Creating a song starting from the title is a time tested way of writing a song. One of the great positives of writing from the title is that it focuses on your writing. You already know what the song should be about and it makes it easier to stay on track. It is amazing how often you can write a song and not be sure what it is really about, even when you feel like you are finished. Writing from the title helps prevent that.
To start writing from the title, you will obviously need to come up with a title. Preferably a title that grabs attention. The title of a song is often featured either at the start or end of the chorus, and often encapsulates the theme of the song. It is typically the main hook of the song. If possible, the lyric should grab attention even before being backed by music and a performance.
Harmonious Beginnings: 5 ways to find your title
1. The Copycat
You could always just use an existing title. ‘Blue moon’, ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’, 'Shape of You' … take your pick. Copyright law doesn’t protect titles, and you will frequently find songs with the same title. Searching on Spotify shows multiple songs with ‘Home’ as the title, and ‘Without you’ is also very popular. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend reusing a title unless it really captures what you are trying to communicate in your song. Why waste the opportunity to have a unique and interesting title?!
2. Ambiguous Appellation
The title doesn’t have to show up in the song. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ are two examples of song titles that are never uttered during the song. Of course, these are songs from two massively successful bands that can do whatever they want, but it is an option you could consider.
3. Treasure Trove Trademarks
Start by making a list of potential titles. These can be short phrases or words that grab the attention. If the title can evoke emotion or mood that will help to do more work for the song.
As a practice it is helpful to keep a list of phrases that grab your attention. These might be something that you have heard or captured previously and thought “Oh that is interesting, I am going to keep that.” It could be something that you read in a book/poem or heard in a movie or overheard others saying. Wherever you find interesting ideas, if you write them down, save a voice memo, or keep a file or notebook of these ideas, it will help you later when you are looking for inspiration.*
4. Generic Generators
You could always use an online song title generator. Simply roll the dice on one of these sites to create a new song title for your song.
5. Mysterious Metaphors
A more deliberate way to come up with titles is playing with metaphors. Metaphors bring to light connections between two ideas which are not immediately apparent. A good way to discover metaphors is to ask two questions:
- What characteristics does my idea have?
- What else has those characteristics?
There are numerous exercises to help jump start metaphors. One effective method is to create a list of 10 interesting verbs and another list of 10 engaging nouns. Then simply mix and match the verb and noun combinations to see what metaphor pops up. There are a couple of other forced combinations of verbs, adjectives and nouns that can help jumpstart your title generation. As an example: verb-striding and noun-sugar, becomes “Your Sugar Strides.” A rarely heard metaphor that has a fun rhythm to it.
When you have a title which you like that has some unique creative angle to it, you need to create music to go with the title.
First, see if there is a rhythm inherent in the title. Try repeating the title out loud to yourself and getting it on your tongue. Does it have a rhythm or flavor that comes out when you speak and repeat the title?
Second, try singing the title, treat this as if you are creating an advertising jingle. Make it as catchy and interesting as possible. What does the title say? Does your rhythm and melody support that message? If you repeat the title a couple of times, does it flow naturally?
Third, if you find a melody that you think is interesting try singing and recording your efforts varying the rhythm and timing 4 or 5 different ways. These little experiments can lead to interesting places and give you the bones of a song which can then be fleshed out later.
As mentioned, titles are often featured in the chorus. By starting with the title to focus the song and featuring the title in the chorus (the repeating element in the song) with a rhythm and catchy melody that harmonizes perfectly with the title lyric you are well on the way to writing a memorable song. Use some of the other tools, melody or harmony, that we have discussed to complete the rest of the song.
*I personally have just been walking the streets of Edinburgh and often see buses with their destination digitally displayed passing by, quite often these destinations get written down into the notes app on my phone. I can’t share these with you in case I become famous one day and want to use them… But I would highly recommend it!