The Revolutionary (And Easy) Way For Songwriters To Make Money Licensing Lyrics

Turn Your Lyrics into a Revenue Stream
A Conversation with LyricFind on the Golden Age of Legal Music Lyric Search

Lyrics are often overlooked by a music industry that runs on flash and sizzle.

I mean, how can you make a stanza go viral?

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There’s no big-money label involvement with lyrics, just songwriters and their publisher(s). What used to be a booming part of the business in sheet music has disappeared, but people’s love for lyrics hasn’t. Lyrics are one of the highest-rated searches online, which of course led to thousands of spammy, porn ad-riddled, clickbait pages to catch that traffic. These sites would throw up lyrics from multiple sources, unlicensed, often poorly translated, and then infest you with malware or bombard you with suspicious ads to make money for views and clicks.

That, my friends, is a fairly good definition of copyright infringement.

The thing is, it worked. It worked very well, in fact. While a lyric site with just words on it may sound fairly innocuous, keep in mind that one of these sites had 10 million unique monthly visitors and received a $15 million investment from the prestigious venture firm Andreessen Horowitz.

But that all changed in 2014. In concert with the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), LyricFind helped license or shut down every lyric site in English as of the end of the calendar year.

“Through its anti-piracy program, NMPA has sent takedown notices to over 300 unlicensed lyrics sites and licensed over three dozen,” says David Israelite, President and CEO of NMPA. “LyricFind has been instrumental in helping infringing sites obtain licenses and continue operating [legally].”

That’s a pretty big deal, and a new source of revenue for rights holders. It’s also big for the sites – the one I mentioned above, with the financing, tripled their traffic. So, I spoke with the co-founder and CEO of LyricFind, Darryl Ballantyne, to get some insight into where LyricFind is headed.

PM: So, how did lyrics – of all things – drive your passion to start LyricFind?

DB: I’m the guy that friends would come to and say, ‘Who sings this song?’ and then they’d tell me the lyric, and I would always know. That’s actually what led me into starting this company. One of the co-founders needed to know a particular song, and gave me a few lines, but I didn’t know it. He searched online, and couldn’t find any usable lyric sites. Voilà!

PM: How would you define LyricFind? Is it a platform or a licensing clearance house? 

DB: I’d say it is more of a licensing clearance house in the music tech space. As you know, music licensing is so foreign and complex to many startups. We knew that tons of companies are trying to use entertainment assets, and we wanted to provide a simple way to operate legally.

PM: Where are some places LyricFind is being used right now?

DB: We license and send lyric feeds to several music services, including Amazon, Bing, Deezer, iHeartRadio, Shazam, SoundHound, and many, many more.  In addition, many of the most popular sites and apps for song searches already use our services to provide accurate lyrics for fans, including LyricsFreak, MetroLyrics, Lyrics Mania, LyricsMode, SongMeanings, and hundreds of others.

PM: A site like MetroLyrics using your API is a no-brainer. What are some LyricFind licenses we wouldn’t necessarily think about?

DB: Well, we have a deal with HTC handsets at the hardware level, where any song played from the music player on the device also includes lyric display. That’s pretty cool. We were approached by a jail operator company that wanted to have access to the lyrics database of the songs played on the TVs so they could screen out objectionable lyrics. We ended up not doing that project, but it was interesting. Lyrics are truly everywhere.

PM: Is language localization or translation something LyricFind is involved in? 

DB: Yes, it is very important to us to have quality control, and part of that is making sure the language any given lyric is being written or read in, is represented correctly. We are now supporting six languages, with more being added this year.

PM: You’re growing quickly – can you share some quick stats?

DB: We work with over 3,000 publishers (including all four majors) in 30 countries, resulting in millions of titles in our catalog.  No matter how large we grow, we are dedicated to fixing the problem of bad content. One of the big components of our company is that we have a team of people in Toronto typing out all of the lyrics in our catalog. It’s just part of a dedication to good lyrics; they must be right.

PM: How can independent artists make sure their lyrics are part of LyricFind?

DB: The easiest way is to opt-in to our program with the Harry Fox Agency. In some cases, we do direct deals with publishers, and you can find that info on our website at

-Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.

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