We know musicians for their fabulous renditions of songs, entertaining musical performances, mesmerizing voices, and tremendous ability to play everything from a guitar to a piano or a set of drums. But songwriting is at the foundation of music. Not every musician writes his or her own material, and there are people who are famous solely for songwriting, like Diane Warren.
Some of your favorite musical artists also know how to put pen to paper before belting out tunes, like Mariah Carey and, of course, Taylor Swift, who write or co-write many of their own songs. But many singers with a talent for songwriting have written tunes not only for themselves, but for other artists as well, some of which have become massive hits. Here are just a few musicians who secretly wrote hit songs and are likely to still be making big bank from them.
11 Jessie J
This English singer/songwriter is known for her hit songs like “Domino” and “Price Tag.” But did you know that another lucrative part of Jessie's career has been writing songs for other artists?
She wrote Miley Cyrus’ smash hit “Party in the U.S.A.,” which became the actor-turned-singer’s first real crossover hit. The song, released in 2009, spent 28 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Jesse J has been quoted as saying that the royalties paid her rent for years.
He found himself in the spotlight when he wrote Mario’s smash hit “Let Me Love You” back in 2004. And since then, it has been an upwards climb for this successful songwriter, who has penned songs like Rihanna’s “Take a Bow,” “Hate That I Love You,” and “Unfaithful,” Jennifer Hudson’s “Spotlight,” Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable,” Keri Hilson’s “Knock You Down,” and more.
While he might be best known for his own music, including songs like “Closer” and “Miss Independent,” Ne-Yo is also making lots off songs he wrote for other talented musicians.
Sia has such an enchanting, instantly recognizable voice that it’s hard to believe she would have been graced with a similarly amazing talent for songwriting as well. But alas, she has. And alongside writing much of her own music, the secretive singer, who is rarely seen in public without her face being covered by a fabulous wig, has written a ton of top hits for others.
She wrote “Pretty Hurts” by Beyonce, “Perfume” by Britney Spears, “Battlefield” by Lea Michele, and, most notably, “Diamonds” by Rihanna, a number-one hit. She has also written other tunes sung by everyone from Katy Perry to Maroon 5 and Jennifer Lopez.
8 Ryan Tedder
Along with being the frontman for pop rock band OneRepublic, Tedder is also a prolific songwriter, who has taken pen to paper for tunes that have been sung by some of today’s top pop artists, like Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson.
Two of his most notable hits include the former’s “Halo” and the latter’s “Already Gone,” which, interestingly, are noticeably similar in sound to one another. (Oops!) He also wrote the smash hit “Bleeding Love,” which was sung by Leona Lewis and topped the U.K. charts for seven weeks when it was released in 2007.
7 Ed Sheeran
When you find out that Sheeran wrote the song “Love Yourself,” which became a smash hit for Justin Bieber, it’s not all that surprising. Give it a listen and it has the U.K. artist’s signature sound all over it.
He’s also written and co-written songs that have been sung by the now disbanded boy band One Direction, like “Moments,” and “Everything Has Changed,” which appeared on Taylor Swift’s fourth album, Red.
6 Bruno Mars
Before he graced us with his fantastic voice and killer choreographed dance moves, Mars was a music producer and songwriter who wrote music for everyone from Adam Levine to Brandy, Sean Kingston, and Flo Rida.
The hit 2009 song “Get Sexy” from Sugababes was co-written by Mars, but it was his composition on Travie McCoy’s 2010 song “Billionaire” that really brought him to the forefront after it reached number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 as well as the UK Singles Chart. And that catchy, censored song “Forget You” (that’s the clean name!) by CeeLo Green that you can’t help but belt out whenever it comes on the radio? It was written by Green in collaboration with Mars and others.
5 Pharrell Williams
Well-known as an accomplished producer and songwriter, Williams has written some huge hit songs that you probably didn’t even know he had a hand in. Among them, often with his production partner Chad Hugo under the name, "The Neptunes," is Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl, which he co-wrote with Stefani and Hugo; Beenie Man’s “Girls Dem Sugar” (co-writing credit); Camilla Cabello’s “Havana,” (co-writing); Nelly’s “Hot in Herre;” (co-writing); Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U;” and Kelis’ “Milkshake.”
The list of Williams’ writing credits for songs that have broken into the top pop charts is so long, in fact, that he could never release another song again and still be sitting pretty.
4 Bebe Rexha
Rising to fame over the last few years with songs like “Meant to Be” with Florida Georgia Line and her latest single, “I’m a Mess,” Rexha was “famous” long before she released her own albums.
She wrote Selena Gomez’s “Like a Champion,” and Nikki Williams’ “Glowing.” But her biggest writing credit, which is probably earning her the most money, is that of “Monster,” which was released as a collaboration between Rihanna and Eminem. Not only did the song reach number-one on the Billboard Hot 100, but it also won a Grammy Award.
3 Christina Milian
She’s been out of the singing spotlight for some time, but Milian was a popular singer (and actor) in the early ‘00s with songs like “AM to PM” and “Dip It Low,” and roles in movies like Be Cool and Love Don’t Cost a Thing.
But we’ll bet you didn’t know that she is one of the writers of the massive pop hit song "Baby," released by Justin Bieber? Milian wrote the catchy and repetitive tune with Bieber as well as Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, Terius “The-Dream” Nash, and Ludacris, all of whom are undoubtedly enjoying the fruits of that labor to this day.
There’s no denying Prince was a star singer and performer, as indicated by the fact that he only needs one name to be identified. But he was just as talented when it came to writing music as he was in presenting it to the masses.
Along with writing his own songs, Prince also wrote a lengthy list of hit tunes, including “Manic Monday” for ‘80s girl group The Bangles, Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back,” Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You,” The Time’s “Jungle Love,” and more. While we sadly lost Prince in 2016, no doubt his estate is still reaping the benefits from his many songwriting credits.
1 Julia Michaels
So many stars wanted to get their hands on Julia Michaels’ beautiful song “Issues,” but the immensely talented songwriter decided she wanted to keep that one for herself. Now a bona fide singing star in her own write, thanks to the release of the song, prior to that, Michaels wrote tons of other tracks that have been sung by Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Shawn Mendes, Hailee Steinfeld, and more.
Some of the most recognizable ones: “Hands to Myself (Selena Gomez), “Sorry” (Justin Bieber), “Close” (Nick Jonas) and “Used To Love You” (Gwen Stefani).