The Heavy-Weight Title

Great songs usually start with great titles. Writing a lyric without a title in mind is like looking for thumbtacks in a giant home-improvement warehouse store that doesn't have its aisles labeled. A title gives direction to, and becomes the returning point for, every single line in your song. Nothing is more fun that writing a plot around a great title. Here's how to find one.

Where to Find Them
So where do good ideas for titles come from? Everywhere! You should always be on the lookout for an interesting turn of phrase, a glib play on words, or a twist on an old cliché. Every magazine, billboard, commercial, or conversation is loaded with possibilities. When something strikes you, write it down in your notebook immediately! What? You don't have it with you? Then write it down on your arm and transfer it to your notebook later! (Before you take a bath.)

Title possibilities will literally come up anytime or anywhere. Not too long ago I was reading an essay written as a legal briefing. The defending lawyer was trying to establish that his client's accusers weren't as familiar with the situation as they claimed to be. He concluded by sarcastically calling them "intimate strangers". Bam! What a clever contradiction! I wrote those two words down right away, and they sparked the idea for a new song. The lesson? Always be observant. (And always have your notebook handy!)

Effective Titles
Certain phrases make better titles than others. A good title should make someone want to listen to your song. Titles such as I Love You or What You Mean to Me are certified yawn-fests. They are tired, overused clichés that have lost their emotional power. Instead, look for something people haven't heard before. Coin a phrase of your own, and make it dynamic, clever, expressive, or active. The following are just a few ideas for effective titles:

• Use a contradiction in terms or a spin on something familiar. Eight Days a Week, If He Were Alive Today (He'd Probably Be Dead), Boy Named Sue
• A phrase with a deceptive double meaning. Muscle of Love (you know....the heart)
• Have all the key words in the title start with the same letter (this is called alliteration). Winter Wonderland, Mean Mr. Mustard
• Leave the door "half-open" by using an incomplete phrase that begs further explanation. Ain't Nothin' Like, If
• An intersting name. Eleanor Rigby, Roxanne, Billy Jean
• An evocative color. Brown Sugar, The Green Green Grass of Home, Blue Skies
• Use and active verb. Jump, Beat It
• Encapsulate the entire story in one short phrase. The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia

The Pre-Flight Check
Once you've decided on a title, don't write yourself into a corner by not checking your title for rhyme-ability. Spend some time listing rhymes, near rhymes, and related phrases for your title. Make sure you've got plenty of options before committing to it whole-heartedly. Sometimes you'll find you have an interesting phrase that ends with a word that is very difficult to rhyme. Knowing that before-hand gives you the option of re-wording it, inserting it in the middle of a line rather than the end, or just deciding that it's not worth the effort, before you've wasted time building a story around it.

Sometimes as your song develops you may find that another, better title suggests itself. Don't be afraid to make the switch if your song is improved by doing so. Check your new title idea for rhymes and so forth just as before, and then move forward.

One last note: titles cannot be copyrighted, so don't panic if you find that your song shares a title with someone else's. There have even been instances where two songs with the same title have shared space on the charts at the same time - remember "Jump" by both Van Halen and the Pointer Sisters? Even so, you probably wouldn't want to write a song entitled say, Eleanor Rigby…it is too uniquely identified as a Beatles song and too uncommon a phrase to be interpreted any other way. 

*Photo by lowjumpingfrog


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