by Robin Frederick
The title of a song is almost always a featured line in the song itself, often the first line or last line of the chorus, making it the line that listeners remember long after the song is over. A good title is intriguing, evocative, and memorable. The best titles sum up the heart and soul of a song, recalling the whole experience for listeners, making them want to go back and listen again.
Keep it brief. A good title should be easy to remember and get to the point, so consider keeping it short. Titles like “Everybody Talks,” “What Now?” “Roar,” and “Wrecking Ball” are all brief, intriguing, and easy to remember. Long titles can work if you use a familiar phrase like ”I Just Called to Say I Love You” or “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” which are easier to recall. To be safe, stick to five words or less. While it’s not a rule, it’s a good idea to keep in mind.
Make a statement. One way to be memorable and catch listeners attention is to write a title that makes a strong statement. Nickelback’s “Gotta Be Somebody” is a good example. There’s a sense of urgency built into this phrase, giving the singer something to dig into emotionally. Kelly Clarkson’s hit “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” is another title with plenty of intensity.
Use an Intriguing phrase. Beyonce’s hit “If I Were a Boy” does exactly that. Don’t you want to know what Beyonce would do if she were a boy? Sure, you do! So the title makes you want to hear the song. Shinedown’s “The Sound of Madness” also has an intriguing title. What does it mean? What does madness sound like? What is this song going to be about?
Try an evocative image. A song title like “Mud On the Tires” works because it’s loaded with associations. The title of this Brad Paisley Country hit features an image that suggests off-roading fun, maybe a wild ride through the fields, or drive to a hidden fishing hole, all of which evoke fond memories and desires in this audience. James Bay’s “Hold Back the River” is another hit song title that features a powerful image. If you choose a title like this, be aware of your listeners’ expectations and keep them in mind when writing.
Action words add drama and energy. If your title feels like it’s just sitting there, try phrasing it in a more active way. Instead of “I Love You,” try something like “Throw My Arms Around You.” Not only does it replace a familiar statement with an fresher one, it adds the energy of the word “throw.” It also suggests questions that your lyric can answer: What’s the situation? Why does the singer want to do this? How will it feel? How will the other person react?
As most songwriters know, there are many songs with the same (or very similar) titles. Make yours stand out from the crowd by using one of these songwriting tools – images, action words, drama and intrigue.
Keep your eyes and ears open for titles that come along in overheard conversations, news headlines, ads, dialogue in movies or TV shows, or just talking with friends. Short phrases that catch your attention or suggest an interesting scenario are a good place to start. Keep a small notebook with you and write down those phrases or jot them down in a memo on your smartphone so you don’t forget them. Next time you’re starting a song, go through your list of titles and get inspired!
This post is based on my songwriting books: Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting, Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV, Study the Hits, and The 30-Minute Songwriter. Find out more about all of my print and eBooks on my Author page at Amazon. In each book you’ll find dozens of useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.