not even be figured out at the time an artist’s music is released and becomes popular. As an example, let’s say you’re an artist in a room full of 10 of your friends and band mates, you’re half drunk or stoned or whatever and you collaboratively create a song that becomes popular. If you have a music publishing deal, the music publisher (who now sees money to be made) will work with you to capture who owns the rights to the song (maybe at this time you decide to give a 1/10th equal songwriting share to each of the people in the room when the song was created or whatever). If you don’t have a music publishing deal yet this is when a publisher will now come knock on your door to sign you… But at the end of this process, the publisher has what they need to license digital lyrics to someone because they know who to pay. By the way, there are literally 100s and 100s of music publishers that own rights to some amount of songs…

  7. Just because the music publisher has the rights to license digital lyrics, that DOES NOT MEAN THEY ACTUALLY HAVE THE DIGITAL LYRICS. Very few publishers actually have a complete database of accurate digital lyrics for the songs they have rights for. Believe it or not, many don’t have any… This sound absolutely ridiculous but it is true…

  8. Because of #1 to #7, companies like Lyric Find and others (and at one time my company, Gracenote) focused on building a digital lyric business because no one could provide a simple solution for companies like Roon that wants to license them. To do this they had to license rights from 100s of music publishers to have a comprehensive catalog of songs covered, and they had to create their own database of digital lyrics because the publishers couldn’t provide them. You often can get the digital lyrics by searching on the web and copying it but this is technically illegal as someone else created them but companies like lyric find live in this murky world when creating a database of digital lyrics. Sometimes the only way to get the lyrics to a song is to have someone listen to it and try to figure out what the lyrics are and capture them. It takes a large staff to to do all this and build a comprehensive database of digital lyrics BUT even with the best effort, the coverage for songs is no where near complete. While you can get decent coverage for the most popular songs, there are 100s of millions of tracks of music in the world…

  9. One additional complexity of digital lyrics is what version do the companies that provide digital lyrics actually provide. If it’s a popular song, you might have the lyrics as the song writer wrote them, the lyrics the way the band performed them (and they might have changed something) and you might have many other bands also performing the song and changing the lyrics slightly… And then there is the complexity of providing translated lyrics in other languages … but I digress…

  10. Major streaming services often have licensed the rights to display lyrics with the music their subscribers are playing, but generally they have no rights to license digital lyrics to other companies.

  11. That brings me to Roon. Because you don’t subscribe to play music from Roon itself, they almost certainly don’t get lyrics from the streaming services. So they most likely have to license lyrics from companies like lyric find (I’m not sure exactly who they license from but lyric find is the most likely culprit). And because the database they license doesn’t come close to covering 100% of music Roon users may play, this is why so many songs in roon don’t have lyrics. And this will likely always be true…

Believe it or not, this is the simple version of the *****ed up world of lyrics… There is even more complexity and corner cases I left out of this… :slight_smile:


Well that’s going to get bookmarked. Thank you for that, really interesting.