Hooked on Titles

I’ve ranted before about picking great titles for your songs.  (Click Here to read more).  I’m in the mood to rant just a little more.

First, let me be straight – the title of your song doesn’t make or break your song’s success.  Without question, you can list many of your favourite songs that have crummy titles.  I won’t argue that any of those are bad songs, but I will say this:  your song’s title is an incredibly potent tool for getting a listener’s attention, preparing them to respond to your song, and helping them to remember your song.  So why not give your song the best title you can choose?

When is a Title NOT a Title?

Simple answer – when it’s a Hook.  There IS a difference.  Yes, both a hook and a title are usefully repeated within a song.  Yes, they both offer something to trigger the listener’s response to the song.  But here’s the difference – a hook sets up the listener to have a reaction to something bigger, and that thing is usually the core message of your song.

Let’s See it in Action

Let’s conjure a new lyric to give something to look at.  Here’s the CHORUS for a great new song:

Tell me now, ‘cause I’ve been waiting
Tell me now, I need to know
Tell me now, my heart is aching
Is it time for me to go?

All you’re seeing is the chorus, without the benefit of the verse lyrics (and believe me, they’re awesome), but this is enough to demonstrate the function of Hooks and Titles.  Many songwriters would be inclined to give this song the title “Tell Me Now”, arguing that it’s the line that is most repeated, so it has the greatest chance of being remembered by a listener.  But what if you chose the title “Is It Time For Me To Go” instead?

  1. “Tell me now”, while being stressed through repetition, is an incomplete thought – it needs to be completed by the actual question “Is it time for me to go?”
  2. Because it isn’t a complete thought, “Tell me now” doesn’t evoke as deep an emotional response as “Is it time for me to go?”  Sure, it evokes a sense of urgency, but the idea of “Is it time for me to go?” is something we can really think about.
  3. “Is it time for me to go?” is easily recognized as a central message upon which this whole song would be written.  The verses and the bridge (if I’d actually written them) would definitely point to a character on the precipice of leaving.  “Tell me now” also points towards the same core message, adding that it’s time for the characters to make a decision. You likely won’t find that the rest of the song relates to “Tell Me Now”.

Hooks are great songwriting tools.  The repetition of a hook is truly an effective means of pulling a listener towards an idea that you want to deliver – “hooking” them before you reel them in.  In the songwriting game of Tension/Release, the hook is the tension that needs to be released.

Pass the Test

Not sure if you’re looking at a hook or a title?  Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Is it pointing me at something else (it’s a hook), or is it giving me the core emotional message (it’s a title)?
  2. Does it feel like a “setup” for something else (it’s a hook), or a “completion” (it’s a title)?
  3. Is it related to the whole song (title)?  Or just to one part of the song (hook)?

Know what you’re aiming for – your title – and you can create hooks that pull your listener in the right direction!

If you like what you read above, maybe you'd like to work with Allister at Tilted White Shed? Reach out through the Contact Us page.

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