How to Cite a Song in MLA, APA, and Chicago (With Examples)

Citing a song for an assignment is crucial in certain cases like when researching music theory or dealing with media studies. Likewise, when you are writing about anti-war campaigns, citing a song by Bob Dylan or Joan Baez would be helpful as you provide analysis and do your best to avoid plagiarism. 

General Song Citation Rules in MLA, APA, and Chicago

Let us start with the basic set of rules and examples that will help you approach song citations in various formats: 

How to Cite a Song in MLA

Here is what you must gather for your song citation:

Note: If you have cited a video or any other multimedia type recording in the past, you will be familiar with what info you will need: 

  • Name of the band or a singer. 
  • Songwriter's name (if applicable). 
  • Song's title. 
  • Title of the album. 
  • Album's edition or any related specifics. 
  • Track number (b-side/a-side). 
  • Publisher or record company. 
  • Year of publication. 
  • Your source (website, database).
  • URL. 
  • Other contributors/information regarding the song. 

To cite a song (an audio recording), start with this template: 

MLA in bibliography

Performer's Last Name, Performer's First Name. "Title of your song." Title of the Album, album's ed., (if applicable), Publisher, Year of publication, track number. Website or Database, URL (no http part is necessary). 

Grant, John. "Where Dreams Go To Die." Queen of Denmark, deluxe ed., Bella Union, 2010, track 3. Spotify, open.spotify.com/track/4I-Y9FDC4Gn12-US0Pvv02BH

In-text citation would go this way: 

MLA in-text

(Performer's Name) 

(Grant) 

How to Cite a Song in APA

When you cite a song in APA format, follow this template: 

APA in bibliography

Performer's Last Name, Performer's First Initial. (Year of publication). Title of the song [Recorded by Singer's Initial, Last Name). On Title of the album [Audio file]. Retrieved from URL. 

Grant, J. (2010). Where Dreams Go to Die. On Queen of Denmark [Audio file]. Retrieved from: https://open.spotify.com/track/4-IY9F-DC4Gn12U-S0Pvv02BH

Note: Remember that if the performer and songwriter represent the same person, you should ignore this part!

An in-text citation for songs in audio should look this way: 

APA in-text

(Last Name, Year)

(Grant, 2010) 

How to Cite a Song in Chicago

When you are citing a song in Chicago, it is approached in almost the same way as it is done in APA or MLA formats with minor differences. Just follow this template: 

Performer’s Last Name, Performer's First Name. Title of Your Song. Publisher, Year of publication, Accessed Month Day, Year. URL. 

An actual citing song lyrics example:  

Grant, John. Where Dreams Go To Die. Bella Union, 2010. Accessed October 25, 2021. https://open.spotify.com/track/4IY9FDC4Gn12US0Pvv02BH?autoplay=true

Citing Lyrics In MLA, APA, and Chicago

Let us review several examples on how to cite song lyrics in various styles: 

How to Cite Songs In MLA Style.

Songwriter's Last Name, First Name. Lyrics to "Song's Title." Names of other contributors, Album's Publisher, Year of publication. Name of Website, URL. 

An actual song citation example looks this way: 

Petty, Tom, and Jeff Lynne. Lyrics to "Learning to Fly." Performed by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, MCA, 1991. AzLyrics,
https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/tompettyandtheheartbreakers/learningtofly.html

The in-text citation rules are as usual (placed after some line as you quote song lyrics):

(Performer’s Last Name) 

(Petty & Lynne) 

APA Style Song Citing Rules.

Citing a song in APA format won’t look overly challenging when you follow our template: 

APA in bibliography

Band's Last Name or Last Name / First Initial. (Year of publication). Title of the song [Lyrics]. Retrieved from URL. 

Stipe, M. (1991). Low [Lyrics]. Retrieved from https://genius.com/Rem-low-lyrics.

When you need to provide in-text citations: 

APA in-text

(Last Name of The Performer, Year) 

(Stipe, 1991). 

Chicago Style Song Citation

Here is how to cite songs in Chicago style: 

Chicago in bibliography

Last Name, First Name. "Title of the song." Name of Website. Accessed Month Day, Year. URL. 

Lennox, Annie. "Why." Azlyrics, Accessed October 27, 2021. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/a-nnielennox/why.html

Why Should You Cite Songs In Academic Writing? 

Regardless if you are citing an audio recording of a symphonic orchestra performing Siciliano by J.S. Bach or quoting song lyrics by Ariana Grande, you are obliged to provide due credit to avoid plagiarism. It should be approached exactly the same way as any book or scientific magazine. Essentially, it is an intellectual property that should be mentioned if it is used for reference purposes, which is why learning how to cite songs in academic writing is essential. 

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