Irving Berlin’s classic songwriting advice to “repeat the Title as often as possible so people know what to ask for when they go to buy it” doesn’t hold nearly as true anymore (as I discuss here). But there are still a lot of other good reasons to write Title-based songs… I’m going to concentrate on one of those reasons here.
One of the biggest problems in songwriting – or any writing for that matter – is defining and maintaining focus. I see and hear it in the songs of many songwriters I work with as well as in the process of writing my own songs.
There’s no one way to find and keep this focus – it seems that each song has its own inner logic, its own lock for which the key has to be found.
So, though there are songs that are focused and effective without a Title as their central idea, having a strong Title helps enormously. It gives the song a focal point: everything needs to contribute to the Title phrase’s power and to make sense with it – or against it, as Waylon Jennings put it. If an element, lyric or music, doesn’t do that in some way, it’ll probably have to go.
But the Title doesn’t just tell me what not to do; it also provides ideas. Contained in the Title’s words, and notes, when you have them, are ideas for the other sections of the song. And thinking ‘How do I get from here to there?’ – there being the Title phrase, which is usually in the Chorus – defines the challenge of the rest of the song while also suggesting possible solutions… if I look hard enough.
I think the many continuing benefits of working with a Title – though I don’t usually start with one – are why, though my writing has changed and evolved in other ways, I’ve mostly stayed with writing Title-based songs.
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