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How to cite a single song or track reference

Cite this
Adams, A. (2021, October 27). How to cite a single song or track reference. APA Style.

music symbol on a leaf

Concert season is in full swing, and music artists seem to be dropping a new single every week. If you want to write about the audial gems you listen to in your day-to-day, you have come to the right place.

It doesn’t matter if you are grooving to a jazz-inspired track on William Shatner’s latest album Bill or still trying to recover from the myriad of emotions evoked by the 27 tracks on Ye’s (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) Donda, APA Style can help you cite the melodic works you love in your paper or manuscript. In this post, you will learn how to cite a single song or track reference.

In general, each APA Style reference has an author element, date element, title element, and source element. For a song or track reference, the author of the work is usually the recording artist, which may be an individual or group. If a music artist prefers to use their first name and surname, then follow the APA guideline to invert the author’s name as “Surname, First Initial” in your reference (e.g., “Smith, S.” for singer and songwriter “Sam Smith”).

If the music artist chooses to go by only one name (e.g., “Beyoncé”), a group name (e.g., “Franz Ferdinand”), an inseparable multipart name (e.g., “Lady Gaga”), an initialism (e.g., “MNEK”), or some other name variation, write their name as shown on the work. If the work you are citing features another artist, place the featured artist’s name (again, formatted as “Surname, First Initial” or exactly as their name is spelled on the work) in parentheses after the main artist’s name, preceded by the word “featuring,” as shown in the BTS and Megan Thee Stallion reference example later in this post.

Therefore, in your song or track reference, write the name of the recording artist in the author element (if it’s a classical work, write the name of the composer), and place the date the work was published in parentheses in the date element. Include the title of the work in sentence case and standard nonitalic type, and describe the type of audio work in square brackets—for example, “[Song]”—in the title element of the reference.

After the title of the work, its bracketed description, and the ending period, write the word “On” in standard nonitalic type, followed by the title of the associated album in italic sentence case. In the source element of the reference, provide the name(s) of the artist’s music label(s), separating multiple music labels with semicolons—as shown in the following example.

Song with an associated album, with multiple music labels

Coldplay & BTS. (2021). My universe [Song]. On Music of the spheres. Parlophone; Atlantic.

  • Parenthetical citation: (Coldplay & BTS, 2021)
  • Narrative citation: Coldplay and BTS (2021)

If the song or track has no associated album, omit that part of the reference, as shown in the next example. If the song or track is a remix of the original version, place the word “Remix” in parentheses after the title but before the bracketed description—also shown in the next example.

Song without an associated album

BTS (featuring Megan Thee Stallion). (2021). Butter (Remix) [Song]. BigHit Music.

  • Parenthetical citation: (BTS, 2021) 
  • Narrative citation: BTS (2021)

What if you want to cite a song or track that has been rerecorded by another artist?

Because song references provide information about the recording artist, who is not always the same person or people who wrote the lyrics and/or the melody, you don’t need to research the history of a song in order to cite it; just cite the version you heard. Thus, there is no need to include the date the original work was published or the name of the original recording artist in your reference.

For example:

Song or track recorded by an artist other than the original artist

Smith, A. (2015). I put a spell on you [Song]. On Nina revisited: A tribute to Nina Simone. Legacy.

  • Parenthetical citation: (Smith, 2015) 
  • Narrative citation: Smith (2015)

One exception to this guideline is classical music, where the work’s original author is usually well-documented. For classical music, credit the original source by providing the year the work was originally published at the end of the reference in parentheses, preceded by the words “Original work published.” Both the original publication date and the date of the rerecorded work appear in the in-text citations, with the earlier year first, separated with a slash. These guidelines are shown in the following reference and in-text citations.

Classical song or track

Beethoven, L. van. (2012). Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major [Song recorded by Staatskapelle Dresden]. On Beethoven: Complete symphonies. Brilliant Classics. (Original work published 1804)

  • Parenthetical citation: (Beethoven, 1804/2012)
  • Narrative citation: Beethoven (1804/2012)

Include a URL in your reference if that location is the only means of retrieval of the song or track (e.g., for artists who provide music in only one location, such as SoundCloud or on their website).

More information on references for audio works can be found in Section 10.13 in the Publication Manual and Section 10.11 in the Concise Guide to APA Style.