Singer-songwriter is a term that refers to performers who write, compose, and sing their own material including lyrics, melodies, often providing the sole accompaniment to an entire composition or song. This form of artistic expression is very common among performers that are less well-known than pop artists. Some of these artists depend on word of mouth and extensive touring to garner a fan base and commonly appear at house concerts, coffee houses, folk clubs, and festivals. Nevertheless, a number of well-known performers may still in fact write some of their own songs and, though being both a singer and a songwriter, are not sufficient to be a singer-songwriter.

North America and United Kingdom

The origins of the singer-songwriter in North America can be traced back to folk singers who created original works in the folk music style. The best known early singer-songwriters include Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly and Pete Seeger, along with members of The Weavers (Seeger performed solo and as part of the Weavers). These proto-singer-songwriters were less concerned than today's singer-songwriters with the unadulterated originality of their music and lyrics, and would lift parts from other songs and play covers without hesitation. The tradition of writing topical songs (songs regarding specific issues of the day, such as Lead Belly's "Jim Crow Blues" or Guthrie's "Deportees") was established by this group of musicians. These singers would lead rallies for labor unions, and so wrote many songs concerning the life of the working classes. This focus on social issues has greatly influenced the singer-songwriter genre.

The first popular recognition of the singer-songwriter in English-speaking North America and Great Britain occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s when a series of folk and country-influenced musicians rose to prominence and popularity. These singer-songwriters included Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Young, John Denver, Gene Clark, Jackson Browne, Dave Mason, Jim Croce, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Donovan, Randy Newman, Gordon Lightfoot, Nick Drake, Fred Neil, Tom Rush, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Ralph Mctell, Eric Andersen, Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, Bruce Cockburn, Van Morrison, Townes Van Zandt, Harry Chapin, James Taylor, Tim Hardin, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. People who had been primarily songwriters, notably Carole King, also began releasing work as performers. In contrast to the storytelling approach of most prior country and folk music, these performers typically wrote songs from a highly personal (often first-person), introspective point of view. The adjectives "confessional" and "sensitive" were often used (sometimes derisively) to describe this early singer-songwriter style.

It can be argued that some bands of the era - most notably the Beatles and the wave of artists on both sides of the Atlantic that followed in their wake - fit the definition of singer-songwriters, with most or all of their members taking an active role in the songwriting process. While there is some debate over the claim, it is worth noting that many former band members (including Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Peter Frampton and later Don Henley and Glenn Frey) found success as singer-songwriters in their later careers.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s the original wave of singer-songwriters had largely been absorbed into a more general pop or soft rock format, but some new artists in the singer-songwriter tradition (including Bruce Springsteen, Mark Heard, Lucinda Williams, Patti Smith, Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, Cheryl Wheeler and Warren Zevon) continued to emerge, and in other cases rock and even punk rock artists such as Peter Case and Paul Westerberg transitioned to careers as solo singer-songwriters.

In the late 1980s, the term was applied to a group of (predominantly female) artists, beginning with Suzanne Vega with her first album selling unexpectedly well, followed by the likes of Tracy Chapman, Nanci Griffith and K.D. Lang. Likewise, the success of Tori Amos in the United Kingdom lead to her success in her home market. By the mid-1990s, the term was revived with the success of Canada's Alanis Morissette and her breakthrough album Jagged Little Pill. It had grown to encompass fellow-Canadian Sarah McLachlan, who started the Lilith Fair, along with other artists associated with that event, such as American artists Sheryl Crow, Victoria Williams, Patty Griffin, Jewel, Lisa Loeb, Natalie Merchant and Joan Osborne. Also in the 1990s artists such as Dave Matthews and Elliott Smith borrowed from the singer-songwriter tradition to create new acoustic-based rock styles. In the 2000s, a quieter style emerged, with largely impressionistic lyrics, from artists such as Conor Oberst, Iron & Wine, Ray LaMontagne, Steve Millar, Jolie Holland and Richard Buckner.

Recording on the professional-grade systems became affordable for individuals in the late 1990s. This created opportunities for people to independently record and sell their music. Such artists are known as "indies" because they release their records on independent, often self-owned record labels, or no label at all. Additionally the Internet has provided a means for indies to get their music heard by a wider audience. Examples are: Jann Arden, Dar Williams, Ani DiFranco, Beth Hart, Richard Shindell, David LaMotte, Willy Porter, David Wilcox, Annie Gallup, Patty Larkin, Pierce Pettis, Peter Mulvey, Jennifer Kimball, Ellis Paul, Alison Breitman, Brooks Williams, and Christopher Williams. Examples of emerging artists getting notice on the folk circuit of the mid-2000s are: Ralston Bowles, Jonathan Byrd, Antje Duvekot, Michael Bowers, Juliet Wyers and Anais Mitchell, all of whom were recognized as Kerrville New Folk Finalists in the last few years. Other notable contemporary singer-songwriters include Todd Snider, Josh Ritter, John Francis and Bill Mallonee.


Liedermacher is a German term for a writer who sings his own songs. The word "Liedermacher" is a combination of the word "Lieder" (pronunciation like the English word "leader"), meaning "songs," and the word "macher" for "maker" or "writer."

The German term Liedermacher, however, has nothing to do with the term Singer-Songwriter as used in this article (see ).

Liedermacher songs have sophisticated lyrics and are usually accompanied by only a few instruments, such as acoustic guitar. Some lyrics are very political in nature. The style is related to American folk/Americana and French chanson styles.

Famous German Liedermacher include Wolf Biermann, Reinhard Mey, Franz Josef Degenhardt, Hannes Wader, Konstantin Wecker, Gerhard Schöne and Barbara Thalheim. Herman van Veen from the Netherlands is also very popular in Germany.

As with some American folk singers, many Liedermacher make special recordings for children.

Latin traditions

Beginning in the 1960s, many Latin American countries developed singer-songwriter traditions that adopted elements from various popular styles. The first such tradition was the mid-60s invention of nueva canción, which took hold in Andean countries like Chile, Peru, Argentina and Bolivia.

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Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso
At around the same time, the Brazilian popular style bossa nova was evolving into a politically charged singer-songwriter tradition called Tropicalismo. Two performers, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso became two of the most famous people in all of Brazil through their work in Tropicalismo.

In the same period, there developed in Italy a very prolific singer-songwriter (in Italian cantautore) tradition, initially connected with the French school of the chansonniers, and lately developed very heterogeneously. Although the term cantautore normally implies consistent sociopolitical content in lyrics, noteworthy performers in a more inclusive singer-songwriter categorization are: Domenico Modugno, Luigi Tenco, Gino Paoli, Sergio Endrigo, Fabrizio De André, Francesco De Gregori, Antonello Venditti, Roberto Vecchioni, Ivano Fossati, Lucio Dalla, Francesco Guccini and Franco Battiato. Completely resisting classification is the Neapolitan Pino Daniele, who often fuses genres as diverse as jazz, rock, blues, tarantella, and madrigals to produce a sound uniquely his own, with lyrics variously in Italian, Neapolitan, or English. See also Italian singer-songwriters, cantautori .

In neighbouring Malta, the main singer-songwriters are Walter Micallef, Manwel Mifsud and Vince Fabri. They all perform in Maltese.

Spain and Portugal have also had singer-songwriter traditions, which are sometimes said to have drawn on Latin elements. Spain is known for the nova cançó tradition — exemplified by the Catalan Joan Manuel Serrat; the Portuguese folk/protest singer and songwriter José Afonso helped lead a revival of Portuguese folk culture, including a modernized, more socially-aware form of fado called nova canção. Following Portugal's Carnation Revolution of 1974, nova canção became more politicized and was known as canto livre. Another important Spain singer-songwriter is Joaquin Sabina.

In the latter part of the 1960s and into the 70s, socially and politically aware singer-songwriters like Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés emerged in Cuba, birthing a genre known as nueva trova. Trova as a genre has had broad influence across Latin America. In Mexico, for example, canción yucateca on the Yucatan Peninsula and trova serrana in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca are both regional adaptations of trova. Today, Guatemalan Ricardo Arjona qualifies as Latin America's most commercially successful singer-songwriter. Although sociopolitical engagement is uneven in his oeuvre, some see Arjona's more engaged works as placing him in the tradition of the Italian cantautori.

In the mid-1970s, a singer-songwriter tradition called canto popular emerged in Uruguay.

Soviet Union and Russia

Since the 1960s, those singers who wrote songs outside the Soviet establishment have been known as "bards". Many bards performed their songs in small groups of people using a Russian guitar, rarely if ever would they be accompanied by other musicians or singers. Those who would become popular would be able to hold modest concerts. Bards were rarely permitted to record their music, given the political nature of many songs. As a result, bard tunes usually made their way around via the copying of amateur recordings (known as magnitizdat) made at concerts, particularly those songs that were of political nature.

Bard poetry differs from other poetry mainly in the fact that it is sung along with a simple guitar melody as opposed to being spoken. Another difference is that this form of poetry focuses less on style and more on meaning. This means that fewer stylistic devices are used, and the poetry often takes the form of narrative. What separates bard poetry from other songs is the fact that the music is far less important than the lyrics; chord progressions are often very simple and tend to repeat from one bard song to another. A far more obvious difference was the commerce-free nature of the genre: songs were written to be sung and not to be sold.

Hong Kong

Singer-songwriters were not common in Hong Kong until the early 21st century. This is due to the unique situation of the pop music scene in Hong Kong. Record labels are controlled by large enterprises leading to an abundance of K-songs (Karaoke type songs) in Hong Kong. Currently some of the distinctive and well-known singer-songwriters in Hong Kong are: Chet Lam (林一峰), Pong Nan (藍奕邦), Khalil Fong(方大同), Justin (側田) and Ivana Wong (王菀之).


Singer-songwriters are popular in Bulgaria under the name "bards", or "poets with guitars"[1]. Their tradition is a mixture of traditional folk motifs, city folklore from the early 20th century and modern influences. In the 60's, 70's and 80's of the 20th century the Communist regime in the country started to tolerate the Bulgarian "bards", promoting the so called "political songs", performed usually by one-man bands. A national festival tradition was established, under the title "Alen Mak" (Red Poppy), a symbol with strong Communist meaning in Bulgaria. After the collapse of Communism in 1989 the singer-songwriters' tradition was re-established. Currently the Bulgarian "bards" enjoy several festivals (local and international) per year, namely the PoKi Festival (Poets with Guitars, Poetic Strings) in the town of Harmanli, the Bardfest in Lovech, the Sofia Evenings of Singer-Songwriters and others. Major figures in the Bulgarian tradition are Mihail Belchev, Assen Maslarski, Grisha Trifonov, Plamen Stavrev, Vladimir Levkov.

World folk

Despite the communist isolation, the tradition of singer-songwriter in Romania flourished beginning with the end of the 1960s and it was put in the context of the folk music, with its three main styles in Romania : ethno folk, American-style folk and lyrical (cult) folk. The framework for many of these initiatives came under the form of Cenaclul Flacara, a series of mass cultural events with an inevitable ideological touch, still, with the merritt of supporting great opening initiatives: the appropriation of Western artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and others from the Woodstock generation, the public performance of gospel-like music, the opening to big international issues (pop culture, accountability of the leadership, tension surging during the Cold War-with surprisingly neutral positions etc). Overall, the Romanian folk, in general, could be marked as an underground cultural movement, somewhere between non-aligned and protest music.

See also

  • List of singer-songwriters
  • Periodicals that include coverage of singer-songwriters
  • American Songwriter[2], celebrating the Craft of Music since 1984.
  • Performing Songwriter[3], covers writers of all styles.
  • Dirty Linen, focus on folk and world music.
  • No Depression, focus on alternative country styles.
  • Paste, eclectic music coverage.
  • Pitchfork Media, focus on independent artists.
  • Sing Out!, focus on folk styles.

Further reading


The performing arts are those forms of art which differ from the plastic arts insofar as the former uses the artist's own body, face and presence as a medium, and the latter uses materials such as clay, metal or paint which can be molded or transformed to create some art object.
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A lyricist is a writer who specializes in song lyrics, usually paid for by a band to write a custom song(s). A singer who writes the lyrics to songs is a singer-lyricist.
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composer is a person who writes music. The term refers particularly to someone who writes music in some type of musical notation, thus allowing others to perform the music. This distinguishes the composer from a musician who improvises or plays a musical instrument.
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Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice, which is often contrasted with speech. Contrary to common thought, air is not expelled with the diaphragm, but is inhaled using the diaphragm and exhaled or expelled, using the abdominal and lower pelvic muscles, as
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Musical composition is a phrase used in a number of contexts, the most commonly used being a piece of music. It is also used, however, to refer the structure of a musical piece and to the process of creating or orchestrating a new piece of music.
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For other uses, see Lyrical.

Lyrics are the words to a song. The writer of lyrics is a lyricist or lyrist. The meaning of lyrics can either be explicit or implicit.
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melody, also tune, voice, or line, is a series of linear events or a succession, not a simultaneity as in a chord (see harmony). However, this succession must contain change of some kind and be perceived as a single entity (possibly Gestalt) to be called a
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accompaniment is the art of playing along with a soloist or ensemble, often known as the lead, in a supporting manner as well as the music thus played. An accompaniment figure is a gesture used repeatedly in an accompaniment, such as:

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Musical composition is a phrase used in a number of contexts, the most commonly used being a piece of music. It is also used, however, to refer the structure of a musical piece and to the process of creating or orchestrating a new piece of music.
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A song is a relatively short musical composition. Songs contain vocal parts that are performed with the human voice and generally feature words (lyrics), commonly accompanied by other musical instruments (exceptions would be a cappella and scat songs).
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This article or section may contain original research or unverified claims.
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This article has been tagged since October 2007.

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The definition of house concert is not definite but is generally taken as a concert that's presented in someone's home, or a nearby private space, for example a barn or back yard.
  • Usually, but not always, the audience capacity is smaller than at a coffeehouse or club.

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coffeehouse [a] (French/Spanish/Portuguese: café; Italian: caffè, German: Kaffeehaus
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Folk clubs (as distinct from American folk-music nightclubs) were primarily an urban phenomenon of 1960s and 1970s Britain. Ewan MacColl was a founder of the "Ballad and Blues Club" in a pub in Soho. After a few weeks they moved to "The Princess Louise" at Holborn in 1961. A.L.
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A festival is an event, usually staged by a local community, which centers on some unique aspect of that community.

Among many religions, a feast or festival is a set of celebrations in honour of God or gods. A feast and a festival are historically interchangeable.
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North America is a continent [1] in the Earth's northern hemisphere and (chiefly) western hemisphere. It is bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the southeast by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west
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Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (July 14, 1912–October 3, 1967) was a prolific American songwriter and folk musician. He described himself in one of his songs as "The Great Historical Bum",[1]
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Hudy William Ledbetter, (January 23, 1888 – December 6, 1949) was an American folk and blues musician, notable for his clear and forceful singing, his virtuosity on the twelve string guitar, and the rich songbook of folk
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Peter Seeger (born May 3, 1919), almost universally known as Pete Seeger, is a folk singer, political activist, and author. As a member of the Weavers, he had a string of hits, including a 1949 recording of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" that topped the charts for 13 weeks in
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The Weavers were an influential American folk music quartet based in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. They sang traditional folk songs from around the world, as well as blues, gospel music, children's songs, labor songs and American ballads, selling millions of records
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Country music, the first half of Billboard's country and western music category, is a blend of popular musical forms originally found in the Southern United States. It has roots in traditional folk music, Celtic music, blues, gospel music, hokum, and old-time music and
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Paul Frederic Simon (born October 13, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. Simon is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, both as half of the folk-singing duo Simon and Garfunkel and as a solo artist.
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Neil Percival Young[1] OM (born November 12, 1945, Toronto, Ontario) is a Canadian singer-songwriter, guitarist, and film director.

Young's work is characterized by deeply personal lyrics, distinctive guitar work, and signature nasal tenor (and frequently alto)
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John Denver (December 31, 1943 – October 12, 1997), born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., was an American folk singer-songwriter and folk rock musician who was one of the most popular artists of the 1970s.
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Harold Eugene Clark (born Tipton, Missouri, November 17, 1944 - May 24, 1991) was an American singer-songwriter, and one of the founding members of the folk-rock group The Byrds.
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Clyde Jackson Browne (born October 9, 1948) is an American rock music singer, songwriter, guitarist, and pianist, whose introspective lyrics made him the poster boy of the Southern California confessional singer-songwriter movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
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Dave Mason (born David Thomas Mason, May 10 1944) is a musician, singer, songwriter, and guitarist from Worcester, England, who first found fame with the rock band Traffic.
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James Joseph Croce, pronounced (KRŌCH-ē) (January 10, 1943 – September 20, 1973), popularly known as Jim Croce, was an American singer-songwriter.

Early life

Croce was born in South Philadelphia.
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Joni Mitchell, CC (born Roberta Joan Anderson on November 7 1943) is a Canadian musician, songwriter, and painter. [1]

Mitchell's singing began in small nightclubs and busking on the streets of Toronto and in her native Western Canada.
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Leonard Norman Cohen, CC (born September 21, 1934 in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and novelist. Cohen published his first book of poetry in Montreal in 1956 and his first novel in 1963.
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