Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hit Songs Need Hit Song Names: What's In A Title?

Writing a great chorus is integral to catching the ears of our listeners. Within the chorus lies the heart of our message, and that heart is summed up in the title or hook that often supplies the first and last lines of our chorus. Some choruses have the incredible effect of tying up an idea so perfectly, it almost breathes a sigh of ‘ah-hah’ throughout the audience as it is uttered. But what makes a title really work, and how can we apply that knowledge to the writing of future songs?

You might keep a notebook of title ideas in your back pocket, and that’s an excellent idea for gathering lots of little snippets from which to generate song material. If you don’t start from the title when you’re writing, you can certainly end up with great song material through some of the techniques I’ll explain here. Both ways are completely acceptable processes for writing songs.

If we start with the title, we have a unique advantage of knowing the conclusion before setting up the situation. We already know what we’re ‘foreshadowing’, so designing the clues that end in that final explosion of realization should be easy, right? Well, theoretically. I still end up in a corner sometimes, realizing that I intended to end up at the perfect place to deliver my title in the chorus, only to see that I didn’t quite set it up right in my verse. This kind of misdirection can be remedied, however, by a few simple ideas.

First, look at each word in your title. Let’s say the title is ‘Picture Me Gone’. There are three important words there, and two that are heavy meaning carriers. So what I’m going to do is brainstorm some ideas for the content of my song based on those heavy meaning carrier words. I’ll start by listing all the words and phrases that come to mind when I consider each word. For instance:

Hanging on the wall
Nail in the wall
Old farmhouse
Old photograph
Creased edges

Even though my original idea of ‘picture’ was a verb, I took the word out of context and let my mind wander where it wanted to go. Then I’ll do the same for the word ‘Gone’:

Left in the dust
Coming and going
Without a trace
Wisp of smoke
Hubcab spinning in the road
Tired skidding
Packed up
Nothing left to say

Now as I write the content of my song, I can use these words and phrases to foreshadow the title that lies ahead. When I include ideas that link directly to the title, the title will feel as if it were handpicked for this song. In other words, I have carved out a hole in the chorus the exact shape of my title. No other title will have the impact that title would have.

If we’re not writing from the title, we can look inside our verse sections for clues to what the title might be. As I posted in a previous blog, we can look for the title within the first few lines of the song. We can also see if there is a metaphor we might lift out of the verse sections that could be continued in the title. Continuing one metaphor throughout a song can be more effective than mixing and matching metaphor for this very reason. The more we make the listener jump around from thought to thought, the less invested the listener may be in each of those ideas.

Next time you develop your song based on a winning title, try making lists of related words to help brainstorm content and keep that content focused on your title message. The more focused the song content towards the title, the more bang for your buck your title will have.

Words By Andrea Stolpe

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