Why the Title is the Key to Great Lyrics

[image] lyric title pyramidDescriptiveness, story telling, and rhyming are often what most songwriters will focus on at first when developing their lyric writing abilities. Once the phrases begin flowing, a title theoretically should emerge which can then be woven into a chorus. This is an important phase to go through. You want to be capable of generating enough raw lyric material for filling in your songs with content.

Phase two: where is the hook? Once you become good at basic lyric writing you quickly realize one of two things. One, a succinct title does not always just magically pop out of your lyrics. Or two, there really is no central concept at all to what you have written. You may have fairly well written verses, but there are often no choruses, or the verses are not really describing any specific topic or situation.

What is the Solution? Start with the title. Keeping a list of potential new titles is a great way to bring your lyric writing into focus, and ensure that your songs have catchy hooks that rise up like giant hot air balloons for fans to sing. If you already know what the title is, you not only have the foundation of your whole chorus, you also have a central concept to write about in the verses. Of course, you can change the title as you go if your writing takes you in new directions, but always starting with the verses could send you wandering around aimlessly like an out-of-work janitor in search or that ever-elusive hook.

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What many songwriters do throughout their daily lives is stay vigilant as a crouching tiger for words or phrases that could be used as good titles. They write them down, and when at home add them to the current songwriting notebook or text file. If you keep a list of titles, when ready to write, you can simply go through your list of titles and pick one to write about.

Even though choruses often have a lot less words than verses, weaving those words into a hit chorus is a very high art form, and not always so easy to do. Chorus literally means a group of people singing together, therefore, it is the part of your song that should be simple enough to allow lots of people to quickly learn and remember it the first time they hear it, That way when they hear chorus number two they will all be singing along.

Pay attention to the lyric content of choruses of songs you listen to for a couple weeks and you will discover that the title is usually in the chorus, it is sometimes only one or two words, and that there are often not all that many other words around it. Then, the trick is taking that short phrase and making a great melody out of it, which can sometimes take hours of experimentation, and is a whole other topic of mastering the Melody Madness.

It is still a useful practice to write about any topic your mind takes you to after you pick up a pen, but alternating this kind of freeform songwriting with a focus on building a song from the titles could bring your songs into a new kind of focus and clarity, and saturate them like colored ink on a tie-dyed shirt with GIGANTIC hooks.

Kevin Thomas

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  • Ron Varze

    Great advice Kevin! For me it’s like having a destination in mind before you leave home…that way you use all of your time, energy, skill and experience to come up with the best solution possible. And for the listener it serves as a road map that leads them right to the heart of your song. Thanks again Kevin!

  • Time Scott

    Writing a song:
    Thr little subtleties can make a huge difference
    The right words, phrasing, tempo
    and structure can be difficult to find, but when they all come together the synergy is magical.

    • Kevin Thomas

      Yes, getting all the aspects of the song to work together well is the key!

  • Jay Skyler

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m constantly telling my guitar students to start with the chorus as everything leads to and from it. It avoids the “laundry list of bad high school poetry” effect. Great article.


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