A new Spotify feature allows users to display rolling lyrics under songs they play on the streaming service’s desktop application.

Although this marks an end to the infinite fun of misheard lyrics, it does underscore the value of song lyrics and just how much listeners are drawn to the verbal element of music. It’s also a reminder that lyricists deserve greater recognition and respect for the words they set to songs.

Morrison's handwritten original lyrics to 1971...

Jim Morrison’s handwritten original lyrics to 1971’s LA Woman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Two years ago David Lowery noted the same thing in his valuable analysis of song lyrics sites, with some important implications for the way songwriter compensation is viewed by those platforms.

Back when physical records ruled the day, part of the joy – or despair, depending on your persuasion – was to unwrap the package and discover how much, or how little, the artist chose to reveal about their lyrics. Many would print their words in full, while others would incorporate snippets into the artwork for a more nebulous yet artistic approach.

Others would omit the lyrics entirely, leaving the listener to immerse themselves in the recorded words (or replay the same section fifty times to zero in on one key turn of phrase) in the hope of deciphering them correctly.

Nowadays the correct terms are just a web search away, and commentary around the meaning and insight abounds across the aforementioned lyrics sites and social networks. As Lowery highlighted in his study of the sector, “the lyric business is clearly more valuable in the Internet age.”

The roaring popularity of lyrics sites and searches, as well as the suspect practice of unlicensed “lyrics videos” that find a home on YouTube, show how accurate this assessment is. Fans value song lyrics as a core element of the music they enjoy. Much like poems or short fiction, the words that writers set to songs are a creation in their own right and deserve to be treated with the same value as other published works.

An interesting angle on the new Spotify feature is also rooted in rights, namely whether or not the rolling lyrics synced to the song will constitute a karaoke-style use that requires a special license. Spotify is pulling its lyrics from partner MusixMatch, but the CEO of karaoke provider Digitrax, Joseph Vangieri, wrote to highlight the potential copyright violation and raise questions over whether such a feature should be allowed to continue without appropriate licensing.

More broadly, this is a reminder that we must never take any element of a creator’s work for granted.

While Spotify is attempting to innovate and create new features for its users, something any creatively-minded individual can appreciate, it should remember that everything it does  is built on the backs of artists. Without the music they create and the licenses that grant such services the right to use it, there is no service to sell. The same goes for lyrics, album art, and any other creative element that feeds into the experience of music that fans value and enjoy.