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Why Starting Your Songwriting Process With a Title is a Great Idea

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If you start your songs by vamping on a short chord progression, the advantage is that you create something right away that sounds like music. The disadvantage is: that doesn’t give you much else. I mean, you’ve got some chords, and you’re probably playing them with some sort of rhythm, but not much else.

If you start your songs by coming up with a catchy title, you might think, “Well, that doesn’t really give me much. I only have a few words. No melody, no chords. Just the title.

But in fact, a song title can give you at least a few things:

  1. Titles stimulate the imagination. Even if you’re not sure what the title actually means in any musical context, it usually gets people thinking. “Tragedy” (Bee Gees), “Mean Mister Mustard” (Beatles), “Scream” (Michael/Janet Jackson) — you get an immediate impression of something, and it may be enough for that initial listen.
  2. Titles create an emotion. You get a feeling from a good title.
  3. Titles give your songwriting process a target to aim for.
  4. Titles give your song a topic.

There’s one important characteristic of many song titles that makes the title-first process kind of fun: you can get away with clichés as a song title. A cliché is typically an overused, predictable phrase that is, to be honest, a bit lazy. But as a song title, a cliché is not just tolerable, it can be attention-getting.

So “Hungry Heart” (Springsteen), “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” (Mendes), “Sorry Not Sorry” (Lovato) and “Just the Way You Are” (Billy Joel, and another composition for Bruno Mars) are all great titles, and great song process starters.

And it’s a pretty easy first step: grab pencil and paper, and start writing random titles. Don’t think about what you’d do with the title, or anything about where the title might eventually lead. Just start writing.

Eventually you’ll come up with something that’ll tweak your interest and start the musical ideas flowing.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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