A singer-songwriter is somebody who writes, composes and performs their own
musical material including melodies and lyrics. The singer-songwriter genre was first
properly established in the early 1800’s with the Bardic poetry, where poems would
be performed as chants in the streets. The genre really took off in the mid 1900’s with
artists such as Woody Guthrie who famously had the words ‘This Machine Kills
Fascists’ inscribed on his guitar which arguably inspired many other singer-
songwriters to perform.
As the technology available in music has improved the melodies have stayed fairly
similar. Avoiding using effects that change the tune and the genre has stayed fairly
Singer-Songwriters have been around for years. They have originated from all
over the globe coming from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Many
cultures began to become known in around the 1950’s with artists such as the
American Folk singer Woody Guthrie, the Latin Performer Caetano Veloso. There
were even eastern European Artists such as Bulat Okudzhava who was seen as
a national hero and has his face on many Eastern European stamps to honour
Caetano Veloso Woody Guthrie
• One of the first commercial singer-songwriters was Woody Guthrie who was the first
• Next followed Pete Seeger in the 1940’s-1950’s
• In the 1950’s the were many singer-songwriters evolving from the jazz side of music
where artists were mixing two genres together to create one sound. With artists such as
Billie Holiday and Ray Charles
• In the 1960’s-1970’s there emerged singer-songwriters of a country/folk background (at
this point in time this sub-genre of country was a rising popularity). With artists such as
Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye and Jonny Cash who were the most well-known.
• Female Artists such as Tracy Chapman began to boom in popularity in the 80’s were most
songs contained lyrics about social problems in the U.S. at the current time.
• Into the modern day with artists such as Ed Sheeran and James Morrison who more
commonly sing about personal life events. In this age of the genre it is more focused on
brand image for each artist (as the overall goal in the music industry for record labels is to
• The most common instrument played to accompany the artist’s voice is an
acoustic guitar (this has been the case throughout the whole genre)
• Music/melodies is purer than other genres as no other tuning is applied like
• There have been many different influences to the singer-songwriter genre over
the years which include jazz/blues, folk/country, Latin and many more
• Brand image across album covers etc. for modern day singer-songwriters are
portrayed as fairly simple
• Not much use of rhyming lyrics. Songs are more likely to be portrayed as
poems where a stronger message is portrayed rather than the focus to be on
Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie born on July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967.
He was an American singer-songwriter and folk musician whose musical legacy
includes hundreds of political, traditional and children's songs. Many of his songs are
about experiencing the dust bowl in the time of the great depression. Woody began
to perform his works in the 1940’s. His health was then starting to decline and by the
1960’s developed A form of Huntington's and eventually died on October 3, 1967.
His legacy and life events have now inspired thousands of country/
Folk singers which are still increasing by the day.
Born Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. on April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984. He was an American
singer-songwriter. Marvin helped to shape the sub-genre of Blues and Motown
style records in the industry around the 1960-1970’s after his big influential input
in the singer-songwriter industry inspiring many other artists. Later earning the
titles such as ‘Prince of Motown’ and ‘Prince of Soul. He could also play are
selection of instruments that varied depending on how he wanted his music to be
portrayed throughout his career
By the 1980’s Gaye’s career was coming to an end with his final big hit being the
album ‘Midnight Love’. On April 1, 1984 (aged 44) Marvin died
Born March 27, 1970. Mariah began her career as a singer-songwriter but has now
gone on to be a producer, actor and philanthropist. Around this period of time
record labels were snapping up artists as they were becoming more popular and
therefore the record labels would be able to make money out of the artists music
and brand. Some of her achievements are the longest number 1 single in the U.S
chart history. She has the title of the most successful song of the decade with ‘We
belong together’. She has sold over 200 million records world wide making her one
of the best artist of all time.
Her style of music as a singer-songwriter was based on vocal
power and melismatic style.
Born 5 May 1988 Adele Adkins, better known simply as Adele, is an English
singer-songwriter, musician and multi-instrumentalist. Adele is the first female in
the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to have three singles in the top 10 at the
same time as a lead artist, and the first female artist to have two albums in the
top five of the Billboard 200 and two singles in the top five of the Billboard Hot
Adele’s music has helped to change the style of fresh singer-songwriters who are
upcoming in the industry. In the modern day there are a lot of influences from
different characters that have helped to shape the vast varied style of music
produced by artists
2000’s - present
• Most musicians/artists commonly use an acoustic style guitar to pair with their
material as it suits most styles of music produced
• The acoustic guitar is used because it is a softer sound than electronic guitars
and also compliments the artists (usual) soft voice
• Singer-Songwriters are usually associated with classy instruments such as the
grand piano as it is part of a brand image.
• The overall style of music produced by signer-songwriters are always changing
depending on the artist and their brand image
Most Singer-Songwriters usually base their lyrics around the melody they have
created using their specific instrument (e.g. guitar). This way the artists melody
will be specifically tailored to their style of voice. An example of this is Jack
Johnson, he sings with a low tone of voice with his acoustic guitar in most of his
Singer-songwriters usually rely on their voice to sell albums rather than on brand
image as most artists don’t really incorporate in image into their work.
Notable Vocalist Singer-Songwriters:
Many singer-songwriters are multi-talented in terms of instruments they have
the ability to play. (Acoustic) Guitar is one of the most popular instruments that is
played. Most acoustic guitars have 6 strings and most artists use this form of
instrument as it is simple. Which is a common characteristic portrayed by most
singer-songwriters. Most melodies consists of repetitive playing and compared
to other genres such as Progressive Rock, playing the guitar is an easy task.
There aren’t really any artists in the singer-songwriter genre who’s guitars are a
bigger image than the actual artist.
So there aren’t any real notable singers who
rely on their guitar playing skills to show themselves off.
Adele Elton John
There is an even split between singer-songwriters who choose to play piano to
accompany their lyrics rather than guitar. All though most piano capable singer-
songwriters can play the guitar too. Guitarists tend not to be able to play both.
The most notable instrument used in the singer-songwriter genre is the Grand
Piano rather than keyboards as it gives off an element of class in the artist.
Usually the artist would sing into a microphone installed onto the top of the
piano while playing a the same time.
• In 2013, the modern day singer-songwriter genre is thriving. An Artist that has
taken advantage of this popularity for the genre is Ed Sheeran. He signed Jamie
Foxx’s and Elton John’s record label releasing the ‘A-Team- and ‘Lego House’ in
2011 with both singles staying at the top of the charts and is debut album
(released in the same year) ‘+’ went platinum within weeks. This therefore shows
the popularity some singer-songwriters can gain in such a short amount of time.
• More and more new artists are releasing their work each week and the artists
involved with the genre is growing to bigger amounts every day
• The words Singer-songwriters are now commonly known by the public as
‘Songwriters’. This has happened fairly recently in the 2000’s
As well as the classic old school artists such as Bob Dylan and Elton John from the
1950’s -1980’s. There are a wave of newer artists coming through that have made
the break within the last few years.
• Ed Sheeran
• Tom Odell
• Ben Howard
• Gabriella Aplin
And many more
Typically the album covers produce din the signer songwriter genre are fairly simple
and are usually involved with the artists instrument or face in some way. Most
album covers also tend to use the same font on all album covers. For an example
James Morrison uses similar text (as shown).
Some more examples of similar album covers (instruments involved with the
The use of new and improved technology in the signer-songwriter genre as
times have gone on has not really affected the style of music. The only real
affect it has had is the use of music studios in terms of fine tuning the songs
and melodies. Other than that the genre has stayed fairly simple and pure
where only the talent of the musician
• Music is good for you, it is proven that the smooth sound of acoustic guitars
and pianos accompanied with the smooth vocal sound sooths the brain
waves to help you relax and focus.
• Over 90% of songs in the modern day are about love songs compared to the
previous years in the 50’s-70’s where there were ¾ less love songs. Songs
were more politically and socially orientated