How to Cite a Song in APA, MLA, or Chicago

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Published August 12, 2020. Updated September 20, 2021.

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Music is an art form—and just as you’d analyze a poem for a literary paper or cite a painting for an art history paper, you may find yourself using a song as a source, especially if you’re enrolled in music theory courses. Here, we’ve laid out how to cite a song, so if you’re deciding whether or not to include a song in your next paper based on whether you can figure out how to cite it, go for it! Citing songs, whether you’re working off the audio recording or using written lyrics, is actually a pretty similar process to what you might have done for other kinds of citations.

Although citing a song might seem unfamiliar, there’s no need to worry. We’ve got you covered for both audio recordings and written song lyrics, whether you need to cite in MLA format, APA format, or Chicago style.

Citing an Audio Recording of a Song Found Online

If you’ve ever cited a movie before, you’ll discover that citing an audio recording of a song is a pretty similar process. But even if you’ve only cited text before, you should be a pro at song citations in no time! We’ve included examples of how you would cite Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t” for each of the three styles as well.

To cite an audio recording of a song, you should make note of the following pieces of information:
1. Singer’s name
2. Songwriter’s name
3. Title of the song (and subtitle, if there is one)
4. Title of the album (and subtitle, if there is one)
5. Album’s Edition (if there is one)
6. Track Number
7. Publisher
8. Year of publication
9. Website or database where the song was found
10. URL
11. The names of any other contributors

Ed Sheeran Album Cover

Use the following structure to cite an audio recording found online in MLA 9:

Singer’s Last Name, Singer’s First Name. “Title of the Song.” Title of the Album, album’s ed., Publisher, Year of publication, track number. Website or Database Name, URL (remove http:// or https://).

Here’s how the above example would be cited in MLA 9:

Sheeran, Ed. “Don’t.” X, deluxe ed., Asylum Records, 2014, track 4. Spotify, play.spotify.com/track/34gCuhDGsG4bRPIf9bb02f?play=true&utm_source=open.spotify.com&utm_medium=open.

Here’s how the above example would be cited in an in-text citation:

(Singer’s Last Name)

(Sheeran)

Use the following structure to cite an audio recording in APA format:

Songwriter’s Last Name, Songwriter’s First Initial. (Year of publication). Title of the song [Recorded by Singer’s First Initial, Singer’s Last Name if different from writer*]. On Title of the album [Audio file]. Retrieved from URL

*Do not include the information in the brackets if the name of the songwriter is the same person as the singer or performer.

Here’s how the above example would be cited in APA:

Sheeran, E. (2014). Don’t. On X. [Audio file]. Retrieved from https://play.spotify.com/track/34gCuhDGsG4bRPIf9bb02f?play=true&utm_source=open.spotify.com&utm_medium=open

Use the following structure to cite an audio recording in Chicago:

Singer’s Last name, Singer’s First name. Title of the Song. Publisher, Year of publication, Accessed Month Day, Year. URL.

Here’s how the above example would be cited in Chicago:

Sheeran, Ed. Don’t. Asylum Records, 2014, Accessed June 5, 2017. https://play.spotify.com/track/34gCuhDGsG4bRPIf9bb02f?play=true&utm_source=open.spotify.com&utm_medium=open.

Citing Song Lyrics Found Online

Citing written song lyrics is pretty similar to citing an audio recording, but if you’re used to mostly citing written work, you may find this procedure a bit easier since you’re citing words off a page rather than audio. Here, we’ve cited “Imagine,” a song by John Lennon which you’ve surely heard before—and one which could be the subject of rich analysis for your next paper.

To cite written song lyrics, you should make note of the following pieces of information:
1. Singer’s name
2. Songwriter’s name
3. Title of the song (and subtitle, if there is one)
4. Title of the album (and subtitle, if there is one)
5. Album’s Edition (if there is one)
6. Track number
7. Publisher
8. Year of publication
9. Website or Database where the lyrics were found
10. URL
11. The names of any other contributors

John Lennon Album Cover

Use the following structure to cite written song lyrics in MLA 9:

Songwriter’s Last Name, First Name. Lyrics to “Title of the Song.” Names of other contributors, Album’s Publisher, Year of publication. Name of Website, URL.

Here’s how the above example would be cited in MLA 9:

Lennon, John. Lyrics to “Imagine.” Performed by John Lennon, Ascot Sound Studios, 1971. Genius, genius.com/John-lennon-imagine-lyrics.

Here’s how the above example would be cited in an in-text citation:

(Singer’s Last Name)

(Lennon)

Use the following structure to cite written song lyrics in APA format:

Songwriter(s) Last Name, Songwriter(s) First Initial. (Year of publication). Title of song [Lyrics]. Retrieved from URL

Here’s how the above example would be cited in APA:

Lennon, J. (1971). Imagine [Lyrics]. Retrieved from https://genius.com/John-lennon-imagine-lyrics

Use the following structure to cite an written song lyrics in Chicago:

Singer’s Last Name, Singer’s First Name. “Title of the song.” Name of Website. Accessed Month Day, Year. URL.

Here’s how the above example would be cited in Chicago:

Lennon, John. “Imagine.” Genius. Accessed June 5, 2017. https://genius.com/John-lennon-imagine-lyrics.


 

 

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How do I cite a song or music in MLA format?

To cite a song or music in MLA, it is helpful to know information including the song title, contributor names, and production details. The templates and examples below are based on the MLA Handbook, 9th edition.

In-text citation and works cited list entry examples for a song by a single artist are given below:

In-text citation template and example:

Narrative:

Artist Surname

Grande

Parenthetical:

(Artist Surname)

(Grande)

Works cited entry template and example:

Surname, First M. “Song Title.” Album Title, relevant contributor information, Production/Record Company, Year Released.

Grande, Ariana. “Moonlight.” Dangerous Women, Republic Records, 2016.

The in-text citation does not include the release year. The surname alone is used in the in-text citations.

The song title should be enclosed in double quotation marks. If the song is part of an album, the album title should be included. Any additional contributors, the name of the record company, and the year the song was released should also be part of the works cited entry.

How do I cite song lyrics?

To cite song lyrics, include the following details: the lyricist/artist’s last name, year, song’s title, title of the album, medium, producer, and URL if applicable.

APA

Reference list:

To cite a song/track

Lyricist’s Surname, X. Y. (Year). Title of song [Song recorded  by Artist/Band Name]. On Title of the album. Name of music publisher/record label/studio.
Example 1 Graham, A. (2013). Started from the bottom [Song recorded by Drake]. On Nothing was the same. OVO Sound.
In-text Citation – Parenthetical (Lyricist Surname, Year)

(Graham, 2013)

In-text Citation – Narrative Lyricist Surname (Year)

Graham (2013)

MLA

Reference list Artist Surname, First Name. “Title of Song.” Title of the Album, Production Company, Year, URL. Transcript of lyrics.
Example Drake. “Started From the Bottom.” Nothing Was the Same. OVO Sound, 2013, https://genius.com/Drake-started-from-the-bottom-lyrics. Transcript of lyrics.
In-text Citation – Parenthetical (Artist Surname)

(Drake)

In-text Citation – In Prose Artist Surname

Drake