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Learn how to write a good title and the importance of taking the title seriously when writing a song
A name or descriptive heading that identifies a composition.
A word or phrase or sentence that is used to designate a work and thus distinguish it from other works and often indicate the nature of it’s content.
Most non-professional songwriters do not understand the importance of the song’s title. It is a gradual learning process to appreciate just how necessary an effective title is.
I remember when I first started dealing with industry types; I was always a little surprised and even somewhat irritated when they would ask, “What’s the title?”
At that time I didn’t understand what that could possibly have to do with the quality or viability of the song. I was used to audience reaction to the song. I didn’t quite understand that circumstances had changed.
In the case of industry professionals, time is valuable. They are still deciding whether or not the song is worth listening to in the first place. And they get a lot of information about the song from the title.
I sensed somehow that the title was some kind of code that told them how good the song was going to be. Many years later, through my own experience in A&R, I found they were right.
Back when I started writing a title would organically flow from the idea of the song at some point. A good song idea may or may not be good title. But what an industry professional knows is that a good title usually means a good song idea.
When I first started listening to other people’s songs for evaluation it dawned on me as I listened to other people’s songs what my publishers were seeing and hearing in the title years before.
An experienced song professional can discern a song’s depth by the title the way a psychic can tell fortunes by reading tea leaves.
A song is an idea, and a title describes the idea. A well thought out, clever idea can usually be hinted at in the title to pique the interest of the listener and give some indication or preview of what is to come.
Qualities of a Good Title
The first thing a title does is identify your song. It names your song in the way a name identifies a person.
Many songs have very similar titles. They become hard to identify and keep track of on a business level. (Imagine the categorizing headache of a common title to BMI, ASCAP, or Sony Publishing). But more importantly, to the listener, common titles are not memorable or unique.
Song titles like “I Love You”, or “I Miss You”, or “Don’t Leave Me” or other generic, nondescriptive titles don’t give your song a unique identity. Even more important, to an industry professional, a lackluster title will also indicate a lack of imagination that will more than likely be a characteristic of other elements of the song--no need to waste much time on that one.
The title is the first impression that industry professionals have of your song - and you only get to make one first impression.
The title names your song. It distinguishes your song from all the other songs the listener hears. And, if it is sitting on an industry professional’s desk waiting to be listened to, ideally the title should imply something interesting about the character, attitude, or feel of the song that makes that person want to hear it.
Designate and Distinguish
One of the most overlooked aspects of a title is the ability to convey in one small phrase an element of the song that gives it a distinguishing characteristic.
Does the title say something about the song that is unique or special to that song? For instance, “Yesterday” conveys a sense of longing in one word. “I Love You” shows a lack of imagination and will probably be developed in an obvious way. “I Miss You” also seems very obvious, but with a slight twist, “I’m Not Missing You At All” (in which the lyric actually shows the singer is missing her very much) tells the same basic story in a fresh, interesting and memorable way. (Well, it did when it was new anyway).
Many titles however do not do that. Picture yourself as an industry professional with a desk piled with demos bearing titles such as “I Love You”, “You Broke My Heart”, “Please Come Back To Me”, and “Take Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth (I Was Kissing You Goodbye).”
Which would you listen to first? Which piqued your curiosity and jumped out of the pack?
There are a lot of songs out there. Sometimes the title may be your song’s selling point. It should say as much as possible, on every level, about your song.
But the bottom line: Does your title make someone want to hear the song?
Michael Anderson is a songwriter, artist, producer, and author who has written songs for John Fogerty, Juice Newton, Pam Tillis, Phil Seymour, Rebecca St. James, and others in rock, pop, country, and CCM.
His songs have been featured in films and television, including recent season finales of “American Idol” and “The Voice”.
He has been a staff writer for EMI and BMG Publishing in Nashville, as well as MCA /Universal and Criterion Music in Los Angeles.
He wrote the #1 country single, “Maybe It Was Memphis”, several #1 CCM singles, and won a Dove Award for “Hard Rock Song of the Year.”
As a solo artist he has released seven albums, including two on A&M Records, two on EMI / Forefront, and three independent releases.
At the Musicians Institute in Hollywood he teaches professional songwriting and artist development, and wrote the songwriting curriculum for the Independent Artist and Vocal programs. He also teaches private lessons on professional songwriting at Westwood Music in Los Angeles, Ca.
He is a member of the Greater Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles and sings in the Mens Chorus.