You get the feeling of writing a song. You pick up the guitar or sit at the piano. Starts clinking aimlessly. Melodies appear in your head and you start humming a little improvised. Sweet music arises and after much trial and error the song is ready. “No, of course yes! There should be a text there as well … hmm … which words can conceivably fit these notes? ”.
You’ve done it again. Painted in a corner. Why not do as many professional songwriters and start at the other end? With a good title!
The song title plays an extremely central role. It is the most important phrase in the lyrics and is usually placed in the song’s pay-off, whether you let it begin or end the chorus. With great certainty it is the main ingredient of the ref. Yes, maybe even the only one, which by the way can be a very effective way to make a chorus “simple and singable”. A concept you may remember from Part 1 of this article series.
Placed precisely in the chorus, the title comes most into focus as it will be sung several times and this is where you usually sing along. But it can also begin or end the song. Or start or end the verses (or both and to be on the safe side). There are more variants. A title like Imagine begins both verse and chorus while I Want it That Way ends both verse and chorus. Sometimes the title might flash past, for example in the bridge, as in I Say a Little Prayer.
Regardless of location, the song title is the hub of the wheel that everything revolves around. It is the house foundation on which the rest of the song building rests. Or vice versa: it is the top of the pyramid where everything else in the song is the building blocks. I will not tire you out with more metaphors. I think you’re starting to understand the point here… the title is simply crappy! Mode not to be careless. That’s why it can be a really brilliant idea to start with the title. It may not be so strange that many professional songwriters work that way.
Shortcut to the most important
One among many who loves to work based on the title is the American songwriter Bleu, who in addition to being an artist in his own name writes songs for gold- and platinum-selling artists.
– For me, writing based on the title is very important and I know that for many of the younger songwriters who have been to my seminars and then adopted this method, it has really revolutionized their songwriting.
He himself practices the method almost all the time and talks about that the title also defines what the song is about, the theme or the concept itself.
– I think it’s the best way to start writing hit songs. Titles and concepts are what people are most likely to remember. Working from the title is a great way to find a shortcut directly to what must be the most important part of your song.
Although he is aware that there are always exceptions, Bleu says that in most songs, the part we sing and the part we remember is the title. He points out that you can look at many other forms of writing and that you then find that you almost always work based on the title.
Songwriter Bleu defines the song’s concept and idea before writing it.
– Whether it is about short stories, scripts or technical dissertations, you start with some type of theme or start from a thesis. I would say that songwriting is almost the only type of writing where people do not always start this way.
His mind games testify that he finds this rather strange.
– I think that most people who get stuck in their songwriting get stuck on the piece of text. If you write based on the title, it is easier not to get stuck with the text writing because you sort of create a template for what your song will be about.
– If you get used to the idea of writing based on the title, it makes songwriting easier. The reason is that you can develop the idea based on the information already in the title.
Serves the melody for the hook phrase
In addition to being the text’s most important phrase, the title is often also the song’s strongest melodic hook. If you have a good title, but nothing else, it’s a dream situation to start experimenting with how to sing it in a good way. A good approach is to start by “talking” the title. This is to find out how the words’ natural rhythm and melody sound. If you start from this, you will get a huge amount served for free. Pronounce the words in the title a few times and listen for which syllables are stressed and which vowels go up in tone and which go down. It’s a good thing to taste its natural rhythm and its inherent language melody. In other words – how would you say it in ordinary speech? Assume it when you start singing the phrase and putting notes on it. Try a bunch of alternative accents and rhythms. If it does not sound catchy enough, you can try adding or deleting words or why not start playing with repetitions as you do in songs like Changes (“ch-ch-ch-ch-changes”); Pokerface (“ppp-poker face”); Please Please and Fanfanfan. Or season with a little “ooh” or something like in Ooh, Baby I Love Your Way.
“If you make sure that everything else in the song supports the title and in that way” lifts it up “, your song will be more successful …”
Once you have both found the right tone and decided how the song’s hook phrase should be rhythmized, the exciting work of finding suitable contrasts as building blocks for the other parts of the song remains.
The title “sells” the song
Everything that increases your song’s chance of being heard is good and that’s exactly what an interesting title does. You get the urge to listen and are curious about what it might be about. If you intend to write songs for others, it is in your best interest that publishers, a’n’r people, producers and artists “raise their eyebrows” at your particular song as they blasé-wise sleep among hundreds of others. The title may be the first thing they come in contact with and it is important – just like on a first date – not to miss the chance to make a good first impression.
Even if you write for yourself or your band, you want radio people, journalists and in the end, of course, the audience to be curious about your work and that when they have heard the song also remember it and can look it up again. Somewhat harshly, you can liken it to the fact that you are a salesman and the title is the name of your product, the song’s “brand”.
Titles that are not in the text
Some see a fascination in giving their song a title that does not appear at all in the text. It is of course fully allowed and can be effective and create some nice mystery if you do it in a nice and smart way. But if you do it just to “play difficult”, you risk at the same time making it harder for people to remember the song. Maybe unnecessary considering that it’s tough enough to reach out with their music anyway. But again. There are brilliant songs with good titles that have no obvious sing-a-long hook phrase. Bohemian Rhapsody worked quite well just to take an example. But it is also the best song in the world. Or…?
It can also be a cool thing to hide the title in the middle of type three. So you just stumble past it as well. A bit like when suddenly in the 58th minute of the dialogue in a movie you suddenly hear the main character say the title. I will unwittingly think of my favorite line in Swedish film: “Oooh, why do we have to live in fucking fucking cock-Åmål?”. Yes, now it was not exactly the title itself but you shark the idea.
In any case, my tip is to let such variants be among the exceptions that confirm the rule. Because as Bleu says:
– If you make sure that everything else in the song supports the title and in that way “lifts it up”, your song will be more successful and easier to remember just because everything signals “Hey! Here comes the title and this is the most important part of the song! ”
Bleu – In blue concept.
Titles that already exist
What do you do then if you have found a title that feels new, fresh and unique – that tastes good in the mouth and breeds a lot of musical ideas – but your besserwisser to polar bears points out that such a song already exists? Something you also quickly get confirmed by a quick search on Spotify (“track: your title” in the search box), iTunes Store, Youtube or on STIM (logged in to “My Pages”).
Yes, what are you doing? My tip is to shit a little bit in this. First of all, it was your own idea in any case and it is you who should be inspired to achieve an inspired end result. Secondly, it is what unique melody and what unique text concept you marry with the title that is interesting. Good song titles are a bit like good chord sequences – they are just musical building blocks that no one has copyright on. No matter how smart a title you have come up with, it is usually a country guy who has been before, but that is perfectly okay.
Less unique song titles such as Hold On, Runaway, Stay, You, Happy, Forever, Without You and I Need You have each been on the Billboard chart more than ten times. But every time as completely different songs. Sometimes you just have to choose such a title because it is the obvious hook in the song. But in that case, it is important that you have found a new fresh angle, albeit not in the title, so in the text itself.
Of course, you want to avoid the most obvious classics. You would probably have a hard time getting taken seriously if you presented your new song Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin was actually not the first, it was Neil Sedaka!). But if you are just a little cocky, you take it for granted. Oasis evidently saw no problem in making a new song called Stand by Me.
Finally a small parenthesis
Some people sometimes work with parentheses in the title. The purpose is usually to offer two alternatives to how the title should be pronounced, as in Only Girl (In the World) or (Just Like) Starting Over. It can also be about standing out. I guess Per Gessle, who often uses parentheses, does so for aesthetic reasons, as the distinct pop stylist he is.
There is much more to say about titles and concepts and I will return to the subject later, but next time I wish you good luck with the title and not painting yourself into any more corners!
Start the songwriting process by finding a good title that feels fresh and (reasonably) unique and that arouses interest and curiosity.
Say the title out loud. Take note of its natural accents, rhythm and language melody when adding melody. Play with variations.
Brainstorm text ideas based on the information already in the title.
Let everything else in the song point to, support and “lift up” the title.
About the writer David Myhr
@David Myhr is a songwriter and artist and has released the albums Soundshine (2012) and Lucky Day (2018). He has a past in the pop band The Merrymakers and has written songs for the Japanese market, music for a lot of commercial jingles and some film music. On a daily basis, he works as a university lecturer and teaches e.g. songwriting at the Academy of Music in Piteå but also teaches at KMH and SMI. David, who is a Beatles connoisseur on a large scale, works in a classic songwriting tradition.
Read more: www.davidmyhr.com and facebook.com/davidmyhr
Parts of the series
The article was originally published on 2014-08-20 12:16