- This article is about singers who compose their songs in English; for other languages, click on 'Related Articles' above
The term singer-songwriter describes musicians who write the lyrics and compose the music for the majority of the songs they perform. It was coined in the 1960s and became common parlance in the 1970s, when it was more associated with folk music than other musical forms. To define someone as a "singer-songwriter" is somewhat nebulous, as the term has different meanings to different people in different geographic areas, and across generations. Still, there are artists who most listeners agree belong in this category; the early career of Bob Dylan is an example. The term is often used to describe relatively unknown artists, although many go on to great acclaim.
Who is a singer-songwriter?
As a group, singer-songwriters tend to cover serious and emotional matters more than light-hearted material more fashionable in pop music. The designation is generally reserved for people who write the majority of the songs they sing. Most popular singers are not considered singer-songwriters, even if, like Elvis Presley and Britney Spears, for example, they occasionally write songs.
Interestingly, people who have made their name as singers may not be generally thought of as singer-songwriters, even if they have earned the title by virtue of having written most of their own material, or by having written across several musical genres. Dolly Parton is an example of a famous singer-songwriter who is nonetheless usually thought of as a country singer. Most country music stars, even those who write all of their own lyrics, do not generally call themselves singer-songwriters, while writers such as Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Roy Orbison, Neil Sedaka, and Carole King were singer-songwriters years before the expression became fashionable in the late sixties.