If you listen closely and patiently, your title will often tell you what your song should be about. This is important because you want your song to be as strong as it can be. And to be strong, everything in the song needs to pull in the same direction.
Everything in your song needs to point to the core idea of the song, which is usually expressed in the title.
If you don’t listen to your title closely enough, you might try to make it something it’s not meant to be. I can tell you from personal experience that when I try to make a title into the wrong type of song, it’s a bear to write.
Just as a house divided against itself cannot stand, a song divided against itself cannot stand out (not in a good way, anyway).
One time, I had a title that made me chuckle when I first thought of it. I decided to write it as a Lee Ann Womack kind of traditional sad ballad. When I mentioned the title and idea to my cowriter, she chuckled, too. But writing it was like pulling teeth.
It was just slow and painful. We had a verse “finished” when we decided that something just wasn’t working. Then we realized, “Duh! The title made us smile- why are we trying to turn a title that makes us smile into a song that makes us cry?”
We decided to try writing it as a fun, attitude thing instead, and everything just fell into place. Once we stopped working against the title and started working with it, the writing process got a lot more fun. And the song got a lot better, too!
Years ago, I found a phrase in a poem that my mom wrote. The phrase was, “empty as a Monday morning church.” I thought “Monday Morning Church” would be a great title, but what was it about?
I started listening. “Empty” evokes sadness or loneliness. “Church” brings in the spiritual- something serious, something heavy. Those elements led me to write a sad country ballad about a grieving man who was having a crisis of faith following his wife’s death.
That whole song came from listening to my title. It went on to become my first hit- a top 5 single for Alan Jackson.
Consider “Must Be Doing Something Right,” written by Jason Matthews and Marty Dodson and recorded by Billy Currington. “Right” is good and positive, which lends itself to being a happy/positive song.
“Something” suggests that the singer doesn’t know exactly what it is he’s doing right to get the positive results he’s getting.
The thought of “I must be doing something right, even though I don’t know exactly what it is,” is all over that song. It leads to the thought that a woman is a mystery- different things please her at different times, etc.
“Don’t know what I did to earn a love like this” is often a throwaway / filler line or thought in a generic love song, but not here. In this song, that line has energy because it supports the title and theme of the song. Good writing.
Knowing simple things like this is how you write stronger songs- and market-smart songs (songs that have a competitive advantage in the market). If you want to learn more about how to write market-smart songs, check out my ebook, “Cut/able: Lessons In Market Smart Songwriting.” Click on the image below or click here to write market-smart songs.
Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.