What's In A Name?
We all know the old saying that we should never judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately it's human nature for a person to take what they initially see and base their opinion on that. We don't do it intentionally but first impressions carry a lot of weight in what we consider worth our time.
Presenting songs to the public doesn't get a pass on this human idiosyncrasy. A person will typically decide within the first ten seconds of a song if they will give their attention to the full three minutes. But before they even hit play, the song title can either entice or deter a listener from even giving the song a chance.
This is a concept that a lot of songwriters miss. They work so hard on crafting a beautiful, engaging story and melody but settle for a title that fails to catch the listeners attention.
The most common mistakes writers make is to make their titles:
- Too long
- Too cliche
- Too abstract
So what are the ingredients of a strong song title? I can't say there is an exact formula because every song and artist is different, but there are some general guidelines you can follow to increase the engagement from a prospective audience.
Less Is More - A song title should really try to stay between 1 and 5 words. Any more than this starts to sound like the title is a song itself. It is also hard to remember and hard to market because it doesn't fit well on promotional material. Since the song title is often the hook keeping it short and sweet also means it will make it more memorable and singable.
Engage Their Curiosity - Don't use cliche terms or overused phrases. The title of your song should leave the listener wanting to know more. This can be done in various ways but one way would be to use a one or two word title that is a powerful and emotional image (i.e. "Gold Dust", "Prisoner", or "Last Train"). There really is no information about the song in these title examples but they lead the listener into the song with anticipation to find out what the story will be about. Another way would be to have the title ask a question or leave an idea unfinished. For example something like "If I Could" or "When September Comes". Your audience won't feel satisfied until listening to the song completes the idea presented in the title.
Use Relevant Vernacular - Basically this means don't get too flowery or artsy with your title. Be sure to use words and images that the majority of people will relate to. It is a common thing for artists to want to stand out from the crowd and not conform to the mainstream culture but you have to walk a line here. Concepts that are too abstract will more often than not turn people away. Keep your titles, and the rest of your songs lyrics for that matter, in language of the masses and save your linguistic prowess for the poetry books.
Remember that with every aspect of your song, it is your job to sell it to your audience. The title is their first impression, and like the old saying goes, you only get one chance. Be sure to do everything you can to get them hooked right from the start.