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How to Write In-Text Citations in Music Lyrics

Updated March 06, 2019

Learning to add in-text citations for music lyrics into an essay is important if you need to reference a particular lyric in your work. Many different referencing formats exist, such as MLA, APA and Harvard, and each of these requires both a parenthetical citation and an entry in a reference list. The parenthetical citation is otherwise referred to as an "in-text" citation and its primary function is to enable the reader to find the relevant entry in the reference list. Generally, the year the song was written (or the year an album was recorded) and the author's surname are all that is required.

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  1. Find the name of the author of the lyrics. Look in the booklet for the CD to find the surnames of the author of the lyrics. If the lyrics are listed within the pullout, the author of them will usually appear above the lyrics. If not, the information can always be found with the copyright information, which is often toward the back of the booklet.

  2. Locate the date of the writing or recording of the song. Essentially, you are looking for the date listed as the copyright date for the particular track. Look on the back of the CD case to find the release date of the album. Compare this information with the copyright information listed in the booklet of the CD to ensure that they match. If the particular song from which you are quoting the lyrics has an earlier date attached, use that date.

  3. Write the author of the lyrics' name in parentheses just prior to the quotation. In MLA format referencing, this is all that is required. For example, you could write -- "In the lyrics to 'Imagine' (Lennon), it states that..." -- if you were quoting the lyrics to "Imagine" by John Lennon.

  4. Add the copyright date for the song you are referencing if you are using APA or Harvard format referencing. These systems use the "author-date" system of parenthetical citation, so after the author's name, add in a comma and then include the date. For example, you could write -- "The lyrics to 'Teachers' (Cohen, 1967) include the line..." -- if you were quoting "Teachers" by Leonard Cohen.

  5. Use the author's name in the main body of the text followed by the date in parentheses, if it is better for the essay's readability. Using the example above, you could alternatively write -- "In 'Teachers,' Cohen (1967) states that he..." -- to cite the same work. Write any lyric in the same way as you would write poetry.

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About the Author

Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005, covering science, music and a wide range of topics. He studies physics at the Open University, with a particular interest in quantum physics and cosmology. He's based in the UK and drinks too much tea.

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