In songwriting, as in life, it’s always a good idea to listen when opportunity knocks at the door. And when we’re considering the first thing a listener will probably hear about your song, and the key by which they will ultimately file it in their memory, there’s a huge opportunity to consider.
That’s right, I’m talking about the song’s TITLE. This is, more than any other part of your song, the one chance to make a connection with your listener’s curiosity, memory, and their heart.
You’ve written a terrific song, one that you’re convinced will win over your listeners and leave them telling all their friends about it. So why not choose a song title that:
- Evokes an emotion that agrees with the song
- Stands out from other songs
- Is reinforced within the song, as the target of all the story development, as the reason for the song
I’m going to touch on a few examples of missed opportunities, and you may find yourself geared up to argue – rightfully so. Please stay with me to the end of this article, and then we can have a great debate. In No Way am I claiming that the songs listed are good or bad songs – I’m just focusing on the title.
The Disassociated Title
You could choose a song title that doesn’t appear at all in the lyrics:
- “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, The Beatles
- “Space Oddity”, David Bowie
- “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Nirvana
That makes it pretty hard for anyone except your die-hard fans to remember the song title. Sure, thanks to search engines and song matching apps, people have the technology to find you again. But why make it a chore for them, especially given the short attention span of music fans today?
At best, this choice of song title makes you appear to be cerebral and cool (but remember, the point of the song isn’t to be cerebral – it’s to be emotional), or maybe it provides a missing piece of information that’s crucial to understanding the song (so why isn’t that information IN the song already?). At worst, it builds an expectation in a listener that is never satisfied by the song itself. Or maybe, even worse than that, it leads a listener to bypass your song because the title gives them the wrong impression of what they’ll find in the song.
The Bland Title
You might also choose a title which doesn’t evoke an emotional response at all:
- “Tommy The Cat”, Primus
- “Signs”, Creed
- “Burritos”, Rihanna
Would anyone be intrigued enough by these titles, to want to hear more?
The Overused Title
Maybe you’re following the advice of a modern music marketer, and choosing to match the title of a hit song – for the benefit of being accidentally discovered by fans of the other song:
- “Hold On”, (many artists)
- “Call Me”, (many artists)
- “Forever”, (many artists)
- “Perfect”, (many artists)
While there is a reasonable argument for this type of stumble-discovery in today’s search engine-driven market, titles like these will, at best, leave a feeling of “déjà vu” in a listener’s mind, and, at worst, remind them that they really love that other song with the same title.
Consider the Numbers
Surprisingly, the numbers are hard to find, but it is estimated that over 1 million songs were released to market in the last year. With today’s independent artist having such incredible access to the music market, there are more songs being released every year than a person could listen to in a lifetime. With that much competition for the interest of the music fan, why write songs with common, easy-to-forget, emotionless titles?
What about these song titles? Consider the uniqueness, the relevance to the lyric and emotion of the song, and the power to catch attention. Do they stir some measure of intrigue, emotion, or interest for you as a music lover?
- “The Cover of the Rolling Stone”, Dr. Hook
- “When Doves Cry”, Prince
- “God is a Woman”, Ariana Grande
Are there other ways to miss an opportunity in a song title? How about other songs that seized the opportunity with a great title? Leave a comment!
And Now, Let’s Debate!
I know what you’re thinking – didn’t some of those songs, listed above, become huge hits? Yes, of course they did. In fact, I chose the examples to be familiar song titles. The hit songs listed above were successful in spite of the title, not in any part because of it. They became hit songs because of the popularity of the artists, and the culture of the times in which the songs were released. There are a huge number of variables which can affect a song’s reach into the market. If you’re already a HUGE artist with a growing fan base, writing and releasing songs that perfectly tap into the zeitgeist of the moment, then please disregard everything I say. Otherwise, consider your song title to be an OPPORTUNITY to make your song land harder on your listeners and on the market.
Want to weigh in? Leave a comment below.