How to cite a song in MLA

The format for citing a song in MLA depends on the medium in which you listened to it.

To cite a song accessed through an online streaming service, list the performer (or group) as author, the song title in quotation marks, the name of the site in italics, and the URL where the song can be found. Omit “the” from a band name, e.g. “Beatles,” not “the Beatles.”

If relevant, use a timestamp to indicate a specific part of the song in the in-text citation.

Format Performer last name, First name. “Song Title.” Website Name. URL.
Works Cited entry Dylan, Bob. “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Spotify. open.spotify.com/track/18GiV1BaXzPVYpp9rmOg0E.
In-text citation (Dylan 1:14)

Citing songs in physical formats

To cite a song you accessed in a physical format (e.g. CD, vinyl), include details about the album (or single, EP, etc.) it appears on: the title, distributor, year, and, optionally, the format (e.g. “CD”).

This format also applies to songs you downloaded and accessed through a media player (e.g. iTunes).

Format Author Last name, First name. “Song Title.” Album Name. Distributor, Year. Format.
Works Cited entry Lamar, Kendrick. “Fear.” Damn. Top Dawg Entertainment, 2017. CD.
In-text citation (Lamar 3:55)

Quoting lyrics

Quote lyrics from a song in a similar format to poetry: separate lines with a slash symbol, and format four or more lines quoted at once as a block quote.

Quoting lyrics in the text
In the chorus, Bush sings “if I only could / I’d make a deal with God / And I’d get him to swap our places” (0:51–59).

If you’re quoting these lyrics from a transcript included alongside the song (e.g. in the description on YouTube, in the accompanying booklet to a CD), then you should clarify this at the end of the Works Cited entry.

Quoting lyrics from a transcript
Bush, Kate. “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God).” Hounds of Love. EMI, 1985. Transcript of lyrics.

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Optional details to include in an MLA song citation

MLA’s citation style is flexible; some details are not mandatory in a song citation but can be included when relevant.

For example, if your discussion focuses on the work of a particular musician, you can list them in the author position instead of the main artist, along with a description of their role. The main artist should still be listed later in the contributor slot.

Format Musician last name, First name, role. “Song Title.” Album Name, by Main artist first name Last name. Distributor, Year. Format.
Works Cited entry Fripp, Robert, guitarist. “St. Elmo’s Fire.” Another Green World, by Brian Eno. Island Records, 1975.
In-text citation (Fripp 1:21–45)

Especially with classical music, it may be more relevant to cite the composer rather than the performer in the author position. You can then list the particular performer(s) and/or conductor after the title. If the particular performance is irrelevant, you might omit this information entirely.

Format Composer last name, First name. Piece/Collection TitlePerformance by Performer(s), conducted by Conductor, Distributor, Year.
Works Cited entry Beethoven, Ludwig van. Symphony No. 9 in D Minor “Choral.” Performance by the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi, Telarc, 1985.
In-text citation (Beethoven)

Frequently asked questions about MLA citations

Whom do I cite as the author of a song in MLA Style?

When citing a song in MLA style, the author is usually the main artist or group that released the song.

However, if your discussion focuses on the contributions of a specific performer, e.g. a guitarist or singer, you may list them as author, even if they are not the main artist. If you’re discussing the lyrics or composition, you may cite the songwriter or composer rather than a performer.

Do I need to give details about the album in an MLA song citation?

In an MLA song citation, you need to give some sort of container to indicate how you accessed the song. If this is a physical or downloaded album, the Works Cited entry should list the album name, distributor, year, and format.

However, if you listened to the song on a streaming service, you can just list the site as a container, including a URL. In this case, including the album details is optional; you may add this information if it is relevant to your discussion or if it will help the reader access the song.

How do I cite a source with no author or page numbers in MLA?

If a source has no author, start the MLA Works Cited entry with the source title. Use a shortened version of the title in your in-text citation.

If a source has no page numbers, you can use an alternative locator (e.g. a chapter number, or a timestamp for a video or audio source) to identify the relevant passage in your in-text citation. If the source has no numbered divisions, cite only the author’s name (or the title).

If you already named the author or title in your sentence, and there is no locator available, you don’t need a parenthetical citation:

  • Rajaram argues that representations of migration are shaped by “cultural, political, and ideological interests.”
  • The homepage of The Correspondent describes it as “a movement for radically different news.”
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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

6 comments

Andrea
September 3, 2021 at 5:06 PM

Is 1:21–45 supposed to represent the time of the song? How do I cite the lines? I am only working with the lyrics of the song. Thanks in advance!

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
September 6, 2021 at 12:36 PM

Hi Andrea,

Yes, those numbers are timestamps from the song. If the source you're using for the lyrics has explicitly numbered lines, you can use the line numbers, e.g. (Bush, lines 14—15). But it's more likely that the lines won't be numbered, in which case you should just omit line numbers, e.g. (Bush). Don't number the lines yourself if this numbering doesn't appear in your source.

Reply

Corneilius
July 21, 2021 at 7:44 PM

How would I cite for instance a page of lyrics from Genius? Would I still follow the guidelines for citing a song or would it be closer to citing a webpage?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
July 28, 2021 at 6:36 PM

I think in that case, the best approach would be to just treat it like citing a web page. You could still list the songwriter as the author (unless you're citing commentary from a user on the site, in which case you'd list their name in the author position). And you could add the clarifying label "Song lyrics" at the end. So, e.g.,

Lamar, Kendrick. "Fear." Genius, 14 Apr. 2017, genius.com/Kendrick-lamar-fear-lyrics. Song lyrics.

Reply

Mackenzie
September 25, 2021 at 12:24 AM

What would the intext citation be for this source? I'm using song lyrics for Bob Dylan from Genius, but don't know how to refer to specific lines of lyrics. The lines aren't numbered, but the verses and chorus are headed.

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
September 27, 2021 at 1:15 PM

Hi Mackenzie,

MLA states that when there are no line numbers used, you should just omit the locator element. Conceivably, you could use "Verse 1" or similar, but I don't think that's very useful for the reader so would suggest avoiding it.

So your citation would just need to mention Dylan's name (and the title of the song, if you quote from multiple different songs by him). This info could appear either in parentheses or just in your sentence, e.g. Dylan sings … or The lyrics … (Dylan).

Reply

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